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9 Aug - Big Dob finally sees the spiral arms of the Fireworks Galaxy (Night Vision)

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Posted (edited)

The weather gods continue to shine on me and I was out again last night ready to target the Fireworks galaxy (NGC6946).


I had repositioned the dob in the shed earlier in the day so that the shed wall no longer stopped me getting my head in to the eyepiece. (The eyepiece stack is quite long with the paracorr2, 55mm Plossl, PVS-14 NVD plus my head!)

I experimented with both the 55mm Plossl (giving me F2 and x36) and the Panoptic 35mm (giving me f3 and x60) plus trialed Astronomik 6nm and 12nm Ha CCD filters to see what I could get. And I tried the Ethos10 (giving x200) without the NV to see what I got without the Night Vision.


With the 55mm Plossl and some time spent at the eyepiece I finally got to see 2 clear arms curving back over the top of the galaxy together with a continuous circle of arm surrounding the galaxy core :). I confirmed the view by rotating the image from Sky Safari to match the star pattern in the fov and the arms were where they should be. The third smaller arm underneath the galaxy did not reveal itself however :( 


I have been trying to see something in this galaxy for years using various scopes and filters from various locations and to finally see the arms was a great moment for me!


For completeness, with the ethos10 and no NVD I could see a nice big patch where the galaxy is. Maybe some variance in brightness within the patch but no arms were seen. With the NVD I could see the arms initially with averted but finally in direct vision once I got my eye in.

I also found that the 12nm Ha filter seemed to make the galaxy larger in size but sadly the arms disappeared.


Clear skies,


Edited by alanjgreen
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An enjoyable read Alan it must be a real pleasure viewing DSOs with a 20" Lukehurst Dob. I have always enjoyed viewing NGC 6946 especially since the supernovae in May 2017.

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It must be pleasing to see some detail in the Fireworks Galaxy, it looks so good in images. I managed to view NGC6946  back in October 2017 from a dark site in Suffolk with my 10" dob. I was going through the Caldwell list and  NGC6946 was Caldwell 12. 

My log book entry:- Not very obvious but circular shape defined by haze and some resolving stars. 24mm Nagler. 

Looking back, whether I could really resolve any stars or if they were a part of the Milky Way, I`m not sure. I`ll try and revisit it this Autumn. 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Phil Fargaze said:

It must be pleasing to see some detail in the Fireworks Galaxy, it looks so good in images. I managed to view NGC6946  back in October 2017 from a dark site in Suffolk with my 10" dob. I was going through the Caldwell list and  NGC6946 was Caldwell 12. 

My log book entry:- Not very obvious but circular shape defined by haze and some resolving stars. 24mm Nagler. 

Looking back, whether I could really resolve any stars or if they were a part of the Milky Way, I`m not sure. I`ll try and revisit it this Autumn. 

Yep, it sure is was a nemesis target (probably due to the fact we have to look "through" the milky way to see it).

Edited by alanjgreen

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    • By alanjgreen
      Date: Friday 10th August 2230-0245
      Scope: 20” f3.6 Lukehurst Dob with Paracorr (fl = 2089mm & f4.1). Night Vision: PVS-14 with Photonis 4g INTENS.
      Eyepieces: 55mm (f2 x38), 27mm (f4 x77)
      Filters: Astronomik 6nm Ha CCD
      Moon: 0%
      Before we get started
      This is a long report. I will mark the most interesting stuff with underline should you wish to scan it and just digest the meaty parts…
      It’s clear and dark!
      I head outside just after 10pm and get the big scope setup & check collimation (all ok).
      I have a plan to continue to view nebula using Sky Safari 5 (wifi connected to my Nexus) and have a marked up copy of “Astrophotography Sky Atlas” by Bracken on the desk ready…
      Start with some brighter stuff, its still early…
      With the roof pushed back and two-star alignment completed, I head for Gamma Cygni (IC1318a, b & c) – There seems to be a mismatch between Bracken and Sky Safari where Sky Safari has the IC1318 labelled a, b, c top to bottom but Bracken labels the top nebula as IC1318b?
      I added the Astronomik 6nmHa CCD filter to the Paracorr2 and inserted the 55mm Plossl then attached the PVS-14 NVD to the Plossl.
      The views were wonderful! (even without full darkness), the nebula was showing as bellowing white clouds with real texture, occasional black patches and lanes could be seen within the lush whiteness. I took my time and nudged around finding myself first of all bumping into the huge bright Crescent nebula at one end and the fainter but intriguing Pelican at the other end.
      IC1318a – I specifically targeted the “a” top section and was rewarded with a lovely bright “dagger” shaped nebula. There were black patches seen within the varying brightness shape and I had to nudge around to see the whole thing.
      NGC6914 – I moved across to the nebula NGC6914 closeby and saw lovely lanes of nebula in all directions. There were some very bright areas within this nebula. A real treasure!
      Propeller – Next up, the Propeller which was easily seen as an “S”, with a bit of time at the eyepiece the other cross sections came into view. Maybe it was still a little early to see it at its best but I forgot to come back later.
      Veil – Onto the Veil and it was a sight to behold, equal to my best ever viewing of the other night. The western section was showing the split at the top into three parts (so I knew it was going to be good). I traced my way around the now familiar parts of this huge complex. For the first time I noticed that the lower western section has a “broken claw” shape within it (just below the bright star). The other highlight was seeing two intertwining strands of nebula along “the thin thread” section, like someone was twisting two wires into a twisted-pair. I noted wonderful bright details and outlines in the eastern veil and enjoyed the holes and knots within Pickering’s triangle.
      Sh2-128 – Its getting visible darker now so onto some Sharpless. Sh2-128 was seen as a very small patch but easily seen.
      Sh2-127 – slightly larger “double patch” but fainter than sh2-128
      IC1396 Elephant trunk – I have visited this a lot recently, but tonight it was later and darker than previously this week. I was rewarded with superb white nebula and easily spotted black patches of varying shapes and size. The centre elephant truck was lovely and sharp, the outer trunk has less defined edges and I worked to see a right angle notch in the corner of the nebula for the first time.
      NGC6946 Fireworks glx – After my success of getting the arms on the previous night, I had to come back for another look. This time I found the arms harder to see. I got them with averted vision but I don’t remember it being as hard the night before? Although I did note a faint showing of the third small arm underneath as what seemed like two small globular like patches pointed the way.
      Wizard – Up next, the wizard. I picked out the “horse” and “camel’s back” and the brighter areas noted on previous visits.
      Bubble – The bubble was really good. It was surrounded by a larger, fainter nebula structure not seen the previous night. It really is quite a large area. The bubble was round and bright with the central brighter section really shining brightly. Really enjoyable.
      Sh2-159 – uneventful blob of nebula.
      Sh2-158 – Nice. Double circle of nebula. Two stars peeping through and very bright section to the left hand side. Also confirmed that Sky Safari has this area as blank – it labels the area around “sh2-159” as “sh2-158”!
      M52 cluster – bumped into this lovely tight cluster as I roamed around this area of sky.
      Sh2-170 – Large textured nebula patch. Two stars in the central blackness.
      NGC7822/sh2-171 – After resolving some confusion as to what was sh2-171 (it’s the same as NGC7822), I found a thick lane of nebula with a bend in it. Bracken describes it as “Cosmic Question Mark). Up close in the dob then the question mark was not really how I would describe it (but I did some x1 NVD viewing later and IT IS more like a question mark at very low magnification). Nice bright nebula.
      CED214 – A real treat but seemed much smaller than on my last visit. Lovely 3D texture and varying white/grey/black colors. Looked like a “fist and knuckle duster” to me.
      IC63 – Right angled corner of bright nebula. Small. (Bright star nearby causing reflections so would ideally need more magnification to get it out of the fov).
      IC59 – Right next door in same fov. Straight thick patch of nebula. (Same star reflection problems as above).
      Sh2-173 – Decent sized nebula patch with a big hole in the centre. On images this morning, it looks like a “mask”. I did not note that so I now I will have to return for another look…!
      Sh2-175 – tiny nebula patch around a star.
      Pacman – This was the highlight of the night for me. First time that I have managed to get the whole of the big mirror onto the target (shed walls reducing aperture on previous attempts this year). Wowsers! It looks absolutely nothing like the view through traditional eyepieces with the 20”. I saw an “angel” not a “pac-man”. A white, textured angel shape, there was a black cactus under the left arm. Cactus splits off with a small side branch. Two small black holes seen in the whiteness. I held the sky safari image to the side of the eyepiece and did a side-by-side comparison. Lovely.
      Sh2-132 – bright arrowhead shape. Two black lanes cut into it. There were two small brighter sections, one left side and horizontal and one right side and vertical direction.
      Sh2-135 – small space triangle.
      Sh2-157 – One of my favourites, a very large “heart” or “space squid” with an extra bright small circular patch within it. It has lovely outer edge detail all around. There was an extra small line piece of nebula out to one side.
      Sh2-158 – small patch just to the side of sh2-157
      Sh2-163 – small faint patch
      Sh2-166 – small even fainter patch
      Sh2-168 – Triangle of stars shaped like a “segment” overlayed with a semi-circle of larger nebula on top. Very bright central area. Great. Images this morning do not reflect what I saw. The prominent “segment” does not come through on images. There is some black gas coming into one side, this must be part of the segment?
      Cave – I bumped into the Cave by chance and it was looking great against this dark sky. Better view than on previous nights this week. The black cave section stood out well against the surrounding nebula. The leading edge like a tidal wave pushing through the sky.
      Galaxy Comparison
      I removed the Ha filter and headed for my first NVD viewings of Andromeda and accompanying companions. I began by switching to the Ethos10 and removing the NVD to get some views to compare against. M31 was great in the E10, with the two black lanes extending well out into space.
      M31, 32, 110 – The central part of M31 was really sharp in the 55mm Plossl and NVD. The core was a lovely bright circle. The two black lanes were really sharp as they passed though the bright central dust. As the lanes moved out into space they became harder to trace than with the E10 previously. M32 and M110 were both clear and sharper with NV. M110 was larger with the E10.
      NGC147 & NGC185 glx – Another side by side comparison yielded similar results to M110. I found them larger in the E10 (but I was using x200 magnification) yet they were just the same patches in the sky with the NVD (yet only at x38). Hard to say which was best. They certainly had more contrast and were easier to hold with the eye with NVD. But I was starting to get tired by now.
      Stephans Quintet – Onto one of my favourite night sky objects. With the E10, I saw the central triangle of galaxies and centred the group. There was another galaxy close-by. I do not remember seeing both cores in the merging galaxy (which I have seen before with big dob). With the 55mm Plossl and the NVD the quintet are obvious (at x38 magnification), NGC7331 appears in the same fov. I nudged them central and one of the central triangle of galaxies is missing, there was a central two galaxies.  I could see 4 galaxies in the area, one was next to a star. I need to come back when I am more awake and repeat this exercise once again.
      Interestingly, when I centred NGC7331 I could pick out the same 4 flea galaxies to the side at x38 magnification that I saw with the E10 at x200 (mind boggling).
      Box kite in the Sky
      M76 – In the area I saw M76 and nudged over. I am glad I did! What a surprise. I was expecting a mini dumbbell and instead got a “box kite in a circle”. The box kite had a white box at either end with a larger central black oblong shape. The whole thing appeared to be within a circular structure. At x38 it was very small to the eye. The view did not resemble anything I have seen with traditional eyepieces. Another one to revisit with more magnification on another night.
      Tiredness gets us all in the end!
      By now I was really tired and decided to close up the shed and grab some x1 milky way views by attaching a 1.25” 12nm Astronomik Ha filter to the front of the NVD. It was 0230, so I had managed 4 hours and the list of targets had been huge. I have not mentioned many old friends that I happened upon during the night, just those that made it into my notes.

      The wonders of x1 with NVD and Ha filter
      I scanned the sky holding the NVD direct to my eye and looking up. I focused the NVD by turning the front objecting using the Seven Sisters as my target. Bang! There’s a big log of nebula next to the Pleiades (California), Boom! There a multi patched nebula coming up over my neighbour’s house, looks like a flying bird (IC410 & Flaming Star). Moving up a nice pair of nebula (Heart & Soul). Into Cassiopeia and several smaller blobs of Nebula (maybe Pacman). Keep moving, and there is the IC1396 Elephant trunk (some black detail within), onwards to very bright North American and Pelican next door. Into, Cygnus and very bright detailed blobs around Gamma Cygni.
      The main drawback of x1 is the wear and tear on your neck!
      Dawn is not breaking
      It was 0245 when I made my way back inside and looking up the Milky Way was still clear and wide. The black streak between the two arms still looks really black and stands out lovely against the sky. Only a month ago the Sun was forcing me inside at 0200 and now it’s nowhere to be seen… Seems the astronomy window is opening once again and I am a happy man!
      Clear Skies, Alan
    • By alanjgreen
      I have been working my way through the Sharpless objects aided by the "Astrophotography Sky Atlas" by Bracken and Sky Safari v5 Pro.
      I was looking at Sharpless objects around the Bubble nebula when I came upon a nebula (one of many Sharpless) that are "missing" from the Sky Safari catalog. I have been adding the missing ones by adding a central background star to my observing lists in Sky Safari as I build my own observing lists.
      Last night, I used Sky Safari to navigate to the beautiful sh2-157 with no issues.
      I pushed on to sh2-158 (as listed in Sky Safari) and made notes of my observation ( which was "obvious patch of nebula" ) then noticed another nebula at the edge of the fov...
      I pushed over and noted my observation ("mystery nebula patch near the Bubble. Looks like two circles together. Two stars peeping through one circle. Brighter patch to the left of the two stars"). I looked at Sky Safari and noted a star in the centre of the FOV (SAO 20502) and moved on...
      When I look on the internet this morning then it appears that my observation of the mystery nebula is in fact a pefect description of sh2-158 which means my observation of sh2-158 is actually sh2-159.
      Sky Safari lists sh2-158 co-ords as RA 23h16m DEC +61 12
      Bracken lists sh2-158 co-ords as RA 23h13m DEC +61 31 and sh2-159 as RA 23h15m DEC +61 07
      (Wikipedia seems to agree with Bracken).

      It seems Sky Safari has them mixed up! Certainly had me scratching my head this morning. I will try to confirm this next time I get out.
      For completeness SAO 20502 is located at RA 23h14m  DEC +61 40
      Just thought I would share my experience!
      Clear Skies,

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