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It's been months since I've been able to visit my local dark site. Thanks to the reduction in lockdown restrictions, an opportunity came up last night to go which I jumped at! Arriving onsite around 8pm with the sky still fairly bright, I was able to take my time setting up, carefully collimating the 10" dob and aligning the finders. I started off observing the Nova V1405 in Cassiopeia. I've viewed the Nova many times over the past 10 days so it felt like familiar ground. M52 really popped under the darker skies. I popped the 10mm Delos in for a closer look. This really brought it to life with many more stars visible when compared to what I can see from home. Winter observing has been a bit of write off with few opportunities so it was particularly nice to spend some time with M42. An OIII giving an increased sense of texture and depth to the Nebula. At this point, I spotted the ISS rising and decided to play chase the space station! Using the unfiltered Delos, I got a few fleeting glimpses of the ISS in the eyepiece to start with. Repositioning, I managed to keep it fairly well centered for what felt about 10 seconds but, in reality, was probably more like 2 seconds! It was enough to get a real sense of the solar arrays. Pretty good going at 120x and a 0.6 degree TFOV!

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get a Docter/Noblex 12.5mm eyepiece. I've been really looking forward to trying at the dark site. M51 was the target of choice for the Docter. The view was superb, beautiful spiral arms could be seen. Some of the best views of M51 I've had. The Leo triplet just fit into the FOV. Concentrating on NGC 3628, I felt like I could pick out the bar through the center of it. Virgo had now risen above the trees so, after a brief visit to M53, the galaxy hunt continued. Starting off at Rho Vir, I picked up NGC 4596 and then onto the Siamese Twins. I love this pair of galaxies which form something like a butterfly shape. From the twins to M58 and then Virgo A/M87. 3 more small galaxies filled the FOV of view around one side of M87. Virgo is simply bursting with galaxies. I have no idea how many I missed journeying through Virgo. The crown jewels of Virgo, Markarian's Chain was my next stop. Still using the Docter, I moved slowly down from M84/M86/NGC4388 to the Eyes Galaxies to NGC4461/NGC4458  and then NGC4473/NGC4477. I then used the APM UFF 30mm and APM HDC 20mm to get the complete chain into the FOV. Leaving the chain I passed NGC4459 and then enjoyed views of 3 more Messier galaxies (M98, M99 and M100).

The Moon was now starting to rise so I decided to try for one of my galaxies goals! I'd never been able to observe the Antennae galaxies  in Corvus before. With some careful star hopping and study of SkySafari I landed in the correct location. The Docter was again deployed. With averted vision, I could just detect the faint grey pair of galaxies. It was by no means I spectacular view but I was really chuffed to finally see them. A revisit will be required without the Moon starting to peak out to properly enjoy this pair. My attention moved to some brighter targets to finish the session. The Ghost of Jupiter planetary nebula was an easy find. With an OIII it had a distinctly mottled look to it and just invited further study. A quick observation of M1 was unremarkable so I finished up with the Eskimo nebula. I always enjoy this best without a filter. 

I packed up and headed home a little before midnight. On the way home a group of eight to ten full sized deer crossed the road in front of me. A nice little bonus to end a lovely night on.

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8 minutes ago, John said:

Lovely report Neil :thumbright:

Looks like a super place to observe from as well :smiley:

Thanks John. I’m very lucky to have a site like this within 30 mins drive of home :) 

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It does look amazing! Careful with those deer. I have had two (2!) separate accidents with deer after observing sessions in the last 25 years. They do like the headlights...

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14 minutes ago, Froeng said:

It does look amazing! Careful with those deer. I have had two (2!) separate accidents with deer after observing sessions in the last 25 years. They do like the headlights...

Thank you. Yes, it did make me a little nervous. I always take it careful when I have precious cargo like my telescope or family aboard ;) 

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Fantastic report Neil. Where abouts is your dark site? It looks great. Do You know how dark it is?

I am looking forward to attempting some galaxy's later this year when I get to a bortle 3 location.

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14 minutes ago, Barry-W-Fenner said:

Fantastic report Neil. Where abouts is your dark site? It looks great. Do You know how dark it is?

I am looking forward to attempting some galaxy's later this year when I get to a bortle 3 location.

Thanks Barry. It’s a few miles outside of Norwich and run by the local astro society. We’ve had SQM readings up to 21.6 on the best nights. 

There’s quite a few galaxies that can be seen from suburban skies. At home I get around 19.7SQM and can see all the galaxies in Virgo in this report with my 10” dob. M81/M82 are well placed at the moment.

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Absorbing report Neil and great outcomes with your established and new eyepieces. Quite a feat to retain the ISS in the field of view for a few seconds. Just hope that we can continue to retain some freedom to go on dark sky trips. I am resigned to waiting for the next new moon phase, which will coincide with lockdown easing measures in England at least, from 12th April if clear.  

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I have to agree a very inspiring report. I am glad for you to have such a dark area close by. The galaxies in Virgo are indeed magnificent under 21+ mag skies. Have you tried the Coma galaxy cluster? That should be well within reach under those kind of conditions with a 10” mirror. 

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16 minutes ago, Froeng said:

I have to agree a very inspiring report. I am glad for you to have such a dark area close by. The galaxies in Virgo are indeed magnificent under 21+ mag skies. Have you tried the Coma galaxy cluster? That should be well within reach under those kind of conditions with a 10” mirror. 

Thank you! Yes, I’ve seen quite a few in the Coma cluster. I think that may well be my target next time I head to the dark site :) 

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1 hour ago, scarp15 said:

Absorbing report Neil and great outcomes with your established and new eyepieces. Quite a feat to retain the ISS in the field of view for a few seconds. Just hope that we can continue to retain some freedom to go on dark sky trips. I am resigned to waiting for the next new moon phase, which will coincide with lockdown easing measures in England at least, from 12th April if clear.  

Thanks Iain. Chasing the station sure is tricky. It helps if you catch it on a longer pass so you a minute or two to get your eye in. Fingers crossed that you’re able to have a dark sky trip soon. 

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