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On This Night Of A Thousand Stars...

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Hi All,

When I first moved out of the New Forest I was advised not to bother taking telescope. I'd always taken it for granted that there wasn't any point pursuing astronomy as a hobby from London because of the light pollution. People will tell you that you can't see faint messier objects, you can't see stuff near the horizon and you certainly can't see the Milky Way. In fact ordinarily this is what I'd tell but sometimes a night comes along that defies common experience, and last night changed every assumption I had about what can be seen from an urban park...

Of course I do have certain natural advantages - I have exceptional peripheral vision and I don't quite live in London. Teddington is pretty dark by London standards and Bushy Park is a huge asset for an astronomer because you can get out from all the sodium lamps. The Northern horizon is always a write-off but the rest of the sky can be surprisingly good. Coupled with recent thunderstorms that have washed the sky clean of its usual load of dirt, I did have it particularly easy.

Even when I was walking down, ST80 slung over the shoulder, I was surprised by just how clear it was. Even from street level I could make out all the priniciple stars of the summer triangle constellations, even faint little Sagitta showing up. Once in the park I was truly astounded because the Southern horizon, normally an impenetrable glow of pollutants, was as sharp as I could hope with the teapot clearly visible. With this in mind, I immediately set up and went hunting for something I'd always wanted to see, the Lagoon Nebula. I never expected to see it from London with such a small scope but within minutes I had it clear in the viewfinder. Another astronomical lifelong ambition achieved. The stars of the cluster sparkled on their pool of glowing nebulosity, shockingly easy to see. This, I could tell, was going to be an epic one.

I followed the advice of another user, andrew63, and swept the area with my trusty Nikon bins too, so I was able to check and double check that I'd seen all these things. I went through Sagittarius and found the following:

M8 (Lagoon Nebula) - Beautful, surpassed all expectations

M17 (Omega Nebula) - Found this one harder with just a faint glow of nebulosity and no real structure. Better view with bins

M18 - Maybe not the most visually spectacular cluster I found

M20 (Trifid Nebula) - Best view was with the bins, although clearly visible nebulosity in the ST80

M21, M23, M25 - Again, best views with the bins, although I found M25 especially lovely in the scope

M22 - Astounding sight, nice large glow of globular cluster. A superlative object and a new favourite along with M8

M24 - Ah, the advantages of widefield telescope... Countless stars to sweep through.

M28 - A little disappointing. Maybe I misread but TL@O seems to confuse the position of this one and M22.

After that I moved on up the sky towards Scutum. M11 is now a permanent fixture on any night, but tonight I saw structure in it, and it held up well to a little more magnification. Having never seen M26 I thought I'd "tick off" Scutum, and indeed I did find it, a faint sparkling patch next to delta. The Wild Ducks were still the main highlight.

The next bit was something of a shock though, and feel free to be as disbelieving as you like. I wouldn't believe me either, except I grew up in the New Forest. I've always been slightly confused that seeing the Milky Way is such a big deal for people - where I grew up it was just... there. In August it was this ever-present glow down the middle of the sky, and out on the Forest it would start to resolve into its countless stars. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful sight, but I never appreciated how wonderful it is until I moved to London and couldn't see it. That is until I looked up, resting my eyes from the eyepiece, stared into the transparent sky above me and saw a faint, diffuse glow arching through Cygnus and on into Aquila. I had to blink, but I wasn't imagining it because it had a big dark rift in the middle but I was actually looking at the Milky Way while inside the M25. I don't think nights like that come along too often. I should be clear about this though, it was exceptionally faint, but it's something I've grown up with and can recognise a mile off (Or a few hundred parsecs anyway) so I knew exactly what it was. I also had to let the wife know I might be a little late home...

I then went ever higher and had another crack at M27 which was a revelation - with averted vision and a bit of magnification it started to reveal some of its structure wonderfully. Am I really still within the GLA I wondered? Next logical step was the Ring Nebula, and with the stability of the sky I was able to power it right up to 80x (Pushing it with my scope) and had the best view of it I have managed, with the hole clear with averted vision - better even than when we were n Pembrokeshire. I took out my bins again and searched out M39 in Cygnus, a lovely little haze of stars. And on a galactic note I finished off by looking for Andromeda as it creeps ever higher in the sky. Although not brilliant, I could make out the shape of the galaxy clearly, and the core was nice and crisp. I was satisfied too to find M32 lurking beneath it. M110 will have to wait until our autumn trip to the West country though.

So that wraps it up. My messier count is up to about 34, I managed to find an awful lot I'd never seen before, and I am now perfectly satisfied that, at least from the periphery, astronomy is a worthwhile hobby here in London. I doubt the Milky Way is a regular sight even in Bushy Park though...


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Very interesting, thanks for posting. Can you give an estimate for your naked-eye limiting magnitude for stars on that night?

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Eek. No idea - It was, at a push, down to mag +5, certainly +4.5. Constellations such as Delphinius, Sagitta and Scutum were clearly visible, M31 was just about visible although lost in the hazier portion of the sky. There's a big difference in the park between North and East (i.e. into Richmond and London), West (Towards Hampton) and South (The best view - over the park and out of London). The Milky Way was extremely hard to pick out, just a faintly glowing band at the zenith. It was brightest in Cygnus, with the rift clearly visible, and I could follow it towards the South maybe as far as Aquila. Going north towards the glow of London it petered out and wasn't visible at all in Cassiopeia. I've heard that it's easier to see stuff like the Milky Way when you know what you're looking for, and it's a very familiar sight for me. I wish my wife had been there to confirm it, but then her peripheral vision is awful.

I think the main thing last night was the transparency which was just unreal for London. Quite apart from the Milky Way, I didn't expect to see anything as low in the sky as M22 or the Lagoon Nebula. I deeply regret not having tried to seek out the lower globulars like M54 and M55, it was such a rare night. I'd have tried M6 and M7 but they were behind the trees... I wonder if others had similar experiences?


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Sounds like a wonderful night - will stay with you for a long time. I think, perhaps for the last week there must be less dust around along the horizon which is helping with transparency ?

Some of the best reports I've read recently involved the area of Sagittarius, I feel despite the short window and low location it's the richest part of the sky to observe - with telescope or binoculars. Hugely rewarding.


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I've read a few reports where people have got confused about what they're looking at down there - this was certainly the case for me. I'm not familiar with that part of the sky because it lurked behind my parent's alder trees (Along with most of the Southern Sky). My Dad was somewhat jealous that I'd been observing M8. I used my old Phillips guide to the Night Sky and followed your recommendation of using the binoculars. A lot of the nebulae were better in the bins I felt - especially M17 and M20. TL@O was also of use but one of their diagrams mixes up M22 and M28. The text is correct though, as is the view through the eyepiece, it was the finderscope diagram that was messing with my head. I couldn't understand why the famously bright and huge M22 looked so small, while little faint M28 was half the size of the full moon. Tsk!

Thanks again for the binocular tip though - worked a treat!


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