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  1. Lichfield observing session Sat 31st May - Sun 1st June 2014 Lovely crescent moon right over in the West around 10pm - grabbed the Nikon D3, 70-200mm f2.8 VRII and 1.4x teleconverter to grab a few shots hand held out of the upstairs window... see pic An unexpected clear spell, not what the forecast on BBC weather website had predicted at all! To go out or not? A decision not helped either by the fact we'd had a late session the previous night with the Rosliston Astronomy Group's May get-together and then a follow-on 'committee meeting'. On my own this evening too, as Andy was preparing for his 8 mile Sutton Fun Run the next day and it would be too late for him wait for the night to get dark enough to observe and then have enough sleep to do a run! Round 2 then for the new Nova Hitch alt/az, Berlebach Planet tripod, TSA-102s and Sky Commander XP4 DSCs Leveled and aligned on Polaris using the 6mm Ethos (136x mag), heated green laser pointer and Tak 7x50 illuminated finder scope. Then swung to Arcturus (as previous session) for the second alignment star - no need for a change as the pointing accuracy had been spot on previously... With the sky still 'bright' and the 6mm in the diagonal from alignment, I centred upon Mars, sinking slowly into the West and heading towards the branches of a large bush in the garden! Could make out some dark detailing edging the two bright polar regions and slightly brighter side edges. Swapped to 3.7mm SX Ethos (220x mag). Used a star roughly NE of Mars to nail focus. At first I wasn't too impressed with the view of this star as it looked at bit blurry (scope still cooling?). Then realised (as focus tweaked) it was a double with a nice clean split! Back to Mars. Single orange star to the lower left of the planet within the same FOV. Two bright polar regions with different shapes, the bottom being bigger but more shallow than the upper. Dark markings around both with a central column (Syrtis Major) rising from the lower dark 'collar' towards another dark band at the top, that appeared thicker to the left of centre. Also two bright semi-circular regions on opposing sides of the planet. All set with a large circular 'flare' in the centre of the eyepiece. With next months RAG presentation including a talk about sketching, I thought I'd better make a contribution, so produced a 15-20 minute sketch to record the observation! Switched out the 3.7mm in favour of the 13mm Ethos for Galaxy M94 (Mag 8.2) in Canes Venatici. Unfortunately sky still light. Galaxy visible with direct vision and circular in appearance. Bright central core, almost 'stellar' in a fuzzy kind of way and resembling a a faint globular cluster! Couple of stars to the left and right punctuate the FOV. Headed in a straight line towards star Alkaid (the first star in the 'handle' of The Plough), straight on M51. Very difficult. With extended viewing both cores could just be made out, no chance of the 'bridge' though. Another 'challenge' The Whale Galaxy at Mag 9.3, NGC 4631 / Caldwell 32, sits between Canes Venatici and Coma Berenices and is an edge-on spiral. Thankfully, Sky Commander and laser are doing their job again tonight so far... galaxy very, very faint using averted vision - need Andy and bigger scope here on this one! A diagonal slash noted with a big question mark on observing notes to check orientation of said diagonal - confirmed later via Starry Night Pro Plus 6. Much brighter is M63 The Sunflower Galaxy (mag 8.6), sitting back above Canes Venatici (yep, we're zig-zagging around the sky for some reason). Nothing of note to say. Perhaps a slightly extended shape with a brighter core region. Nestled up against a bright star to the left in the eyepiece. Bootes next and a re-visit of Alkalurops / Mu Bootis. Why? Well despite Andy's notes from the previous session stating a split of this star system I had remained unconvinced. This led to some research on the web to confirm my suspicions and a re-visit - more magnification needed. Checked alignment by flicking the laser on/off, bang-on! Fitted the 3.7mm Ethos and carefully checked focus. Alkalurops is blinding in a beautiful kind of way, shimmering within multiple diffraction rings courtesy of the triplets optics. Slight yellow hue. Beneath I could see the star 'u2 Bootis' split into it's component parts B and C. The fainter upper of the two looking slightly blue and the bottom one, possibly yellow? Produced a sketch. Down to Arcturus just for a look in the 3.7mm and then Picot 1 - Napoleon's Hat! Needs 13mm Ethos for FOV! Viewed this with Andy over the Bank Holiday and mentioned at May's Rosliston Astro Group presentation. In the 13mm, Arcturus is still in the field - shinning brightly with diffraction rings that resemble a star pattern. Made a quick sketch. Then over to the West (back to Coma Berenices!) and Globular Cluster M53 (Mag 7.7), perhaps a tad off centre after counting down the digits on the Sky Commander - still really pleased with the mount accuracy though - like GoTo, but without the motor noise distraction! Difficult to resolve any meaningful detail. An amorphous sphere with the hint of a 5/6 pointed 'star shape'. The odd star resolving in and out of vision in the outer regions and core - the faintest pin-[removed word] of light. Noted two stars to lower right at about 4 o'clock, another at a quarter past 6 and another just after 'nine'. Upper left around 10.30-11 o'clock sits a string of three bright stars that help frame and enhance the overall view. Just visible in Tak finder scope as well. Produced another sketch for June's presentation, time 12.45am - it is (1st) June! NGC 5466 Glob (mag 9.10). Same sort of height as Izar, West of Bootes, found on an arc towards M3. Just visible using averted vision - looked for it for nearly 10 minutes and used black shroud and still not sure... Noted that I could see a horizontal 'V' patch of very faint stars. Checked Stellarium later and can see these... is this the NGC...? Need bigger scope! Hercules and M13 - always a good target. Returned though after our failure last week to locate the faint galaxy NGC 6207. Mag 11.6 so pushing it somewhat in this sky. Got it though - thanks to the Sky Commander. It's above-right of M13 (around the 2 o'clock position), whereas it sits below right when viewing with the dob - confusing! Couple of bright stars beneath it in the field. Faintest of marks by direct vision and slightly elongated by averted. Now 1.15am and I'm pointing at the bottom right leg of Hercules - looking for 'Star 7', a Zig Zag asterism. Bit of a weird one (I just can't 'see it' that's all - the 'Zig Zag that is!), needs a bigger FOV than the 13mm offers though. Lower than I first thought, but perhaps that's just the 'tired operator' by now? Thankfully the Sky Commander has a RA and DEC readout, so I was able to use that to double check that I was actually on the target! Delve into Cygnus riding the Milky Way which is just visible... Centred upon star Sadr, the 'Heart of The Swan'. NGC 6910 is a lovely open cluster to the right in the same FOV - a sideways 'Rocking Horse' made up of 10 or so stars! In the upper wing sits the Planetary Nebula NGC 6826. It needs more magnification than the 13mm really (62x), but it is 'fuzzy' and blinks - from a star to halo and back again when switching to averted vision. A slight blue/turquoise look. Tried the Lumicon UHC filter - dims/deletes stars and makes brighter ones bright green - yuck! As for the planetary... more fuzzy, less 'blinky' and I can't see the green laser beam through it either when I decide to double check how good my alignment is! Drop down to the pretty little open cluster NGC6866, NE of Sadr. Jeremy Perez sees a bird, Stellarium calls it The Cooling Tower (from a power station I presume)... as for me.... 'quite sparse, slightly elongated arch of stars in the shape of a letter 'Y', having two strings of stars at the top and another at the bottom - resembling a sparse globular', oh well...! Looked for The Veil (Witches' Broom part), nothing - blamed it on the dark grey sky... Instead, headed a few degrees west to another summer favourite - NGC6940. A large and fairly 'flat' looking open cluster that fills a quarter of the field in the 13mm. Peppered with a few brighter stars running horizontally through the field. The Coathanger asterism (Cr399) next, between Vulpecula and Sagitta and always brings a smile. Only just fits into 13mm so not very 'coathangery' tonight! M29 Southwest of Sadr - a sparse/compact open cluster made up of 8 stars - looks like a butterfly or a lop-sided space invader. Messier... why? No NGC 6888 'Crescent Nebula' tonight either - sky condition and aperture against me. A little further west along 'the neck' sits open cluster NGC 6871. Presents an elongated shape in 'pairs of stars' - the two in middle are at right angles to each other. Up to Lyra and The Ring Nebula M57 sitting in it's star-field. Small but well defined and bright. More pronounced in the UHC filter, but at this lower magnification I preferred the unfiltered view. Lastly, just because I was intrigued by the name I went looking for NGC 6905, The Blue Flash Nebula (Mag 12). It sits at the Eastern end of Sagitta. According to some info on the web; 'The Blue Flash nebula is a wonderful find; a tiny blue gem amongst a field of scattered diamonds. Discovered in 1782 by William Herschel, this planetary nebula is accessible in a 6-inch scope, although it is in the larger instruments that it really shines. Minimum requirements to detect: 4-inch telescope under dark skies.' So no hope for me tonight then! Despite that, I centred on the brightest star (Mag 10.5) close to the location of the nebula, stuck my head under my black shroud and stared concentrating on the area using averted vision. I couldn't detect the nebula but slowly the background stars (Stellarium gives these values of Mag 12-15) came into view around this central star, shimmering in and out of averted vision. Will return with Andy and a bigger scope in tow... A nice way to finish another unexpected night of observing. Damian
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