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Novice Challenge

Well, it wasn't too bad after all...


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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." or so Dickens wrote...  Quite applicable I think to astonomy!  If you're not prepared mentally I think this hobby can just eat you alive.  In this case, the clear blue sky giving anticipation and hope lugging out the 12" dob to cool-down only to be greeted 30 minutes later by clouds...  A bit later once astro-dark had arrived the sky had cleared however the transparency was a very poor 1 out of 5.  It reminded me of many times when I'd had to lug (walking) my C8, eyepieces a mile or so to my allotment to setup for the night only to be greeted with swamp-like humidity and pea-soup-like sky.  Perhaps, because of this my persistance levels of somewhat elevated as aftert all that effort I'd sit it out for good while in the cold hoping for an improvement in the sky - sometimes it would, and sometimes... well, you get the idea.  These days, at least my home location is reasonably dark enough not to bother with such shenanigans however I like many of us do have to deal or put up with with some problematic lights from various houses surrounding us.  
So, finally at 10pm the sky transparency improved to a 2 (just about). With the equipment out and it was not particularly cold I decided any astronomy is better than none... :) Actually, the area around Auriga seemed quite a bit clearer in fact and so I started there.  M36, M37 and M38 are truly exceptional open clusters with larger aperture each with very unique character.  I remember my first ever sighting of these were with 15x70 binoculars when I was starting out, earning my stripes and being quite disappointed with the what the objects themselves (very light fuzz) but elated that I'd managed to find them and even see them in the first place!  Back in those days I used the binoculars quite a lot to find my way around and get a feel of the sky and locate initally an object star-hopping before attempting the same with the much more restricted field afford to the 8" SCT I had.  These days with much practiced routine, star-hopping is second nature but I think one has to go through a fair amount of pain and frustration to get there... :)

While in Auriga, The nebulae IC405 and IC417 were given a shot.  I didn't have the information to hand on which filter (if any) may help with these so I went for the UHC then the HBeta.  The UHC showed approximately nothing extra and I would think that the transparency needs to be 5/5 for these.  With the Hbeta I did think I could see some change in contrast around IC 417 but I was far from confident of it being of nebulous nature.  I will attempt these again on a night when transparency allows.  It would be interesting to hear from anyone else on observations of these and equipment used.

An hour had passed and it was getting quite a bit colder. The transparency was still far from great (but seemed to be generally slowly improving) and I could easily have stopped right there, but I'm stubborn...  so I decided to take a break until closer to midnight. Thus I would take advantage of most of the local lights from houses being switched off at that time and hopefully that transparency would improve...

Sure enough, it was a bit clearer when I went out again and viewed M51 to test the transparency.  The two cores were large and easily visible but without detail.  One thing I'd noticed is on these nights when transparency isn't at its best then I need to come down a notch in exit pupil for detail. I would normally use the 10mm Delos for this (150x) with a 2mm exit pupil - this is normally optimal from what I've found for giving the best view of galaxies.  However, coming down to the 14mm Delos (107x) with a 2.85mm exit pupil becomes the optimal power and contrast for these galaxies (in general).  With the 17.3mm (87x & 3.5mm exit pupil), contrast is lost sufficiently not to get the best view and under these conditions the 10mm gives a view that's dimmed a touch too much against the sky.  So, for the remainder of the night, the 14mm Delos was pretty much exlusively used.

After M51 I headed up to M109 and was just about to make out its form but it was very indistinct.

M102 - This was stunning! Really popped with the 14mm eyepiece showing it very distinct core shape and significant dust lane.
NGC 5907 - Very long galaxy (this thing is massive!).  Observed this several times before and it will dissapear completely if the transparency / darkness isn't sufficiently good so was a reasonable test.

I repeated the previous night's observations on NGC 2683 and NGC 2841.  Indeed, these seemed a touch better with better definition of the core and lightening of the area just outside of the cores - I could not make out any shape of dust lane or figuring of the area around the core... Perhaps another night...

Without any real plan put in place for the evening I punched up the Herschel 400 list in SkySafari and noted the nearby galaxies that I had not previously observed around where I was currently at (Ursa Major has a whole bunch!), so in the spirit of exploration and discovery I wended my way from galaxy to galaxy looking for interesting objects that I would note and return to another night.

NGC 2681 - Very small but bright core with reasonable brightness with a touch of extension.
NGC 2768 - Reasonable size, bright and elongated core.
NGC 2742 - Faint but obvious direct vision with small indistinct core.
NGC 2950 - Small bright core.
NGC 3079 - Intriging!  Very elongated and irregular form.  No distinct bright central area and quite diffuse over the entire area.
NGC 3310 - Small but quite bright core with what looks like more to the outside of the core... Is this face on?  I think I will have to re-visit this one...

I finished up with a couple of globular clusters for the night... Since M13 was now reasonably high it would be rude not to...

M13 - With the 14mm this really gave a fantasic view with the majority of the cluster resolved.  Using the 5mm Pentax I managed to resolve a significant amount of the central core however the view with the 14mm was by far the best.

M92 - Nicely resolved.  This is quite a bit more compact than M13 but it still has reasonable size and very bright.  Easy to resolve sufficiently with the 14mm.  

A great way to end the night! It was close to 2am and so I packed up.  The Moon I could sense was just rising with some brighness from the horizon  The sky had indeed improved constantly since starting the "second half" of the session.  Persistance had paid for tonight at least and was very happy with the evening's observations and some more to come back to another night.


Edited by Davesellars
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