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I think I jinxed myself. I was taking the abundance of clear skies that is typical here for granted, and couldn't believe the cloudy sky reports I had heard so often from so many star-lovers from across the great pond. I am now in the midst of my own helping of it. It has been a full month now of anything from total overcast to thin clouds covering the whole sky, but have only had maybe 4 nights that were actually clear during that time. Of these, 3 fell during the fuller moon phases. One night I was coming home from the pub with my girlfriend. I glanced up and noticed the dark sky was also about as transparent as I'd ever seen it. I couldn't believe the detail I could see. Of course, I had to work early the next morning and just couldn't get out with the scope, and have been a little bummed about that missed opportunity ever since.
I have the bug really bad right now, and really need to get out and allow myself to get lost in the universe again soon. In the meantime, I figured I would share a report of the one good night I did make it out. The sky transparency was decent but not great. When it's cold and humid up here we tend to get a lot of suspended ice crystals in the air, and since my interest in stargazing has increased, I've noticed the impact this had on seeing.
Anyway, the night was January 24th. The moon was roughly half full and descending in the west. I snuck away on a work night, determined to hit up an exciting list of targets I had gleaned from reading the forums here. My usual observing spot was no longer accessible due to snowy roads, and I had to improvise with a nearby spot that was slightly more affected by the town lights, but not bad overall.
I got my telescope aligned (still using the GoTo regularly) and started with my first target, NGC 2362. This has been referred to as "the finest non-Messier object," and I had never seen it before. I was not disappointed. This open cluster had a great mix of bright and medium stars, and was quite mesmerizing. I definitely rated this one an A+ and would like to spend more time observing it in the future.
Next was h3945. Known by a number of other designations (HR 2764 in Sky Safari), this is a beautiful double star that is sometimes referred to as the "Winter Albireo" and is a truly beautiful multi-color binary located near Sirius. It's a fun and easy to remember star hop. From Sirius, head south and there is a triangle of stars that are medium brightness. From the top star (closest to Sirius, called Wezen) look east and there are two pretty obvious wide doubles stretching to the east, each spaced evenly and oriented roughly north to south. From the most eastern of these two doubles, if you follow the line they make to the north they roughly point to this double. It is absolutely lovely, and had become a landmark in the sky for me. I just love this one.
I now swung the scope to Orion, more specifically Rigel. This star has become special to me as I named my new dog after him. I have a 6 month old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and I got him in the midst of the start of my obsession with the night sky. After some consideration of many celestial names, Rigel stuck. Ever since this star has been special to me. Rigel is a binary, and I had never managed to see the companion. I managed this night, and it was lovely. The second star is much dimmer than Rigel, but is located far enough away that it is pretty easily seen outside of the main star when sky condition are good.
My next stop was NGC 457, the "E.T" or "Owl" cluster. I have seen this one before, and it is definitely a favorite. Worth a good looking at, and I gave it as much.
The next target was another that was new to me. Beta Monocerotis is a triple star (the first triple I've seen), and is another very worthy target. Not far from M42, I had to up my magnification to 231x to make out all 3 stars. Add this one to your list if you haven't already!
My list next guided me to M46, M47, and M48. M46 has a nice little planetary nebula within it, which I could clearly make out. M47 has less stars overall but is very bright and a great sight. M48 is spaced more widely and is very bright.
I next looked for NGC 2403. The article I was reading described this as a "great galaxy for smaller telescopes". I found it and it was pretty dim, a little washed out by the moon. I would like to revisit this one later on a darker night.
I now swung back to Orion, but rather than the usual suspects I visited M78 and NGC 2071. I had never viewed either of these nebula and managed to find both. I would like to spend more time on these in the future.
I now moved on to NGC 2360, known as "Caroline's Cluster". This one is more of a medium bright cluster, but has a LOT of stars and is a splendid sight.
I next moved along to M36, M37, and M38. M36 is similar to a small Pleiades. M37 particularly caught my attention as it has been described as "a virtual cloud of stars." This did not disappoint, and I didn't have enough time to give this object the time it deserves in the eyepiece. Another for a good revisit. M38 looks like the "Pi" symbol, and is another bright cluster that is well worth a visit.
I next moved over to 119 Tau, a nice red carbon star over Orion's head that I have been keen on observing lately. Something about carbon stars has really held my attention lately. I think I just never appreciated the fact that stars came in multiple colors, and I have been trying to pay my dues.
My list of missed object includes 40 Eri, a white dwarf that was washed out by the moon. M74, described as "the hardest Messier". Sirius B, "the pup star". NGC 891, an edge on galaxy I would love to see. NGC 1514, a planetary nebula in Taurus. NGC 2202, a pair of merging galaxies that I am very curious if I can make out in my 8" tube.
I saw 2 meteors during the night, and made it home by 00:30. It was cold and the seeing was not nearly as good as I have had in recent past, but I was very happy with my list of targets. I have been compiling a new list to add to the highlights of my last. Most of these targets have come from a page that was suggested by a member of SGL, found HERE. This has been a wonderful resource for me.
So there it is. I am back under a snowstorm, but the Clear Outside forecast offers hope later in the week. I could sure use a long night out. It's amazing how one can look forward to freezing one's butt off. I hope I get to do so later this week. Clear skies to you all!
@Stu, @GavStar and myself met up for a bit of club observing Thursday night… cloudy so good that we met down the pub. Someone (not sure who) pointed out it was clear, so we headed out to stand and chat under clouds with a chill breeze for more than 2hours waiting for the skies to comply with Sat24. Finally we spotted what looked like the edge of the clouds… the others got ready to polar align. OK observing under a near full moon is not ideal.. but it does help with setup and checking your charts!
So what to look for… using Gavins new “magic eyepiece” we headed straight for the Horsehead, just visible, the flame slightly more so above. We were using a TEC160 on a goto panther mount, with 55mm plossl and the TNVC adapter to the intensifier, using a 6nm hydrogen alpha filter to “help”. The gain control worked really well to tune the balance of brightness (and noise) vs detail. The “white phosphor” giving a very neutral and “natural” view.
Right, where next? Up to the jellyfish ic443, nice gentle curve easily visible, checked on the monkeyhead nearby. We then cruised down to the seagull which filled the view and then tried to ferret out the medusa Nebula… it evaded us this time. Swept over the the pacman, the heart and then the California nebula. The latter as two broad nebulous bands crossing the field of view. We need to try a smaller scope to give a bigger field of view for these really big nebulae.
Swapped in a longpass filter and checked on M35 which looked great, M3? and then M81/82, very clear dark lane in the latter.. Clouds finally made a return and we packed up the wrong side of 1am, feet nearly frozen solid. Seemed like many of the streetlights had turned off as well, which is interesting to note. Going to be fun to poke this setup at nebulae when the skies are a little bit more conducive to observing.