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My First "Proper" Weekend


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Not for the first time on Saturday night, I decided to go searching for some DSO's. Usually when I decide to do this, I very quickly get distracted and end up seeing one or two things at the most. Normally they're the same objects that I've seen before so I don't often see anything new. It's also worth pointing out that I've only had my scope since February, so thanks to the great British weather there haven't been that many nights to properly get my teeth stuck into it.

Saturday night was a clear night, and the skies were darkening nicely by the time I went out at about 10:30. The first thing I did was to check out the Bahtinov mask I'd made myself which worked surprisingly well at first. Once I'd achieved a nice focus with my 6mm TMB I got some good views of Saturn considering how low it was by that time. Im sure I'm not alone when I say that for me, Saturn is easily the most stunning object when viewed in a telescope. In fact it's Saturn that normally distracts me during most observing sessions, so I'm sort of glad that it's disappearing from view for this year.

My first target was a familiar one, the ever beautiful M13 Hercules Cluster. To begin with I used my 25mm standard SkyWatcher EP to get more of a wide field view. While virtually no detail could be made out with this eyepeice, I enjoy the sense of scale it gives, showing how dense this bundle of stars is. Once I'd taken in the surrounding of the cluster, I moved onto the 6mm again, once more using the Bahtinov to get a crisp focus on Vega before returning to M13. Whether it was down to using the Bahtinov or good seeing I don't know, but I was able to resolve a lot more of the stars in the cluster than I had ever managed before. This really did make it into a different object to the one I'd ever seen before, appearing more delicate than I'd seen it before.

When I finally looked up from the EP, a very quick and bright meteor shot under Cygnus, north to south, which was a treat. I'd not seen very many of that speed or brightness before. My next targets were Messiers 81 and 82, brand new targets for me. I've still not completely got to grips with using the EQ mount, so it took much longer than I expected to get the scope pointing in the right direction. Still, about 25 minutes later I was in the correct region of sky and after a couple of twists of the RA knob I had two galaxies in my field of view. Up until then my only experience of galaxies was Andromeda, so seeing these two, relatively tiny galaxies, was quite surprising to me. The very different appearance of the two was immediately obvious, with a very circular galaxy being accompanied by a much flatter one. Again these were in the 25mm EP. The only difference was that by this time, my CARDBOARD Bahtinov mask that if made had got a little moist due to the damp cold that had developed and would no longer fit over the end of my scope! I think I need to buy a proper one...

By this point I was getting pretty tired, it was about 12:30 and it had been a long day, so I just looked at the Milky Way for about 10 minutes, spotting another couple of meteors, both much slower than the first and travelling in completely different directions form both each other and the first meteor. After that it was time to pack up and go to bed.

Right then, on to Sunday.

I went out slightly earlier on Sunday after watching the brilliant Space Shuttle documentary on BBC. As I was out a little earlier I spent a bit more time on Saturn. While the seeing wasn't great, with only fleeting glimpses of the Cassini division, I spent a good 20-30 minutes watching it which was pleasing. After spending some time on a nice easy object, it was time to move on to my real targets for the night.

First up was the Ring Nebula in Lyra. With hindsight, I should probably waited until it was darker, and maybe not used the 25mm EP to try and locate it. However hard I tried, I couldn't find it so, dissapointed, I moved on. The main problem I found at the time was that there were to many stars! I couldn't find my bearings with the 25mm, I think the FOV was just to wide for me to get a true sense of where I needed to be looking.

To bring back some confidence, I went back to my old favourite M13. The seeing definatley didn't seem as good as Saturday, I found it much harder to resolve individual stars, though again it may be down to the slightly earlier time I was out. I do think it was the seeing as it was quite dark by that time. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed seeing the cluster, it blows my mind every time I see it. The fact that the blur is thousands of suns, all closely bound together by gravity, I can't quite get my head round it.

Next up was, once again, M81 and M82. After reading up on them during the day, I found looking at them even more interesting. This time I found them almost immediatley, unlike the struggle I had to find them the night before. There was a nice moment when a satellite passed through the FOV, making me grin from ear to ear. I don't know what it is, but I love seeing a satellite, it never fails to make me smile.

As I was in that area of sky, I had a quick look for M108 and M97 without success. I don't know if they are too faint for me at that time, I was looking in the wrong place or a combination of both those things. Either way I didn't find it quickly so I moved back to the Ring Nebula. This time I found it quite quickly, with it looking like an out of focus star in the 25mm EP. I then increased the mag to 125X with the 6mm TMB. Using that EP, the ring structure was obvious, especially with averted vision. I also used tube tapping with a lesser degree of success. It was suprisingly easy to find the second time around, I wonder why I found it so much harder the first time. It was a very interesting object to see, I'd never seen a DSO with that much structure.

Next up was the Dumbell Nebula, which to be honest looks nothing like a Dumbell! It was pretty easy to spot, I went to the star to the right of the centre of Cygnus, to the left of Albireo, and then just moved down in the declination axis until I found it. I located it in the 25mm, and then once again moved onto the TMB again. Even with the TMB it looked nothing like a Dumbell, more like a slightly rectangular circle if that makes sense. Which it probably doesn't...

The last thing I had a quick look at before bed, for the first time this season, was Andromeda. I always expect to be able to see more detail than I do, maybe because it's visible to the naked eye it always seems to me that with a telescope some detail should be visible. Anyway, I was slightly underwhelmed by my views of our neigbouring galaxy as per usual.

And that rounds up my weekends viewing, well done if you managed to stick with it! Thanks for reading!

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Hi Tom

Nice report, you found some of the skies show pieces there.

M13 always a joy through any scope.

M81/82 IMO one of the very best Galaxy pairs.

M57 lovely little smoke ring:)

The dumbbell shape of M27 Is more obvious with a slightly larger scope or with dark skies. It's more apple core than dumbbell if you ask me.

M97/108 is very do-able with a 6" scope, but dark skies make it easier.

M31 isn't my favourite Galaxy by a long way either, but again is better from dark skies.

Regards Steve

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