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Some lovely sights in the sky this morning before dawn.

Everything viewed at 48x to 120x, with assistance from 10x binos.

Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina.

Currently lurking near a nice delicate double, HD 124929 (mag 7.8 and 10.1 at 5.3"). Easier to see than a few weeks ago, with a bright nucleus and asymmetrical coma. I didn't consciously see the tails, but knowing from images that it had two tails, I asked myself where I thought they were, and my answer turned out to be absolutely bang on. Seen, but not seen.

I like to know where things are in space, and in case it's of interest to others, the comet has just crossed back over Earth's orbit, with comet, Earth and sun all around 1AU apart in a giant equilateral triangle. Earth is approaching the comet faster than the comet is moving out, and we will close to just over 0.7AU in mid January.

Porrima

Double star in Virgo. Tight at 2.4", but split cleanly at 120x during better moments in the seeing. Planning for the long haul here. It's a good chance to see orbital motion in another star system over the next couple of decades. The pair are currently Sun-Neptune distance apart, but it will visibly increase over the coming years.

Attractive wide (6') bright double of red giants Nu1 and Nu2 in Corona Borealis. Nu2 had a fainter companion at an easy 100".

Brief look at the M13 globular cluster in Hercules which was nice but rather low in the sky. M53 glob (Coma Berenices) was better placed, and a nice sight.

Ursa Major and Canes Venatici were well placed at the zenith for some galaxy hunting. Most of these are right alongside bright stars for ease of finding before the sun appeared.

Finally saw M101 after hunting unsuccessfully in binoculars early this year, but it was rubbish. It probably deserves a second chance from a darker site.

I'm fairly sure I looked for and found M109 but it must not have left a big impression on me because I forgot to cross it off the list. Still, at 75 million light years distant, it's a new record for me.

M51 Whirlpool was amazing. Huge in the view. Hints of concentric circular rings, although it was too much of a stretch to connect it into a spiral. The companion NGC 5185 was easily seen.

Cocoon Galaxy and NGC 4485. Equally fabulous.

With the sky brightening, I turned to the planets, briefly enjoying a warm Mars and a gibbous Venus.

Jupiter. Spotted a few nice features, with the less obvious ones coming and going based on the seeing. NEB and SEB both obvious. NEB seemed the thinner of the two and had two notably darker areas. The thin NTB came and went. South polar region a shade darker then the zone above. Saw detail between the SEB and south pole for the first time: A thin darker stripe, and further from the equatorial band than the NTB in the north. Not sure what this feature in the south was. If Sky Safari is accurate, it matches the location of the darker eddies around the large pale oval spot in the south. Four moons, nicely balanced on both sides of the planet.

A terrific morning that will stay with me a long time I think.

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Love the title as much as the report, Before the Dawn, an old Judas Priest number. I ask though how long before the dawn you got plenty of viewing in and as a result an interesting read, well done.

Alan

Thanks, not familiar with that song so I've just listened to it while getting some of the pre-Christmas cooking sorted. Always good to hear something new :-)

It was 5am to about 7:20. To me, 5am feels like the mental cutoff between it being an early start, vs. quite unpleasantly still night time! A few of the targets were pretty quick (Mars, Venus, double stars, M13), which left plenty of time to savour and enjoy the really interesting ones. I'm slowly getting a bit more organised, and I went out with a good target list which helped minimise the faff. For the morning session particularly, I favoured targets near prominent stars to spend less time searching (knowing the sun or the kids would call things to a halt all too quickly).

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Well done, it's so exciting to wake up in the early hours then find clear skies. The time soon passes, too quickly before the Sun rises or clouds drift in. The sights are memorable,

Clear skies !

Nick.

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Great report Paul :smiley:

I wish I was better at getting up early !

I'm not the best at it, but it is a magical time. So peaceful without the white noise of distant traffic. It's a sound that's so constant that I never heard it until it stopped. Even so, I'd happily have waited for these sights to come around again in the evening, if not for the comet!

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Nice write up Paul :)

M101 is a good catch. Face on spiral galaxies are notoriously elusive. To see this in all it's glory requires very dark transparent skies.

When conditions are just right this is one of the finest sights in the night sky. 

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