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My first proper dark sky

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Lots of good reports tonight. Perhaps the last moonless night of proper darkness this year, so it's great that it's been so clear and transparent for a lot of us.

This was my first trip out to a decent dark sky. Light pollution map shows it as 21.75 mag/arcsec^2

Wow. I'll go over what I saw in my 8" dob, tomorrow. But my highlights were:

Beehive cluster naked eye

Sombrero galaxy with dust lane

12+ galaxies in Markarian's chain

Spiral arms in M51

M101 clearly visible

Cygnus rising with the Milky Way


Time to sleep first....


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Looking forward to this report, sounds like you had a good night.

The brief overview clearly shows to all there is no substitute for dark skies. 

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I left Edinburgh at 7deg C. Forty minutes later and it's -1 deg C. I had planned for it being a little colder, but my feet suffered later, even in thermal boots. Note to self - thermal socks!

I cold see my breath as I set up. I don't normally suffer from dew as I live near the coast, but I was kicking myself last night. A reservoir! What was I thinking. Oh well, fingers crossed, we were at some altitude - which might help.

Anyway, the local farmer has installed some security lights at a barn a half a mile away, but I positioned myself where trees hid most of it, and placed the car between me and them. Turned out to be fine. What light pollution there was, was from the setting crescent moon (looking beautiful with the Earthshine illuminating the dark surface) and from Edinburgh about 25 miles away. But South was dark - which is the opposite from by back garden. So I was hoping to see some familiar faint smudges a little better, and some new things too. Unfortunately, the hills blocked any chance of seeing 2 low targets I had hoped for: M68 and M83. I now know of another site with a low southerly horizon over flat fields, so I might still get a chance this season.

My Skysafari app has placed all observation notes into individual sessions (rather than just one) so I'll have to rearrange that before I can go though everything in detail. But the first target was the Sombrero galaxy, M104. It was clear and bright with direct vision and with averted vision I could see the dust lane slicing the core in two.

I then wanted to check out some of the recent galaxies I had been viewing from home to see how they looked now. Starting the star-hop in Coma Berenices was easy, since Melotte 111 was naked-eye visible. A Telrad is much more efficient when you can see so many more stars! Seeing the galaxies in the RACI finder helps too!

Starting with the Leo Triplet: I found the spot in the finder and had a look through the eyepiece. M65 was in the centre. Nice and bright, thinner and more elongated than M66. I must admit I was a little disappointed at first, as even though it was clear with direct vision, it wasn't much brighter than I had been able to see it at home. However, with averted vision I could make out much more - including the way it widens at the edges... Wait, what! This is the hamburger galaxy NGC 3628! I 'un-zoomed' to a wider view and the other 2 came into sight. Blimey! OK - I get the dark-sky thing now.

I won't go through everything I saw around Leo/Virgo as it would just be a list of me gushing about how much brighter and clearer everything was, but the galaxy-highlights were:

  • Markarian's Chain - lots of it. At least 15 galaxies from the 'face' up to M88, including NGC 4458, which is mag 12!
  • The Coma Cluster of galaxies (I think that's the correct term) around NGC4889 and NGC4872. A sprinking of lots of tiny faint objects and stars.
  • The Cocoon Galaxy NGC4485 and it's tiny companion NGC 4490

I had some dew on the Telrad screen at first but it all dried up later. The dew on the car turned to frost, though.

M53 looking more than just a smudge, and I actually found nearby globular cluster NGC 5053. Really hard to see, though - like a very faint M52

I was getting cold by now, uncomfortably so. I thought I'd try some old faves further west and north. M51 was astounding - I could see spiral arms with averted vision. M101 was an actual object and not just a smudge. M81 and M82 I found with just the Telrad as I could star-hop with naked-eye. They actually looked like some of the pictures you see.

M13 was bright. I assume it's true about how a dark sky is worth inches in aperture, but I don't think I could resolve much more at the centre than usual. This is where a bigger scope would really help.

Finally I tried M57, the Ring Nebula - but I was finding it hard to get focus. Not sure whether it was my tiredness/cold, dew, frost or whatever, but I decided to call it a night there.



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Thsts a fantastic report pixies. So glad you finally managed to get to a dark site, you'll definitely need a lay down after that and a glass of something warming to get the feeling back in your toes. Let's hope for more dark site reports soon, great work 👍

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Fab report @Pixies! That must have been a pretty dark sky, makes a huge difference! Get those thermal socks ready for next time! 👍

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Splendid report and echos my own encounters last night, as ventured to a dark sky location, first time in months. Yes the Earth shine was great thanks for the reminder of that. Leo Triplet, M51, M104 just some of my highlights to. Congrats on NGC 5053 and the brighter globulars were just superb. It was indeed unseasonably raw for the time of year.

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I’m so envious! I got it badly wrong. The forecast changed for the worst by midday and so I committed myself to some more painting, typically come dusk, it looked great. Had an hour with the binos 😂

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