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A decent night in suboptimal conditions


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Last night was the first good chance for me to observe with the 12" refractor since I got back to Cambridge a couple of weeks ago. The forecasts didn't all agree that it would be clear, but after 8pm the clouds dissipated so I decided to give it a go.

First I had a look at M57, because why not? Then the clouds came in. 45 minutes later they unexpectedly disappeared, and didn't come back. Here are the objects I observed:

NGCs 6802 in Vulpecula, 7128 in Cygnus and 7296 in Lacerta - all open clusters small enough to fit in the FOV. None of these seemed particularly interesting so I probably won't be going back to them.

Neptune - this is when I realised the conditions weren't great, as the disk wasn't perfectly sharp and there was no sign of Triton even at 400x (doesn't help that there's lots of light pollution in the south).

NGCs 7606, 7723 and 7727 in Aquarius and NGC 157 in Cetus. These were all visible but looked washed out by the light pollution I mentioned above, whatever magnification I used. These deserve another look if I ever get to a dark site.

NGC 7331 and its companions: I'd never properly looked for these before, though I had spotted NGC 7335 last year while looking at 7331 on the way to Stephan's Quintet. 7335 was pretty easy this time, and 7337 and 7340 soon popped into view. 7337 looked to have quite a concentrated nucleus though it turns out this is partly due to a mag 14 star very close to it. 7336 was the hardest of the four companions, and it took a while to see with averted vision.

NGC 147 and NGC 185, the two companions of M31 in Cassiopeia. These were almost directly overhead, so I had to lie on a cushion to observe them! Using a magnification of 215x was a mistake, as both have low surface brightness - 147 especially so - but I managed to see them and I wanted to move on so I didn't try lowering the magnification.

M33 - I wanted to see some of the fainter nebulae, which I remember reading about in a thread here. NGC 604 was obvious as usual. To my surprise NGC 592 and NGC 588 appeared as tiny but obvious faint fuzzy patches at 107x. NGC 595, closer in to the nucleus, required 215x to separate from the background glow.

Uranus - after the poor view of Neptune earlier, I wasn't expecting much. This time I did manage to see one moon: Oberon occasionally revealed itself at magnifications of 300x and 400x. However, there was no sign of any of the other moons, which were all closer to the planet.

J014709+463037, the quadruply gravitationally lensed quasar in Andromeda, which I pointed out in a thread here a couple of months ago. It seemed to have brightened appreciably since I saw it in August - I estimated it as around magnitude 14.8, up from around 15.2. Unfortunately it wasn't any easier to see this time because of the poor observing conditions.

By now it was 1:30am and I wanted some sleep so I packed up. On the way back I could see there was a bit of mist, so no wonder the observing conditions weren't great. Given that I was pretty pleased with what I did manage to see.

Tonight we're planning to hold an observing night for the new freshers, so let's hope it's clear...

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