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Admiral Crispy

9 new Messiers and a memorable nights observing

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Last night I got up at 3am, and all looked very clear and calm despite the strong wind, and despite the bitter temperatures I ventured out into my backyard with my 10” Dob. The sky was a deep purple rather than pitch black as I have had recently, but for once there was no real twinkling of the stars, and Mars looked pinpoint sharp rather than a throbbing expanded circle.

First target with my Dob was M42. With my 32inch Revelation Plossl I could make out a horsehead shape very clearly, with some mottling and also the famous trapezium pinpoint sharp. I could make out smaller wisps of cloud that transformed the image into a large eagle shape after a little observation. Next, I moved onto the trio of M95, M96 and M105 as they were all within close proximity of Mars in the constellation Leo. At first no joy, but then with averted vision I caught M96 as a faint circular blob of cloud, which became visible over time with direct vision, although at first I could not identify it, so set about finding the other 2 objects to verify it. M95 was being stubborn, so I moved over to M105 and found it as a faint oval patch much fainter than M96, similar in appearance to Bode’s M82. Eventually with a lot of patience, and over 20 minutes of observing I found M95 as a faint blob just to the bottom left of M96, much fainter than the other two and with no defined structure that I could make out.

Deciding to concentrate on Leo still, I moved on to try M65 and M66. Both were visible with the 32mm Plossl in the same field of view, and looked almost identical to the M81/82 pairing, with M66 appearing as a elongated cigar shape and M65 appearing as a small central star with a fairly large smudge background with no real detail being possible to find. Looking for more of a challenge, I checked on Stellarium the position of M108, and pointed my scope in its direction. At first nothing was visible. An absurdly small change in darkness ementated from between two stars, but with the background sky still purple in colour, I tried my 20mm plossl to draken the background. I find the galaxy eventually, a slightly brighter but still agonizingly faint smudge with no detail and closely resembling M33 in appearance. :) The central core was a smudge and there was a tiny hint of more extended regions a tiny bit fainter, with no definition at all. After a brief look I determined the visual limiting magnitiude to be 4.8.

With the cold now biting at my painful hands I tried some easier looking objects. M67 provided no cahallenge at all, and provided some very memorable views in my 10mm plossl. The stars shone a myriad of orange, blue and white, and whilst not as pleasing as the Pleiades, provided such a welcome contrast I have not seen in many clusters, and made me feel like I was getting lost in all the stars and beauty. With that bagged, I then moved onto M35 and M50. I could not make out the heart shape in M50, nor the nebulosity associated with it, and was quite disappointed in its view as it felt drowned out in the rich star field surrounding it. M35 was a worthy conclusion to my Messier observation, with it also taking higher magnification well and producing contrasting star colours that were very striking, and showing good separation at higher magnifications to reveal even more faint stars.

With my hands now in agony, I took a sneaky peek at Mars at 200x. The North polar hood was immediately obvious and striking, whilst I also managed to pick out a black V-shape band containing Syrtis Major and Terra Meridiani. I also glimpsed a tiny portion of the South Polar cap, barely visible at the edge of the disk.

With that I went back indoors, feeling happy with my 9 newly found Messier objects, and with a renewed conviction to try to find all the Messiers as I had never thought I would ever find M109 or indeed any of M105 or M95/96, especially as objects such as M1 had eluded me until only 2 weeks ago, and even then were absurdly faint. It has also whetted my appetite for the Skywatcher Aero 30mm EP that I will receive on Xmas! next on my list will be M63, M101, M51, M108 and the cluster of galaxies by Coma Berenices, weather and conditions permitting! :)

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Excellent report. Have fun in Coma Berenices; it is easy to get lost in there.

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Don't think I have ever managed nine new Messiers in one night. Nice work. Waiting for the opportunity for the trio of Leo galaxies, together with the Coma / Virgo cluster myself.

M51 is nice. First spotted it at a dark site where NGC 5195 (its little companion) was also easy to see.

I take it you meant you observed the Horsehead nebula separately from M42. It is a small dark indentation of another nebula that hangs down from the left-most star in the belt of Orion.

There is a little indentation of dark cloud near the trapezium but that is not the Horsehead.

The sword of Orion includes M42, M43 (De Mairan's nebula) and NGC 1973, 1975 and 1977 (the Running man nebula).

M78 is worth hunting for, if you've not already seen it. I managed it in 15x70s the other day, all be it with quite good skies.

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Thanks all for your kind comments. I managed M78 the other day, very faint cloud with two small central clouds - nothing special from my site and a real pain in all but the best nights from my backyard.

Got another few last night, M51 which appeared as two fuzzy balls with a small string hanging them together, M3 and M63, which looked like a mini Andromeda galaxy. I may also have got M101. I saw the most incredibly faint less dark patch where it was meant to be and a small bright regions in the galaxy showing as extremely faint points. Not sure if I can really count it as it matched up with Stellarium, but I did not see any detail whatsoever and I was lucky to see any colour difference in the sky at all! And I saw saturn for the first time since it last disappeared and those rings look so majestic as they are opening out and Cassini is really getting obvious! :)

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Chris, you are putting us to shame here.

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Great report of a brilliant night! When next in Leo, have a go at NGC 2903. This is a very bright barred spiral, and mysteriously neither on the Messier or Caldwell lists. It is in the Herschel 400 list.

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Didn't mean to put anyone to shame, honest! :) I'll have a go at NGC 2903 next time in Leo, as it will be nice to start on some of the non messier objects, and I am enjoying finally being able to pick out galaxies easier! (I had been only able to see M31 and M32 galaxies until 2 months ago, and have only had a total of 10 months experience to train my eye in, so I wasn't fancying my chances! :)). I have to say that finding these objects is really getting me to learn all the constellations and the sky much more than if I was looking casually!

I do have one question though. If you think you have seen an object in the right place, but can't be 100% sure because you are just going by a slightly less dark region as possibly being the object, would you say that you have observed it then, or when you make out more defined detail? Obviously I will look again later, but I'm assuming that objects will mostly get harder to see after the Messier list and when moving onto the Caldwell list, so where do you draw the line on having seen and not seen something? :)

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I do have one question though. If you think you have seen an object in the right place, but can't be 100% sure because you are just going by a slightly less dark region as possibly being the object, would you say that you have observed it then, or when you make out more defined detail? Obviously I will look again later, but I'm assuming that objects will mostly get harder to see after the Messier list and when moving onto the Caldwell list, so where do you draw the line on having seen and not seen something? :)

Make a mental note or sketch the star pattern around the object and compare with a photo on the web. Of course faint stars will show up much brighter on a long-exposure photo.

There's a faint star cluster v. close and to the West of M35 in Gemini. I like it because it is much more distant and a nice contrast to the 'nearby' messier object. Sorry - dont know what it's NGC designation is.

Well done for viewing Saturn. Did you observe it in the dawn half-light and how did this differ from the night view.

Edited by perrin6

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Next, I moved onto the trio of M95, M96 and M105 as they were all within close proximity of Mars in the constellation Leo

Interesting. Last Friday night at 3 am Pacific Standard Time, in San Carlos California, I was looking at the exact same thing in my backyard with my 10" dob.

I noticed mars under the 3 Messier objects in Leo and used telrad on Mars to hop to all three in the finder.

I found it a challenge to determine which one I was looking at, as several faint fuzzies were in view as I swept through the field.

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Chris, I was just wondering what time you were looking at mars because you say you saw syrtis major but according to the mars simulator that would only have been on the visible side at around midnight when mars was very low in the sky? I saw a large dark feature in the northern hemisphere ie just above the polar cap (as north is at bottom) at around 4.30 AM - 5.00 which, using the simulator software I took to be mare acidalium.

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large dark feature in the northern hemisphere ie just above the polar cap

Hi there -- scope, magnification? my 10" has not tolerated very high magnifications with recent poor seeing but I'd like to give it a shot. Thanks.

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Hi there -- scope, magnification? my 10" has not tolerated very high magnifications with recent poor seeing but I'd like to give it a shot. Thanks.

X270 with an 8.7 inch. It's quite large & faint (mare acidalium I believe) so perhaps visible with a lower mag.

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Thanks for your observation notes. Was clouded out here tonight...partly cloudy with fog. Hoping to get in a session within the next couple of days after moonset (3 am alarm...argh!)

Some good observation ideas in this thread. I set up the list of Auriga binaries as well.

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Thanks for a nice report Chris! I have been thinking about trying something similar - getting up early in the morning to be able to see the galaxies in Leo. Do you know approximately what limiting magnitude you have in your garden? I'm living in the suburbs and on a good night the limiting mag. is around 5 at the zenith. Do you think I would have any chance to spot the Leo galaxies with an 8" dob from home? I have been able to spot some, although they are very faint, e.g. M32, M77.

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Per, in my opinion you should have no trouble seeing M65, M66, M105 plus a number of NGC galaxies in Leo. A limiting magnitude of 5 is pretty good for a suburban location.

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I do have one question though. If you think you have seen an object in the right place, but can't be 100% sure because you are just going by a slightly less dark region as possibly being the object, would you say that you have observed it then, or when you make out more defined detail?

If you went on safari and the guide pointed to a tree telling you that there was a leopard in it but you just could not see it, apart from maybe a ear (or is it a leaf?), would you say that you've seen a leopard?

(That sentence probably needs a better structure!)

I was looking at some of the same objects as you (in Leo) earlier this week. Very pleased to see two of the Leo triplet galaxies - I miserably failed to see all three. :)

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Well, my limiting magnitude is around 4.8 - 5.1 , depending on seeing, so I should think you would be able to see the group of galaxies in Leo OK, as M65 and M66 are particularly bright for galaxies. I take your point Jonny P, I will check again before I say for certain whether I have seen it! Plus it gives me the challenge of seeing it in slightly better conditions (the sky wasn't as dark as it can be!)

As for Mars, I saw it at 200x in my Dob, and I could make out a bright Northern Polar cap, a sideways 'V' shape dust band just below that, and towards the southern end I saw a small black patch, and what was either a small hint of another polar cap, or possible colour distortion at the edge of the image. It was very small! So I may have attached the wrong names to the features because of course I forgot about the inverted image in a reflector! :) I checked it at 4pm that night, though I have seen mostly the same thing for the last little while (presumably because of the similar Mars and Earth day, and checking at slightly different times).

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Wow, nice to see someone else using wide magnification to good effect. Don't know if this helps, but I found best averted vision by looking below the target.

Will have to try Mars again at x200.

It's a superb time of year fro the evenings and the mid morning shift!

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Hve to admit, I;ve mostly used averted vision by looking to the left of the object - perhaps becasue that's the direction objects move in the EP, so I'll give your suggestion a try! :) I've found magnification to be critical to my observing. The better the conditions, the lower and higher uou can go (darker sky for low mags and more stable for higher mags) than if you have poor conditions, which force you into a much smaller range that you can use. I just switch EPs to see which magnification I like best, but I find its never the really the same for any on object.:)

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The best direction to use for averted vision is a highly personal matter. For me looking above and to the right works best. You just need to experiment.

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well, it was still good using my 12mm EP, and also using my 2x barlow with it, at least that session. But lately seeing has been so poor that actually my 20mm Ep has been better than my 32mm, as the sky was not dark enough in my 32mm, and seeing was equally as bad in each other than that!

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