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Last dark sky session this side of summer


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Evening skies are getting brighter and brighter but we recently had a lucky break in the weather that gave several nights of clear skies and a moon below the horizon. I wanted to make the most of what would likely be the last dark sky session before summer and so packed my 15” dob for a trip to a neighbouring astronomy club’s scheduled observation night at their dark site. A bit of a drive so I had arranged to spend the night on a fold out sofa in one of the buildings if necessary. Set up shortly after sunset and it promised to be a fine, cloudless night with good transparency and decent humidity.

When the sun was at -13 degrees or so I turned to the Coma star cluster and from there to NGC 4565 The Needle Galaxy. Shape and dust lane was visible, especially in higher magnification, but not as easily as I had recently seen it at my usual dark site. Attributed this to the object being in a brighter area of the sky for light pollution and the sun still affecting the sky somewhat. Still nice.

With dark adaption improving and the sun approaching -18 degrees I turned to one of the objects I had been particularly looking forward to since getting my hands on a 15” scope last autumn. M51 high in a dark transparent sky. M51 & NGC 5195, the two cores very bright and indirect vision showed the arm/gap contrast differences, spiral structure blinking in and out. The bridge between cores faintly visible. Best view I’ve had of this object up until then.

M101 core region easily visible, with contrast differences shaping out the brighter arms. The galaxy filled most of the field of view with the 14 Delos at x107. Made a quick sketch in my journal that allowed me to later identify HII-regions NGC 5450/5447, NGC 5461 and NGC 5471.

M108 and M97 the Owl Nebula. Using an OIII-filter, the eyes could be subtly seen within the nebula, something I hadn’t been able to do in my 10” dob.

Re-visited my favourite quasar in Draco, PG 1634+706 that at close to mag 14.6 I had just barely made out with a 10” dob from my regular dark site and quite readily with the same scope from a very good dark site. In the 15” dob from this site, that I would say was a bit better than my usual site, the quasar was easy to see and I noted a mag 15.4 field star nearby. I could have gone a few tenths deeper probably given the conditions.

At this point I went over to the others making observations with the club’s big 30” scope and joined them at the eyepiece where I had a go at the following:

Hickson 61, The Box. A tight galaxy cluster in Coma Berenices. All four components easily visible, the edge on galaxies shaping out the namesake box.

NGC 4449, a nearby irregular galaxy similar to the LMC. Amazing view, spectacular. OB associations and HII-regions all over.

Hickson 79 Seyfert’s Sextet. Tight grouping of galaxies with a clear v-shape.

M51. Spiral structure almost visible with direct vision. With indirect vision you could trace the full length of each arm, with mottling and structure, all the way to the secondary core. Glorious, truly glorious.

M101 Spiral arms filling the entire eyepiece, several HII-regions. Looked gigantic at the eyepiece. Amazing.

M57 Made an attempt at the central star but no luck for me. Another observer said he could see it blink in and out a couple of times but it was difficult within the bright glow of the nebula.

M64 The Black Eye galaxy in high magnification, filling the eyepiece. The dust lane obvious and the lane showing hints of structure.

M3 fantastic in high magnification with many many resolved and surprisingly sharp stars.

Time went by fast and when we saw Antares low in the south it was already well after three o’clock and people were packing up. Crawled into my sleeping bag in the sofa and got a couple of hours sleep before coffee and the drive home.

Couldn’t have had a better end to the season!

Edited by davhei
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Congratulations on a galaxy filled observing session. Hickson compact groups are fascinating. To see such sights in a 30” scope, and to have galaxies filling the eyepiece with good detail, must be amazing.  

Some observing sessions can really transport a person away from this little Earth, and out into the Universe.

 

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Posted (edited)
22 minutes ago, Mr Magoo said:

Congratulations on a galaxy filled observing session. Hickson compact groups are fascinating. To see such sights in a 30” scope, and to have galaxies filling the eyepiece with good detail, must be amazing.  

Some observing sessions can really transport a person away from this little Earth, and out into the Universe.

 

It certainly was one of my most memorable sessions, and I agree with the feeling of being transported out in the universe!

Edited by davhei
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