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Menorca Uncovered! Aug 21 to 27

Special K

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The following is an attempt to make sense of the notes and scribbles and the odd doodles of the things I was very pleased to come face to face with in Menorca.  This could be a bit lengthy so I will cut straight to the chase by mentioning the absolute highlights of the three sessions I had with the travel scope, in case you can only stay tuned for the 10-cent version :)

But first I'd like to just bring to light that Menorca doesn't seem to get a lot of attention in an astronomy sense as some more famous Spanish isles such as Tenerife or Lanzarote.  Having been to Tenerife last summer and going to the trouble to drive up Mt Tiede at dark, I was quite surprised to find that the SE corner of Menorca outside the small town of Punta Prima was very very good in comparison.  You don't get the advantage of high altitudes, but I think Tenerife has more ambient light pollution from the vast resorts at sea level which interfere to a small degree with how dark it can get.  I got as good as SQM 21.31 with a waning Crescent Moon so think the potential could get close to Bortle 2 on Menorca under the right conditions.  It stands to reason there is good potential looking South to South East as between this and Sardinia, is the Western Mediterranean Sea with zero light pollution.  I mention all this because prior to my trip, I couldn't find much info at all on observing from this island aside from a handful of reports from here on the Lounge.  Perhaps I got lucky with the weather, for though the seeing was never that good to be honest, the transparency ranged from very good to excellent.  The Milky Way is well structured and immediately recognizable even coming straight off a well lit street.  And I suppose this leads me to my first highlight which was to experience this immediately visible galactic structure by walking into a dark, nearby field.  I had to run back to the room and fetch my sons to view this and took them all the way to the shoreline to escape all glare and interference.  The M24 Star Cloud,  The Lagoon Nebula, Ptolomy's Cluster, and the Cygnus Rift and much much more were naked eye treats.

A second higlight of that same mini-session was to watch the moon rise over the sea.  I've never watched this unfold before and it was a tremendous experience; while the lads were too busy looking for shooting stars and talking about extra-terrestrial life!  The Moon starts as a sliver of light on the horizon and grows into an odd shaped blob before then forming into a disc of deep dark yellows growing out of the sea.   It then becomes recognizable and grows in brightness at a surprising rate.  A memory I will long treasure.

Andromeda: [19x only] Many times I've viewed M31's milky core, but this time I was struck by a huge oval sworl nearly filling the width of my 4 degree FOV.  I have never seen so much of Andromeda and felt this is what galactic observing is all about.  A deeply humbling experience......out of this world.

M11 The Wild Duck: [68x & 85x] Previously viewing this little guy from light polluted vantage points, I always knew I had been missing the best it has to offer.  But what amazed me this time around was how compact it is as an open cluster!  It looks much different to many other open clusters which have some loose associated stars like a handful of diamonds cast onto baize.  In contrast, The Wild Duck seems to present you with three parallel, studded rows, bunched very closely and of an equal brightness.  Perhaps it was the small 80mm aperture which gave this effect by not picking up the really dim stuff which must be nearby, but I was very pleased and happy with the effect on the eye and was left with the impression this is a really, really loose globular!

NGC7293 The Helix Nebula:  [19x only & O-III] I set myself the task of hunting down this big gas cloud, and having missed out on seeing it from England in the past, this was a result.  The Helix is a visual big brother to the well known Ring Nebula M57 but this is relative:  the Helix is much closer at ~714 light years from Earth compared to the Ring's distance of 2,300.  Aparent Magnitude is not that much different:  7.6 Helix to 8.8 Ring.   However, the surface brightness is spread across 16' x 22' of the Helix's oval, inner perimeter which makes this a tough target in light pollution or when viewed from high latitudes.  It was about 26 degrees Azimuth when I viewed it and could easily make out the oval shape of the cloud.  Unlike the Ring, I could make out no inner void and so was of fairly uniform brightness.  The 31mm Nagler produced a very nice view and revealed incredibly dim stars, one on either side of the cloud.  But going to higher mag, the Nebula just vanishes from view almost completely.  I didn't view this at 19x without the O-III but expect it would also vanish.  Hopefully the below conveys what I could see, and some of the joy I felt in finding it!


[.......just realized I cannot make this short after all] :D

M22 and other Sagittarius globs [68x & 85x]:  M22 on the first night looked more spongy with the brightest components as prominent studs.  But with better viewing on the second night, I was able to resolve this more clearly and it's a tremendous cluster.  Large!  M28 could be squeezed into the same FOV using the widefield plus Kaus Borealis nearby for a nice effect.  Feeling confident, I dug deep for magnitude 9 NGC6638 and mag 9.1 NGC6642 with the 80mm.  I got them both just barely which was thrilling, but have to say I was really missing big aperture at this point!  I could have made an evening of it around the Teapot with all the micro-clusters and faint globs peppered around the area.

Though seeing wasn't great, it was fantastic to grab Mars, Antares, and M4 in one FOV.  I couldn't manage to squeeze Saturn into the same FOV as Mars as I had hoped.

Summer nebulae were stunners too, but I'll save that for another post.  In short, a good time was had, just a mere 5 minute walk from our apartment down to the sea.  It's lovely to observe in short sleeves and shorts with the sound of the waves for company.

Clear skies!


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Nice session in lovely conditions, quite agree with your account on M11, I enjoy this as a bright compact binocular object and have observed with both 10.5x70 and on my recent trip to Mull with 16x70.  Becomes a highly engaging somewhat looser and very contrasting object to observe of course when at a dark location with more aperture and a mid power wide field ep.

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