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On a recent galactic tour of Cetus, one of the highlights was the 'discovery' (for me) of an almost perfect equilateral triangle of galaxies NGC 936, NGC 941 and UGC 1945. I was looking for NGC 936 because there is a little cluster of much more distant galaxies in attendance (more later), but I really didn't expect to see the other two, and it was one of those (actually fairly frequent) moments in this style of observing when something marvellous pops up on the screen. (My observing notes at the time actually say Wow!!! How come I didn't know about this group????) NGC 936 is a mag 11.2 barred spiral with a very bright core, with a well-defined 'steering wheel' shape, and a not-so-faint outer halo -- a fascinating object in its own right. Mag 13.0 NGC 941 has a very small but almost stellar core and a lemon-shaped central region; with a little more exposure I think the arms would become more apparent. Note the faint mag 17.9 galaxy near to NGC 941 in the direction of NGC 936. The third member of the trio, UGC 1945 is a mag 14.4 spiral which shows some signs of distortion. These objects are all at a similar distance (66-81 MLY) so I suspect they may well be interacting. What about the galaxy cluster near to NGC 936? According to the LEDA catalogue there are 7 or 8 galaxies arranged in a distorted right-pointing arrow; these have magnitudes in the range 16.9-18.6, with distance estimates in the range 1030-1060 MLY. So the cluster is a good 12-13 times further out than the foreground galaxy triplet. Even further out still are a number of quasars in this field. The fainter mag 19.1 marked is at a redshift of z=1.13, corresponding to a light travel time of just over 7 billion years. The other one marked is brighter at mag 18.6 but further out, at nearly 9 billion years.For me it is mind-blowing that in a single shot we can see (leaving out the very close stars in our own galaxy) a more than 100-fold range of extra-galactic distances, from bright galaxies to galaxy clusters to quasars, all captured with modest equipment. We truly live in a golden age for the amateur astronomer!Thanks for lookingMartin
It has been 25 days since my last encounter with the cosmos and I was starting to get fed up about the whole thing. There was much to do to make up for lost time and despite the fact that the atmosphere felt quite dewy, I could see down to around magnitude 5.3. My first regret was waiting until 10pm to set my scope up. While it cooled, I thought I would point the binoculars at NGC 253 (Silver Coin galaxy) very low down in Sculptor but found that I had left it about 10 to 15 minutes too late. It was just obscured by a roof it had 'decided' to set behind, in spite of me trying to find other vantage points and standing on tippi-toes for additional two inches of height. Never mind! Once the scope was ready, I decided to start with objects in Auriga where there were no such issues. IC 2149 is a small (possibly elongated) and moderately bright planetary nebula near Pi Aurigae and was reasonably easy to identify. Further East in the constellation I found NGC 2281, a bright open cluster with 25 or so stars counted. It appeared moderately sparse but was centred on a small diamond of four of the brighter stars. As Taurus approached due South and Gemini was now quite elevated, I decided to see if I could locate another prominent asteroid after the success of 1 - Ceres and 4 - Vesta in October. 9 - Metis was (at magnitude 9.7) far more of a challenge to locate than to see, not helped by the fact that CdC was slightly out again. It can be found starting from Wasat, moving to 52 Geminorum and then moving back through fairly easily identifiable asterisms. Nearby was Jupiter, which I was long overdue for a peek at. The sky was the steadiest I can remember and with the Moon filter on I could see three bands and what appeared like a little texture to the two equatorial bands. The also seemed to be some polar colouration compared to the main body of the planet between the belts. I did try the UHC (for a punt) and won't be trying it again. It made my eyes feel weird. Happy with the local tour, I moved into Aries and was just able to prise the galaxy NGC 821 out from the very nearby ninth magnitude star BD+10 293 in the very South of the constellation. It appeared quite dense but at magnitude 10.7, it was quite difficult to see clearly, even with a nudge of the scope. I moved on to M33 in Triangulum. Definitely easier to find in binoculars but with the scope the large core was very obvious and I believe I could detect a soft brighter glow in the surrounding area. This contrast was particularly evident when I moved away to the West of the galaxy. By now, the Northern part of Cetus had cleared my house and so I headed for Delta Ceti in search, firstly of NGC 1055 which sadly was a galaxy too far. M77 on the other hand was very bright. The dense and bright core seemed to be enveloped in a soft circular haze. From there I moved West to find another galaxy, NGC 936 whose moderately condensed glow made a backwards question mark asterism with four other stars between magnitude nine and eleven, just to the South of a brighter pair. I moved back to the Gemini - Taurus borders, to find Ceres again but found I got side-tracked when I found M35, a very rich open cluster. Two more open clusters were close by. NGC 2158 was very obvious to the Southwest and even IC 2157 further West again seemed reasonably easy to pick up, all be it slightly larger and more diffuse than NGC 2158. I had been very mindful to keep replacing the lens cap when not in use to delay the effects of the moisture in the atmosphere but by now I knew I had just one more target before the night was over. I decided to break my Eridanus virginity now the constellation was visible to the side of my house. NGC 1084 was still just about detectable despite lens conditions. A shortish star hop from Eta Eridani and close to the Cetus border, the galaxy has quite a high surface brightness but was only visible with averted vision. Let's hope the next wait for a clear night is a shorter one! __________________________________________________ ______ Observing Session: Saturday / Sunday, 10th / 11th November 2012, 22:20 hrs to 02:10hrs GMT VLM at Zenith: 5.3 New - Revisited - Failed