Observing notes from the evening of Tuesday, January 12, 1999
I have not "officially" been out under the stars since November. I have been itching to get out and do some stargazing. The weather seemed semi-promising during the day. The forecast called for party cloudy conditions but the sky seemed mostly blue. After sunset, the stars were out, but the skies didn't look their best. A thin cloud could be seen here and there and there seemed to be a haze dimming the celestial lights somewhat. I decided to go for it. Observing buddy Michael King was wanting to get out there and use his new 8" LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope some more. We met at Farrington Point, on Lake Jordan, North Carolina.
The beauty of the LX200 telescope is that it is a fully automated system. You just type the object name you want to see into the keypad, the telescope will move, all by itself, to the object. You then look through the eyepiece to your heart's content. Some people speak negatively of these systems, saying it is better to actually find the objects yourself. I have none of those feelings. Now, I do enjoy scanning the star charts, picking my "prey", and going about the hunt. And, there is some satisfaction in actually finding it without the aid of electronics. Even so, the LX200 is still an awesome package to use. The time you previously spent on charts and trying to find the object is now spent on observing the object. It is truly amazing to see this scope in action.
To start off the night, I saw a most excellent meteor streaking from around Gemini, through Leo, and toward the horizon. It was bright and grass green in color. I didn't notice a trail. I could see it through the branches of the leaf-less trees and it was spectacular. Our first official target of the night was the open cluster M41, in Canis Major. The reason for this was the recent discussion of the cluster on the news group sci.astro.amateur by a "newbie". The LX200 went right to it. It is a large, bright cluster. There is a bright, orange looking star near the center of the cluster. It's a great splash of color that contrasts with the other stars. Very pretty.
Next up on the list M78, located in the constellation of Orion. To me, this reflection nebula looks like two headlights in the fog. Not too much to look at, but easy to see. Our next target of M1 in Taurus was much better. This super nova remnant is easy to see, which makes me wonder why it took me so long to find it years ago. It looks like a round, but slightly irregular, greenish cloud.
The galaxy NGC1023 was the next target of the mighty LX200 telescope. This is the galaxy that I observed during my last session and I decided to revisit it since a picture of it is in one of the latest Astronomy magazines. It is an elongated galaxy with a bright core. I've seen some descriptions of it as being large, but I didn't think it to be all that big. NGC1023 is located in Perseus.
The planetary nebula M76 was the next object to slide into view. Located in Perseus, the planetary looks like a "double planetary". It's nickname is the Little Dumbbell and I can see why. It has two lobes. I guess the best description would be peanut shaped, or dumbbell. It took on a greenish glow.
The next target of the evening was NGC891. The supposedly large galaxy is located in the constellation of Andromeda. It's suppose to have a dust lane bisecting it. Well tonight, I could just barely detect some haze where the galaxy was suppose to be. I guess this was an indication of bad skies.
Thinking of the great "snacks" of summer viewing, I decided to "nibble" on a globular cluster. With the punching of the keypad and the whir of the motors, the globular cluster M79 was found in the eyepiece. Although down in the murk, I was able to resolve M79 into tiny pinpoints of stars. This object is located in the constellation of Lepus. It is very compact.
Next up was...."QUACK, quack, quack!!!" "What's that?", asked Michael, obviously spooked. "Oh, it's just a rabid duck", I replied. Being next to the lake, we are always hearing something moving around or splashing about. Apparently, a local duck in the dark somewhere, decided to voice it's opinion on the state of things in duck world.
The next target of the evening was a very interesting one indeed. Located in Monoceros, I'd be surprised if NGC2261 hasn't been mistaken for a comet a few times. Known as Hubble's Variable Nebula, this object is surprisingly bright and easy to see. This nebula looks just like a little, fan shaped comet to me. The best description would be it looked like a badminton birdie. At the tip, or "head" of the nebula, was a star that seemed to be embedded.
Close to Hubble's Variable Nebula, we found the open cluster of NGC2251. Also located in Monoceros, I found this cluster of stars to be scattered and very elongated. It was almost as if the cluster was bisecting the eyepiece view. Michael observed that the more you gazed upon this gathering of stars, the more stars you could see. Tiny stars seemed to pop into view. One little circular grouping resembles the Northern Crown, Corona Borealis.
In cruising through some old email yesterday, I came across a message that was sent to me about three years ago by a friend, Shauna McDaniel, out in the Seattle area. She described a grouping of stars near M76, that was suppose to resemble a Volkswagen Beetle car. I decided to see if I could find it. Centering M76 in the middle of a low power eyepiece, I panned around the immediate area (something that is very easy to do with the hand controls of the LX200). Before long, I came across a small grouping of stars that did indeed resemble a Volkswagen. You see a curved group that kind of resembles the profile of the "bug" and a couple of 10.5 magnitude stars that could be headlights. The location is approximately: RA: 01h 44m 32.1s, Dec: +51°50'28". Pretty neat. Thanks Shauna.
Next up on our tour of the night sky was NGC2244, the Rosette Nebula, and its associated open cluster if stars. The stars were quite scattered. The nebula was invisible until we added my UHC filter to the optical mixture. Only then did the nebula start to filter in (pun intended). This is one big nebula. And with the filter, it was surprisingly easy to distinguish from the background. It filled the eyepiece and was irregular. We could see dark lanes or veins in some parts. It's a neat view and would probably shine in a wide field, deep sky telescope. This object is located in the constellation of Monoceros.
Having just passed the season, I thought it appropriate to go after the Christmas Tree Cluster, NGC2264. Also located in Monoceros, the cluster was recognised as a scattering of stars. The UHC filter hinted at some nebulosity, but I'm not exactly convinced. Panning near the cluster, Michael found a beautiful double star. It looked like a tiny Albireo with colors of blue and gold. The pair seemed evenly matched in magnitude.
The wind was getting rather cold, coming off the lake. Time to think of something warm. Fire. And what makes up fire? Flames. So next on the list was the Flame Nebula, NGC2024. Located in Orion, the Flame Nebula is right next to the bright star Alnitak. The glare of the star can interfere with your observing. The nebula was just barely noticeable. It was more imagined than anything. It was rather disappointing given some of the fantastic views I've had of this object in the past.
All of a sudden, from the southern horizon, I see a bright orange "star" rising rapidly into the sky, at about a 60 degree angle. It started fading from view a few degrees above the horizon and was then followed by another along the same trajectory. It resembled anti-aircraft fire. I assume it was from some kind of military exercise at Fort Bragg, near Fayetteville.
Next up was the king of the nebulas, the Orion Nebula. Messier object number 42 never fails to put on a good show, no matter what the seeing conditions. It was big and bright and we could see tons of detail. The four stars of the Trapezium, at the heart of the nebula, were blazing away. Wisps of beautiful nebulosity extended, swirling, beyond the field of view of the eyepiece. We also picked up M43, which is only 11 minutes away. M43 looks like a star surrounded by nebulosity. We could place the star of M43 out of the field of view, yet the nebulosity from it still shown brightly, like the glow from a rising full moon. Truly amazing.
Our last object of the night was NGC1973. Located near M42 in Orion, this object is a small grouping of stars that illuminate some interstellar dust. Known as a reflection nebula, photographs of these objects tend to be blue. We could just see some glow scattered among the stars.
Toward the end of our observing session, the skies really started clouding up. Even with our guide stars disappearing, the LX200 was still finding all the objects we requested of it. Long after manual telescopes would have been put out of commission, we were still going strong. Goto astronomy can be a lot of fun and quite rewarding. And, "QUACK, quack, quack". Sounds like our duck friends are at it again.
Jeffrey L. Polston
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