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Ordered a couple of books from Sky & Telescope's online shop. They arrived in the UK quickly enough but I was surprised to receive a customs note with them (since books should be exempt from additional taxes). After 1/2 an hour on the phone to the Post Office and HMRC I was informed that I'd need to pay an additional £19 to receive the items, but could claim this back if they'd been mis-handled. When they were delivered it turned our that, rather than being mis-handled, they'd been mis-labeled as "craft supplies". Contacted S&T requesting a refund of this additional charge, which was entirely a result of their error. Received an answer after over a week, which stated that: "...unless your package was sent to a school or learning institution or you requested that the package be marked as educational we have no way of knowing if it will be used for a personal hobby or craft" This information was not given at the checkout. I responded, pointing out that I had ordered from the S & T shop, which doesn't sell craft supplies, and that I was surprised that they make customs declarations on parcels when they don't know their contents. Received another response to the same effect and stating that: "[sky and Telescope] are under the umbrella of F+W Media a Content and Ecommerce company." So it seems I am to remain out of pocket. It's a shame because I'm certain my future custom would have been worth a lot more.
Quick trip to the California mountains to Blue Canyon airport (~5300 elevation) for some fall stargazing. Conditions were great - temps were just under 50F (~9C), the moon is rising after midnight, and the skies were very clear. With the Milky Way blazing and M31 faintly visible overhead I arrived shortly after dark and got setup. Three goals for the night - observe/log any supernovas currently visible (that hadn't previously been observed), observe the Hershell 400 targets located in Pegasus, and observe the Pegaus targets in the Deep Sky section of the latest issue of Sky & Telescope. Since conditions were so good I also wanted to visit a few 'old friends'. Observing was done primarily with my 10mm EP for 120x but for some targets I added a 2x Barlow to go deeper. I went out with SkyTools3 and sorted my Hershell 400 list to show only objects in PEG. I quickly realized that I hadn't updated SkyTools with the latest 'current' list so my Supernova list was out of date. Luckily my cell phone signal was adequate tether my laptop and access the latest Supernova list at http://www.rochester.../supernova.html...but it wasnt' fast enough to update SkyTools. Oh well, we'll do it the 'hard' way and search by NGC. I first searched for SN 2012ei in NGC5611 - the star hop wasn't too difficult and I positively identifed NGC5611 as a faint haze between two mag 9.4-9.6 stars. I was able to just pick out the very faint mag 13.x stars in the area but could not discern the supernova. Tried as I might I couldn't declare victory. I'm going to try to grab this one again now that I've updated my finder software. At about mag 13.9 this SN isn't going to pop out and it's sitting fairly low in the sky now. Next up was SN 2009ip a LBV that has transitioned to Type IIn SN in PsA. I hopped over from Fomalhaut and the SN was actually pretty easily found at the end of a string of mag 11.x stars and before a very faint mag 14.2 star. The host galaxy NGC7259 was not really visible at mag 14...a hint of haze but I'm not going to say I saw it. The SN was listed at mag 13.7 and that seemed right for this target. Last was a very brief attempt at SN 2012ec at mag 13.9 in Eri - very brief becuase it was too low on the horizon to see through the pines. Save this one for another (later) night. Goal #1 - as complete as it was going to be for the night. Swinging the scope over to Pegasus. Here's the list of objects observed after sorting SkyTools' Hershell400 list for PEG: NGC7331 - GX - Pretty bright and from NW-SE in the EP - two very faint 'satellite' galaxies nearby (NGC7335 and NGC7337 ) - both VERY faint...but undeniably present in averted vision as compact little clouds. NGC7217 - GX - A bright core with descent size and remaining relatively bright through the disk - no more details. NGC7814 - GX - Faint, round haze patch with some elongation to top and bottom. No real details. A faint fuzzy. NGC7479 - GX - Another faint fuzzy. Bar was the most obvious feature but was still faint. NO spiral evident. NGC7448 - GX - A faint elongated galaxy - about twice as long as high. Pretty easy to pick out. While browsing around NGC7331 i noticed that Stephen's Quintet was nearby so I hopped over and could JUST faintly discern what I think were NGC7319 and NGC7320. Just below NGC7318a/b were ghosts of haze with averted vision. At 120x 7319/7320 were just barely visible...at 240x they were more easy in averted vision and the haze of 7318 were just barely there. NEED A BIGGER SCOPE! Goal #2 complete! On to the Sky & Telescope Deep Sky section. NGC7463 - GX - At 240x I was able to see it best in averted vision and getting the nearby mag 8.2 star out of the field. No details...just a faint haze patch. NGC7464 - GX - Not able to discern it. NGC7465 - GX - Visible at 120x and 240x...needed to keep the mag 8.2 star out of the field for best views. Very round fuzz ball. NGC7497 - GX - A cigar shaped galaxy - very elongated and without any real detail. Clearly visible. Goal #3 as complete as it was going to be tonight. I finished off the night with a few old friends. I had a great time with M31 (and M32/M110)...bright and big. Then came M33 - AWESOME views of this large faint galaxy...spiral structure was just visible with a mottled appearance (star forming regions?). M101 was just visible as a haze with no details visible...but it was so low on the horizon it was about as much as I could wish for. A good night - 15 new galaxies, a few old friends and 1 new supernova. Happy Hunting!
First stargazing trip of 2013 to the California foothills. As a matter of fact - first stargazing in WAY too long. The location was Cronan Ranchabout an hour from Sacramento, CA, at an elevation around 890' MSL. Skies were clear but moisture in the airmass brought seeing down to average if not slightly less than average. Stars boiled in the eyepiece all night when not overhead. Temps were near freezing...and despite gloves my hands froze. With skyglow from Sacramento on the SW horizon up to about 30-40 degrees I tried to limit my viewing from East to overhead...with a single target to the south (more on that later). The Milky Way was visible overhead...but really only overhead with direct vision. The night had three goals - observe objects in the Deep Sky section of the February issue of sky and Telescope, observe objects in the Deep Sky section from the January issue of S&T, and observe SN2012fr. Observing was done primarily with my 10mm EP for 120x but for some targets I added a 2x Barlow to go deeper...but I found that conditions did not favor the Barlow tonight. New finds. Old friends. Missed observations. While waiting for the sky to darken I spent some time with rising Jupiter. I was approached by a hiker while setting up and got the scope centered on Jupiter - unfortunately I let him look too soon because all he saw was a 'star-like' planet. Just after he left I collimated the scope and Jupiter and 4 moons jumped out of the EP. I felt bad because he realy would have liked the view. I'm pretty sure I saw the shadow of Io as it crossed in front of the king of the planets but good viewing was spotty due to less than perfect seeing. Additionally I viewed Albireo, the Ring Nebula (M57), and Andromeda (M31). With the scope pointed high overhead I opened my first observing list of the night: NGC 752 - And - OC - mag 6.6 - easily found, lots of stars, 'golf putter' asterism nearby IC 179 - And - Gx - mag 13.2 - tough find, just a small/faint haze about 2-3x bigger than the surrounding stars, averted only NGC 266 - Psc - Gx - mag 12.6 - easily found, very faint haze patch, no bar evident Lovro 2 - And - asterism - mag 10-11 - fairly easily found asterism that looks like double question marks (R.A.: 00h22m13.1s Dec.: +24°51'40" (2000) in Andromeda) Goal #1 - complete. Next I lowered the scope to the horizon and tried to pull faint Eridanus out of murky horizon. It took time with the finder scope, but I was able to ID enough stars to get in the neighborhood of SN2012fr - a 'kite-like' asterism of mag 6-7 stars in Formax that would serve as an easy go-to spot while searching for the SN. From the kite a short hop led to 3 stars mag 9.2-10.8 and then up to a pair of stars around mag 10.5 and on to a final, faint star at mag 11.1. Within the 110x EP view was the very faint (averted) glow of SN2012fr's host galaxy (NGC1365, mag 10.6)...but no star-like SN popped out. I spent many minutes trying to tease out the Sn's faint mag 12.x light...even tried more magnification with the Barlow but that just made things even more faint so i abandoned that quickly. Despite numerous attempts, SN2012fr never exposed itself to me. Goal #2 - fail (for the night). As my third goal covered a lot of clusters in/around Monoceros/Puppis and both constellations hadn't risen high enough for viewing I slewed the scope over to Gemini. A few gems graced the EP for the next 20-30 minutes. M 35 - Gem - OC - mag 5.6 - an old friend and very easy find due to size, too many stars to fit into the EP at 110x IC 2157 - Gem - OC - mag 9.1 - a small OC that looked like a bowtie at 110x with the left half being brighter and more filled in than the right half. NGC 2129 - Gem - OC - mag 7.0 - nice little cluster, a brightish anchor with slight haziness surrounding ... dozen+ stars clearly visible At this point my laptop battery said it was dead so my star charts were gone...Mon/Pup were still too low to see the target area so I called it a night and let my frozen body warm up. Goal #3 - epic fail (but I'll be back!) Not a complete loss I guess - 3 new galaxies barely seen, 2 new clusters and a few old friends. Happy Hunting!