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DavidR100

In Search of the Southerly Messiers

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I was bitten by the Messier bug back in the beginning of 2013.  By the start of that summer I had seen over 70 Messiers with the help of my Helios NatureSport 10x50 binoculars, Sky-Watcher Explorer 130P and my two favourite dark sky sites: a “local” one in the north of the Cheshire plain and a location further afield in North Wales. 

The objects that had eluded me were mainly the fainter galaxies in Ursa Major and Virgo and the southerly Messiers, i.e. those lying below -30 degrees in declination: M55, M54, M70 and M69 in Sagittarius and M6, M7 and M62 in Scorpius.

My 2013 summer holiday to Switzerland coincided with a new moon and some marvellously clear skies. To my great surprise and satisfaction I was able to bag all the southerly Messiers.  The open star clusters M6 and M7 twinkled almost as bright as city lights in the 10x50 bins. Globular cluster M55 was large and diffuse and M54 was also a straightforward sighting in the bins.  For the small and faint globular clusters of M69 and M70 I had to resort to my newly acquired SkyMaster 10x70 bins, and even then it was a struggle to see them. The 10x50 bins, however, were sufficient to pick out globular cluster M62 further west in Scorpius.  The fact that these objects were 8 degrees higher in the sky than when seen from home was a key factor in my success.

Subsequent summer holidays in Portugal and Spain benefitted from being another 5 degrees further south, so once again with clear dark skies, the most southerly Messiers were easily seen.  In fact, conditions were sufficiently favourable at our holiday home 80 miles south west of Barcelona, that M7 was a naked eye object. That sky was a wonder to behold!

As a side note, when locating M6 and M7 on these holidays I followed the instructions of my Messier guidebook which recommended navigating from the tail of Scorpius.  More recently, after studying my star atlas, it was clear that navigating from the spout of the teapot asterism in Sagittarius was a better bet, especially from more northerly latitudes where only the top half of Scorpius is visible.

About a year ago I started to wonder if it might be possible to see M6 from my North Wales site, latitude of 53 degrees, as the sky there stays remarkably dark right down to the horizon. At that latitude M6 should lie almost 5 degrees above a low horizon. Alas, such things are a rarity in North Wales!

After several failed attempts last year and this, I celebrated success a couple of months back on 17th June.  M6 was clearly visible as a faint fuzz in my 10x50 bins.  By now I had graduated from the 130P to a Sky-Watcher Skyliner 250PX Dob.  Looking through the Dob with a 17.3mm eyepiece, the cluster occupied a significant part of the 1 degree FOV. There was a suggestion of a "V" shape at its centre and a bright orange star (BM) glowed in the upper right of the eyepiece.  I estimated M6 to be about 2 degrees above the hilly horizon so I knew straight away that M7 wouldn't be visible, as it lies 2.5 degrees further south than M6.  Not yet beaten, I turned the Dob a few degrees west into Scorpius and with a "seat of the pants" navigation (due to a lack of any prominent star patterns) just managed to locate a faint M62 in Scorpius.

A reconnaissance of the local area uncovered another suitable viewing spot a couple of miles away where I estimated the horizon was 2 degrees lower which, in theory, gave the opportunity to see M7.

My first visit to this new site on 17th July was a disappointment as a band of thin, low lying cloud mostly obscured the area of interest.

My next visit on 24th July was a different story. I arrived at 11:15 when M6 and M7 should have been at their highest, and set up poste-haste. The sky wasn't fully dark yet and the only star in the teapot asterism of Sagittarius I could see with the naked eye was Nunki, the top of the handle. Thanks to my success in June, I was able to navigate quickly using my 10x50 bins to M6, which again showed as a definite fuzz.  I then swept around the teapot looking keenly for Kaus Australis, the base of the spout which was roughly the same declination as M7. To my surprise and excitement I found it, so I knew M7 was at least above the horizon.  I then navigated from the top of the spout, still using my 10x50 bins, to where I reckoned I would find M7 and sure enough, a very faint fuzz appeared.  I then dashed over to my Dob using the same eyepiece as previously, navigated through the finderscope, and there in the eyepiece was M7, occupying most of the FOV!  I could discern a definite "V" shape with 4 stars in each arm on a west-east axis.  Looking through the binoculars, I estimated M7 to be about 1.5 degrees above the horizon, which fitted with my previous calculations.

I then mounted my Canon 500D on a tripod and fitted a 50mm f/1.7 lens.  I took several photos of the teapot asterism (at ISO3200, 6 seconds exposure), hoping against hope to capture both M6 and M7 in the shots.  When I got home I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I had been successful.

IMG_9944_20pc_anno_frame_composite.jpg.ec90b8d3120b0ce6a19cc0890a5f8c82.jpg

 

 

By 12:45 the sky had darkened in the south such that the teapot asterism was now clearly visible to the naked eye.

I then returned to my Dob, hoping to see the globular clusters of M69 (near the base of the spout), nearby M70 and M54 (near the base of the handle). I had success with each object: M69 and M70 were both faint fuzz balls, M54 was rather brighter but smaller.  I then turned my attention further east with M55 in mind. I rehearsed star hopping with my bins a couple of times so that navigation with the Dob was straightforward. Looking through the eyepiece there was the mighty, but faint, globular cluster of M55.

In the combined sessions of 17th June and 24th July I saw all the southerly Messiers for the first time from this country - and from a latitude close to that of home.  These viewings gave me the satisfaction of having seen all Messiers from a latitude of 53 degrees or higher.

So that is my story of the southerly Messiers.

I wonder what tales of frustration and success other observers can share about their experiences seeking out these low-lying objects, especially from UK latitudes?

Edited by DavidR100
Added inset photo highlighting the teapot asterism.
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Gosh - great report!  It's a wonderful area of the sky indeed. I saw M6 and M7 a few weeks ago but they're a bit higher up for me. The views sounded great from your trips though.

 

andrew

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How I navigated to M6 and M7 from Alnasl, the tip of the teapot's spout:

IMG_9944_20pc_80pc_anno_frame_guide_stars.jpg.fdb311f96fb7920bcfa69653910949f8.jpg

Edited by DavidR100
Identified the starting star.
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Fab report. Really enjoyed it. Nice to read about the build up to your various successes. Excellent picture too. I'm planning on some binoculars for Christmas. I think they'll be a big big help with getting a first look at targets and planning star hopping routes as you've done

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Excellent report David. I've had some fun seeking out these low objects from a variety of sites both in the UK and abroad. I managed M6 & M7 from a site near St Aldhelm's chapel in Dorset on a lovely clear night using a Televue Genesis which gave a wonderful 5 degree field.

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Thanks, Neil.  My 10x50 bins were my first astro equipment purchase and are still definitely one of my favourite pieces.  I can’t recommend them too highly.  They pack a big punch for such a small, handy size.  For a good price look no further than the top of this page – don’t know if I’m allowed to say that!

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What a great report... yup you definitely got the bug... but how could you not with a number of nights of successful observation. 

 

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Thanks, Stu. M6 and M7 in the same field of view sounds cool!  A 5 degree field is very impressive for a scope – not far off that for my “wide angle” bins. My calculations tell me that the magnification was probably similar to my bins, but the light grasp was 4x.  Wonder if I'm right? You can’t get much lower a horizon than the sea!

Looking back, I’m tempted to think that using a 10” Dob for M7 was overkill.  However, it did reveal detailed structure at x69.  Also, I knew that light would be at a premium so near the horizon – and so it was.  So no regrets.

Edited by DavidR100
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7 hours ago, DavidR100 said:

Thanks, Stu. M6 and M7 in the same field of view sounds cool!  A 5 degree field is very impressive for a scope – not far off that for my “wide angle” bins. My calculations tell me that the magnification was probably similar to my bins, but the light grasp was 4x.  Wonder if I'm right? You can’t get much lower a horizon than the sea!

Looking back, I’m tempted to think that using a 10” Dob for M7 was overkill.  However, it did reveal detailed structure at x69.  Also, I knew that light would be at a premium so near the horizon – and so it was.  So no regrets.

Thanks David. Checking back in my report, I don't specifically mention having both in the FOV at the same time but certainly 5 degrees makes that possible.

The Genesis with a 31mm Nagler gave 5 degrees at x16 with a very flat field due to the petzval design, very nice :).

We missed a chance at these from a dark site last week because a bank of very stubborn cloud was sitting over them for the whole evening, very frustrating!

My report below, there are a few more around along similar lines from other sites.

 

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On 8/15/2017 at 21:07, andrew63 said:

Gosh - great report!  It's a wonderful area of the sky indeed. I saw M6 and M7 a few weeks ago but they're a bit higher up for me. The views sounded great from your trips though.

 

andrew

I can't resist sharing a little more of my experiences of the treasures of the dark skies I was honoured to witness in the summer of 2014 in Spain, over 80 miles down the coast from Barcelona (mentioned in the main report above).

Take it as read that the sky was dark and clear. The big surprise was how that clarity and darkness extended down to the horizon in all directions.

As already mentioned, M7 was a naked eye object. So was M31.  M33 (Triangulum Galaxy) glowed in the 10x50 bins despite being barely 20 degrees above the horizon.  I even recorded sightings of M63 and M94 in Canes Venatici despite their lowly declination and low magnitudes.  I viewed all the Messiers in Sagittarius, Scorpius, Scutum and Ophiuchus, with the exception of the faint Sagittarius globulars M70 or M69 which needed a little more light grasp than my 10x50s could provide. In total I logged sightings of 42 Messiers.

The outstanding sights were Scorpius, complete with its glittering tail, looking down from well above the horizon, and the majestic Milky Way that stretched from horizon to horizon and positively glowed overhead, appearing as thick as clouds in Sagittarius (in fact I thought they were clouds initially!).

This trip was in the immediate aftermath of my completing finding and seeing all the Messiers.  I was sufficiently moved to recount my experiences in an illustrated report complete with a table of viewed objects.  Perhaps I’ll share that one day…

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I took this photo of northern Sagittarius with my Canon on 24th July, which was when I saw M7 for the first time in the UK.  It shows 11 Messiers - can you spot them all?  The "answers" are in the image below it.

IMG_9970_16pc_frame.jpg.f1e8dc7e6d0245cbf461f612a5c6bbdd.jpg

 

IMG_9970_16pc_frame_anno.jpg.1c2bdcafbf825db49571f4e446c589bd.jpg

That's 10% of the whole Messier catalogue in one relatively narrow field of view.  I guess that's what comes from looking pretty much through the centre of the galaxy.

Photo taken with a Canon 500D, 50mm, f/1.7, ISO 3200, 8 secs.

Edited by DavidR100
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Great report! You've inspired me to persist in my quest for M69 and 70! The biggest obstacle this year has been cloud. In the South west we've only had about two clear nights since June and even then there's been a layer of permacloud along the souther horizon!

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On 8/28/2017 at 01:15, DavidR100 said:

I took this photo of northern Sagittarius with my Canon on 24th July, which was when I saw M7 for the first time in the UK.  It shows 11 Messiers - can you spot them all?  The "answers" are in the image below it.

IMG_9970_16pc_frame.jpg.f1e8dc7e6d0245cbf461f612a5c6bbdd.jpg

 

IMG_9970_16pc_frame_anno.jpg.1c2bdcafbf825db49571f4e446c589bd.jpg

That's 10% of the whole Messier catalogue in one relatively narrow field of view.  I guess that's what comes from looking pretty much through the centre of the galaxy.

Photo taken with a Canon 500D, 50mm, f/1.7, ISO 3200, 8 secs.

10%!!!! Sagittarius is just greedy, seems like a disproportionate amount of M objects for it's self....

 

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20 hours ago, timwetherell said:

Great report! You've inspired me to persist in my quest for M69 and 70! The biggest obstacle this year has been cloud. In the South west we've only had about two clear nights since June and even then there's been a layer of permacloud along the souther horizon!

Many thanks!  Unfortunately I think you might have missed the boat for this summer as I think Sagittarius is now setting too early.  I certainly don't mind being proved wrong, though. Good luck!

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23 minutes ago, timwetherell said:

Yes, i think you're right. But i'll definitely give it another bash next year :)

 

I guess it depends where you are. M22 still at 13 degrees by 10pm for me. With a good southern horizon it is still doable.

IMG_3548.PNG

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1 hour ago, Stu said:

I guess it depends where you are. M22 still at 13 degrees by 10pm for me. With a good southern horizon it is still doable.

IMG_3548.PNG

What software is this output from, Stu? Also, what is your latitude, as I can't make it out from the image?

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5 minutes ago, DavidR100 said:

What software is this output from, Stu? Also, what is your latitude, as I can't make it out from the image?

It's from SkySafari David, great app. I'm at 51.5 North.

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1 hour ago, Stu said:

It's from SkySafari David, great app. I'm at 51.5 North.

Thanks for the info.  I have read a popular post on SkySafari so was going to look into it, though I have so far been very happily paper-based. Not forgetting my plastic planisphere which, although low tech, generally does the job. 

Edited by DavidR100
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7 hours ago, DavidR100 said:

Thanks for the info.  I have read a popular post on SkySafari so was going to look into it, though I have so far been very happily paper-based. Not forgetting my plastic planisphere which, although low tech, generally does the job. 

Everyone's brains work differently. Many people are fine with paper maps, my simplistic brain cannot convert a black on white view to a white on black view very easily, so I find star apps work much better. Well worth looking into for the numerous other benefits too.

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