The Trials of Cephus

Cephus is doing my head in. Admittedly I was mostly using 10×50 bins tonight, (albeit quality Opticrom bins), but you’d expect I could spot mag 7.7 nebula right overhead in astronomical darkness. But no, the ‘Iris Nebula’ (Caldwell 4) still eludes me. I can easily see the 6.8 mag star the nebulosity surrounds. But no nebula.
And don’t get me started on the supposed deep sky object I found inside the ‘box’ of Cephus, I was all excited to look up what I’d found when I got home, and all I can find for that area is NGC 7139, a 13th mag planetary nebula. There’s no way I saw that through my bins. Back to the drawing board for king Cephus I think! I need to get the big guns out in Shropshire. Unleash that dob on this Cephus nightmare.
And the constellation itself, by the way,  is a bugger to find. It’s right up there, spinning round and seems to change direction every half hour. Yea, it’s a bit of a house shape, but it’s a house lying down, then standing up, and then it’s upside down. The circumpolar swine!
Still, I did see M2 (the bright globular star cluster in Aquarius) for the first time at the observatory, so I get to make another entry in the society observation log. That’s 67 Messier objects alone found since we put the dome up.
Although I got flustered with Cephus, I did have a smashing time navigating Cassiopeia, which moved into a nice dark spot around midnight, and I took in the clusters of M103, NGC 663 and NGC 654. The first two forming a nice ‘Orion’s belt’ threesome with the star Ruchbah.
And M52, so easy to find and bright, by using the two right hand stars of the ‘W’ as pointers. Cool!
What else? Jupiter and Saturn were resplendent. Two moons to the right of Jupiter, and I have to say the Jovian image was sharper in my Opticroms than the Helios bins I had mounted on the parallelogram mount. But the Helios certainly captured more light, (I did a Pepsi challenge with Mizar and the surrounding stars, and the Helios bins were better).
M13 in Hercules, lovely and bright, and M71 in Sagitta, so easy to find. Ursa Major was low, and my efforts to spot M97, M108 and M101 were all to nought. I did manage to see M81 and M82, (Bode’s galaxy and the ‘cigar’ galaxy). But they were faint, and I had to use averted vision. But even so, looking at galaxies with only binoculars seven miles from the bright mucky skies of Wolverhampton isn’t to be sniffed at. And, of course, the Andromeda galaxy was easy to spot, as the square of Pegasus rose, and moved into the Wolves sky-glow. I tried to look for M33 (the Triangulum galaxy) but it was a waste of time with that sky glow. Silly me, I’d have been better off looking for Dodos swimming in the reservoir the other side of the hedge.
For some reason, I’d forgotten where the Dumbbell Nebula was, exactly. I know it’s in Vulpecula, (which is one of the most pathetic of constellations). So I checked my maps, and by imagining a lazy ‘L’ shape from the easily findable Sagitta, there it was. No discernible dumbbell shape in the 10x50s, but it was unmistakable, and pleasingly bright.
I’d given up with the Helios bins by this time, they’d misted over.
M15, another fabulous globular was next. Star-hop from the dolphin, (if you’ve made it this far, you’ll no doubt know the dolphin).
And again, use the arrow of Sagitta to find the fabulous asterism of the Coathanger, (Melotte 111). Any summer observation session that doesn’t visit this object is surely lacking. I noticed tonight my Webb Society Star Atlas (colour edition, no less!) lists the Coathanger as an open cluster.  
Neptune is following Jupiter and Saturn westward, and if I’d planned better I’d have taken a detailed star map with me. I’ve seen Neptune before in the 10×50’s, but it takes planning.
I watched Arcturus vanish, and Capella rise. I heard some very strange animal sounds, and saw a few meteorites. I could see the Milky Way, but only through Cygnus.
I’m going to re-check this NGC 7139 malarkey. I’m convinced I saw a DSO where that is, and it was brighter than 13th mag. That’s like Pluto magnitude, or something.
Anyway, all good fun.

A Moonshadow, and some deep-sky treats.


Had a good session on Saturday night with the 10” reflector on a dobsonian mount. One of the highlights was the unexpected Jovian shadow transit of Ganymede. From around 1am to 2am I watched the shadow of the moon travel across the disc from left to right, (left to right in eyepiece). I saw later the transit was discussed in the July Sky at Night magazine, but I missed reading it, so it was a nice surprise. There are more shadow transits later this month.
Deep sky stuff; I started off in Sagittarius with one of my favourites that never gets very high in the UK, M8 the Lagoon Nebula, which also has open cluster NGC 6530 in the same field of view. It took a few minutes for the nebulosity to ‘grow’, but I managed to make a sketch. This is one of the most distinctive deep sky objects.
A failure tonight was the globular cluster M4 in Scorpius. I’ve never seen it, and still haven’t, though I suspect I wasn’t looking in the right place. After checking my Glyn Jones Cambridge Messier book, I was looking too far to the left I think. I’m pretty sure the 10” mirror should have picked up this 6.4 mag cluster, despite its low altitude.
Back to Sagittarius, and near M8 are globular clusters M22 and M28, which were easily found, and both markedly different in size and contrast. M22 is smaller in the eyepiece, bright and compact, and M28 much larger and ghostly.
With Capricorn so high, I was able to make my first observation notes on Messier objects M72 and M73. M72 is a loose, quite open globular cluster, 62,000 LY away. Easy to find by star-hopping from Capricorn (though M72 and M73 are technically in Aquarius). M73 is a four star asterism, and a quirk of the Messier list, (like M40 in Ursa Major).
Because I was looking mostly towards the south, it was an evening for bright globular clusters. M13 (Hercules), M5 (Aquarius) , all really bright, contrasty and resolvable.
M11 – The Wild Duck cluster is one of the Summer’s jewels. When doing a 10×50 Opticrom bino tour of the Scutum area I noticed a bright patch below it, which I found was the cluster M26. Not often visited by me, and a little underwhelming in the scope. A better binocular object?
Galaxies are a challenge in nautical darkness, but I managed observations of M101 (the Pinwheel) and M94 in Canes Venatici, which was surprisingly bright.
Around 2.45 the Milky Way disappeared, almost within minutes! The Sun was making its way towards the horizon and I just managed some binocular observations of M31 and the rising Pleiades open cluster (M45) in an adjoining field, rising in the east.
Edit – I forgot the planetary nebulas M27 and M57. The latter (Dumbell) being very bright indeed.
And, Saturn, of course.

Between the mist and clouds

Observation report, Sat 10th July, Shropshire. Nr Craven Arms.
Spent 10.30pm-2.45am approx observing with the 10” reflector on its dobsonian mount, and my Opticrom 10×50 bins. The sky was not comp218577944_4530954796986049_8825873463986199737_nletely clear at all, and quite misty from 1am onwards. A true ‘hit and miss’ session. But there were a few clear spells, and at times the sky was so clear as to see the Milky Way. Particularly in Cygnus, and the Scutum Star Cloud.
I started off as it got dusk and found M13 (the great cluster in Hercules) and M57 (Ring Nebula in Lyra). M13 being very bright already at 5.5mag (O’Meara), and the Ring Nebula ghostly faint at 8.7.
I started on double stars before it clouded over for approx. 1hr, at 11pm. Alberio was lovely, and the stars around 02 Cygni (not a double, actually), which showed the colours of blue, gold and silver in three stars in the same field of view. One of my favourite new telescope sights.
As it got truly dark (albeit nautical darkness), around midnight, the sky cleared in the east and Cygnus, Lyra and Delphinus (etc) were seen. I looked at the Coathanger asterism (Brochii’s cluster) through 10×50 bins, and easily found M71 in the 10” mirror, in Sagitta. This cluster went unfound by me for years, yet recently I’ve been able to view it. Tonight though, perhaps due to the slight mist in the air, it looked more nebulous than mottled with stars.
Ursa Major we heading towards the west, and in a bright patch of sky where the sun wasn’t far below the horizon. I still managed to locate M51 and its companion (NGC 5195). I had hoped to sketch this, but its western aspect meant its spiral arms were lost in the bright, almost twilight sky. I tried for Bode’s galaxy and its companion, but didn’t see it, and didn’t spend much time looking.
I did find galaxy M101, (the ‘Pinwheel’), at mag 7.9 in Ursa Major. And this was a treat after so many years unable to find it (why?). Very large in the 32mm eyepiece, and pretty. Again, the summer western sky glow prohibited fainter detail. I can’t wait to re-visit this under inky black winter skies.
With Cygnus clear of clouds, I looked at the open cluster M29. The ‘anvil’ as I like to think of it. Its brightest stars were recognisable but I saw nothing like the 80 plus mentioned in O’Meara’s book.
M13 was stunningly bright as I re-visited it in the dark patch of sky to the south. What a treat in the 10” mirror! M92 also looked superb. I didn’t find this on my previous session, as I misjudged the memorised ‘triangle’ shape from the top of Hercules.
The faint electric light from the toilet block in the adjoining field was throwing out misty ‘streamers’ through the trees, so I knew there was much mist in the air, and my red torch was showing light-sabre like paths of swirling mist.
But even so, it was well worth scanning Perseus, now rising in the north.
I viewed the Perseus double-cluster through the 32mm eyepiece, and the Pegasus sat cloud through the 10×50 bins. Superb!
Between 1am and 2am the Square of Pegasus rose, and I was able to see M31 with the naked eye when the troublesome clouds allowed. Through the 10” mirror, with the 32mm eyepiece the galaxy appeared bright and well defined I thought. M32 was also easily observed (as a ‘fuzzy star) in the same field of view, technically making it the 5th galaxy of the evening.
M33 was lost to the skyglow in bins. In a few months it’ll become apparent from my dark sky site.
Taking advantage of another gap in the clouds, I spent some time viewing M11 – the Wild Duck cluster. Just to the right of the – now very naked eye visible – Scutum Star Cloud.
I first looked at M11 through the 32mm eyepiece, and the distinctly shaped, easily defined open cluster looked fantastic. More stars were resolved in the 9mm eyepiece, although the usual lack of contrast at high power meant the 32mm gave me a more pleasing view.
I wasn’t expecting to do any planetary observing , but through thin cloud in the east, the bright ‘star’ I initially thought might be the ISS at first glance, turned out to be Jupiter.
It was very misty by this time, and very little detail was seen on the disc. Just the Southern Equatorial Belt,. Three moons were visible, with Calllisto seeming the brightest. Ganymede may have been behind the planet according to Sky at Night mag July 20211 P49.
Saturn, (to the right of Jupiter), appeared noticeably different to observations in recent years, as the rings are now closing and the disc of the planet is now visible above and below the rings. I didn’t spend much time on Saturn because of the mist and low elevation. No ring-gap or planetary markings were seen.
Jupiter did, however, look very ‘large’ in the 32mm eyepiece, and the edges of the flattened disc looked pleasingly crisp and well defined.
Other objects; Mizar and Alcor, (the Horse and Rider), seen easily as a triple star system. And cor Caroli easy to split, a bright gold star with a similarly coloured fainter companion.
Around 2.45 it grew lighter, mistier and it was time to put the dob back in its telescope tent. Not a bad session seeing as the evening had only earned a 60% cloud cover rating earlier in the day. 

First Light with the Old Dob

It’s been a couple of weeks now since I had a good clear Friday and and almost as good clear Saturday night with the Dark Star 10″ reflector (on a dobsonian mount, I should add). And it was a good session, so I’ll paraphrase my notes from my observation book here.
May 29th & 30th.
Excellent ‘fist light’ with the old dob. I did seem to have a slight ‘aberration’ with the brightest stars, but only near 1st mag. It could even have been my eyes, because this effect vanished on the second night.
Although there was no Moon, it didn’t get truly dark, so a ‘greatest hits’ of deep sky objects was a good idea I thought. There was Virgo, in the south. Would it be fair to start looking for really faint fuzzies now?
To start with, I could remember where M94 was, and found it. Thing is, I couldn’t remember what M94 was on the first night! And I described it in my notes as a fuzzy globular cluster. I later found out it was a galaxy, (some call it the ‘Crock’s Eye’ galaxy). But I also read William Hershell described it as looking like a globular cluster, so at least I’m in good company. It’s above – but in between the hunting dogs of Canis Major.
Star-hopping from the Crock’s Eye galaxy, I found M63, still in Canes Venatici. This was very pretty, and at 27 Million light years away, I was very much looking back in time. This galaxy is estimated to be around the same size as our own. I wonder what our looks like, from there?
Galaxy M63 looked more ‘edge on’ than it appears in photographs.
I looked for M108, (another galaxy in Ursa Major), and noted a round, undefined patchy object on the first night. I was unconvinced it was a galaxy and the following night I was able to confirm I was looking at the
All the objects looked so pleasingly bright in the 10″ mirror. The Great Cluster in Hercules (M13) was simply dazzling. I didn’t see M92 (the other Hercules cluster) and later found I miss-remembered where it was exactly. I was looking a couple of finger-widths too low.
I used a 32mm eyepiece to look at Bode’s galaxy and the ‘cigar’ galaxy, (M81 and M82), and was very pleased to see, despite the reflector’s long focal length, I could still get them in the same field of view. They were pleasingly bright, despite not having astronomical darkness. I studied them further by centering each galaxy in the eyepiece.
On the second night I returned to Ursa Major to re-check my observations of (what I thought was) M108, and found that I’d almost mistaken the Owl Nebula for M108. Using the 32mm eyepiece I was very pleased to see I could catch both in the same field of view. It was a lovely sight, and I wondered why so much is made of the Leo Triplet, and the two galaxies in Ursa Major (M81 & M82), when here we have a galaxy and planetary nebula in the same field of view. Why is this not talked of more?
Staying on a galaxy tour of Ursa Major, I found M109, which I’ve described as quite small in the eyepiece with the 32mm. An lovely ghostly edge on spiral.
What else? Well the first night observing I had vague recollections of a colorful double in Cygnus, which wasn’t Albereo. I looked at where my memory was hinting and there was a lovely pairing of a blue and gold star, and ‘lover’ in the eyepiece, a silver/white (unrelated) star. This was a treat and a surprise, to see three star colours in one eyepiece. Further studies needed on this one, my notes suggest this might be O2 Cyngi.
Staying in Cygnus, I found the small ‘anvil’ shaped cluster M29. I like this quite unspectacular but recongisable cluster.
On the second night I spent far too long looking for NGC7023 – a reflection nebula in Cephus. I think I saw this, through the Helios buns at the observatory, but need a definite re-visit to confirm. But I couldn’t find it, despite it being only 7.7 mag in the O’Meara Caldwell book. So why couldn’t I see it? (M109 is 9.8 mag in by the same author, yet I had a lovely sighting of that).
M71, the large globular (or small open cluster, you choose!) in Sagitta. So easy to find these days, I can’t believe I’d spent so long looking for this without reward!
M51 and NGC 5195 are among my least-visited ‘Hollywood’ deep sky objects. Desipte the large mirror, I cannot profess to have seen well defined spiral arms of the larger galaxy this weekend. But a definite ‘mottling’ using averted vision.
I stopped at M103 in Cassiopeia for a while, I love this open cluster’s Xmas tree shape. It’s so easy to find too.
I decided to list the Messier objects I’d observed over these two nights with magnitudes (which differ slightly book by book), just as a reference for what I’d seen without proper astro darkness.

M13 5.8
M29 6.6
M51 8.4
M57 8.8
M63 8.6
M71 8.4
M81 6.9
M82 8.4
M94 8.2
M97 9.8
M101 7.9
M103 7.4
M109 9.8

Around 2.30am on the second night, I found I was getting very poor contrast with any deep sky objects. I suspected a misty mirror till I realised it was a subtle skyglow from the early dawn.
Time for bed!

The Caldwell Catalogue

IMG_8329In April’s Astronomy Now magazine there was an article about the Caldwell Catalogue. It’s a list of 109 deep sky objects assembled by Patrick Moore in the 90’s. None of them are Messier objects, and in that boyish OCD way, I thought it’d be fun to cross off some of the Caldwell Objects, seeing as my Messier list is as complete as is reasonably possible at my location.
Steven James O’Meara wrote the article, and I’ve already got his book on the Messier Objects, so my latest purchase sits alongside it very nicely.
But of course, I need my telescope setup sorted asap, and to that end I’ve decided to properly renovate my old 10″ Dobsonian, which I bought from Dark Star Telescopes back in the early 90’s. I’ve never got on as well with any telescope as well as that one, so I’m sorting it out, and this will mean getting a ‘real view’ finderscope too. I’m going to be working on it on Friday. The ‘spider’ needs171818788_4234704893277709_1800004152398893420_n fixing as the weld on the nuts has snapped.
I also want to put my Telrad finder on there. With a Telrad, and a right view 10X50 finder on there, I think I’ll have a very comfortable, easy to use light bucket. And then I’ll start doing some serious observing.
The two Caldwell Objects I tried for in the Helios bins, on the last clear night’s observing at the observatory, still need re-checking. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see the open cluster Caldwell 1, and I need to re-visit C3, also known as the Iris Nebula. I’m convinced I saw a distinct spot of nebulosity in the right place through the Helios Bins. But my notes describe it as being in a ‘house shape’ of stars, which I can’t confirm from any of the maps I’ve seen. So I can’t honestly tick it off. But I will, and I’m looking forward to a more methodical method of observing when I’ve got my old friend back working. I’m pleased to say it glides a dream on its Teflon pads still. Bless! 

The second Helios session

Tonight was the second session with the Helios 15X70 bins on the parallelogram mount, from the semi-rural Bortle 5 site, (which I suspect may be more like 4.5).
Please excuse the quick type-up, as I didn’t make notes tonight due to the cold, (and I don’t seem to have typed up the first session, how disorganised!)
Riiight, the winter constellations are heading westward. Two weeks ago I saw Orion, Taurus and Canis Major easily after sunset, now only Gemini remains, with M35 strangely elusive tonight, (why?). But Leo is in the ‘sweet spot’ of dark sky between the lights of Telford and Wolverhampton, and I’m happy to report I can make a definite sighting of the third galaxy in the triplet, Almost not there, but I made a mental sketch of where I thought it was, and it was where I’d seen it.
It was fun to see them ‘pop out’ actually. Astro darkness was 11.30 ish tonight, I arrived about ten, with no galaxies to see. Then M66 appears, and as darkness properly falls, M65 grudgingly turns up late. It took a long time for me to find the third galaxy tonight, (NGC 3628). It wasn’t till 11.30, and the triplet being in the ‘sweet spot’, that I was able to admit to myself I could see a slither of mist above and to the left of the other two. At mag 10 this was the faintest object in my list tonight.
I’ve been reading about the Caldwell Catalogue, and there are a few Caldwell objects in Cephus, a constellation I don’t think I’ve visited much. Tonight I found Caldwell 4 – (NGC 7023), which is an emission nebula. I’ve got to re-visit this, because my notes don’t seem to marry up with Stellarium, but Stellarium’s labelling has had me confused before, putting object labels in places that don’t help with identifying. I’m going to enter the sighting in my log book, because I did see nebulosity, but it didn’t seem centered round a star, as it appears in photographs.
Two other objects in Cephus – clusters with Caldwell numbers, weren’t found, or were they? Perhaps these clusters are simply star fields. Remember, the Caldwell Catalogue isn’t like the Messier one. It’s not a list based on comet confusion. I tried for cluster NGC 188 (Caldwell 1), and IC 1396. The latter I’ve just checked, and at 3rd mag, I would have seen it, so it’s basically a star field in bins. I obviously need to research and re-visit these two ‘objects’.
Coma Berenices, what a constellation! Hardly seen with the naked eye, but Bernice’s Hair is superb in bins, (better in 10x50s actually). And lovely and bright tonight was the cluster M54 and the galaxy M64. They both live around eleven-o-clock from bright-ish stars, so quite easy to find when star-hopping.
M41, the Beehive, the Alpha Persei cluster, all wonderful! The double cluster (Caldwell 14), M103 (an obvious tiny triangle, nice cluster but small in bins). And another galaxy somewhere left of Denebola (Leo). I knew I was in the ‘realm of the Galaxies’ so a sketch of the surrounding stars helped me confirm later that it was M49 I could see. At 8.4, not a bad catch I think. There’s a lazy ‘T’ shape asterism bottom left that confirmed the sighting.
But then again, I’m thinking bins are the way to go for galaxies. You just need time when you’re looking, patience. I’ve not forgotten last year’s rural viewing of M33, which was invisible in the telescope, but seeable in bins. Something about two eyes being better…
M3, the great globular cluster in Canes Venatici. How bright it is when you eventually find it! For every time I’ve seen this, I’ve seen M13 a hundred times. Why do I pass over this fantastic globular? Very bright tonight. I could almost tell myself I could see it as a naked eye star.
Ursa Major right overhead made it physically difficult to see galaxy M101, or was it the light pollution from Wolverhampton seven miles away? I’ve been seeing M101 in 10×50 bins out in Shropshire the past two weekends.
Wow, imagine these Helios bins on this mount in the Elan Valley.
It has to be done.

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.

March Binocular Observations part two

Had another rural binocular tour on Tuesday night. Mars was looking pretty heading north between the Pleiades and Hyades (pictured with my Canon 750DSLR), and asteroid Vesta still very visible in Leo, heading north-east. Leo high and bright at the moment. Saw the delightful run of open clusters M35, M36, M37 and M38 very clearly, the seeing was great, though it was crisp and windy. Also saw the small cluster NGC 1907 under M36. The Orion nebula (M42) was very prominent this night, with nebulosity extended well even in the 10X50’s.
Underneath Sirius the Little Beehive M41 very pretty, and over to the left of Sirius the open clusters M46 and M47 were small and compact, nowhere near as rewarding as the Little Beehive.The actual Beehive open cluster (Praesepe, M44), was an easy naked-eye object, displaying a pool of ‘mist’ in Cancer, and glorious through the bins, like scattered diamonds against the inky black sky.The smaller cluster M67 (underneath, to the left). also found. It’s quite small in comparison to Praesepe. O’Meara’s Messier objects book gives a distance of 2,600 light years away for M67, compared to Praesepe’s mere 577 light years. So little wonder there.
Nice object though.The night’s excellent seeing was evidenced further by a binocular sighting of Bode’s Galaxy (M81) in Ursa Major, almost overhead by 11pm. Its ‘companion’ galaxy (M82), couldn’t be confirmed. The double cluster and Perseus star field superb, (NGC 869 and NGC 884), and upwards towards the left that ‘cluster’ I keep seeing that doesn’t seem to a a designation or even asterism name. More research needed. Failures this night include Galaxy M51, Supernova remnant M1 (yet again!) and the Leo triplet. Leo was in a quite bright part of the sky, to be fair. On retuning home I did a comparison and found I could actually see M36 from Chapel Ash with the 10×50’s, but not M38. With the magnitudes of 6 and 6.4 respectively, that looks to be a pretty good barometer for limiting magnitude for an open cluster under a moonless city sky with good seeing.