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Spectacular dark skies


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Hi all,

Sorry for the length of this post. I had such a great time I just can’t help putting it all down.

I’ve just returned from a weeks camping in South Devon. The first few nights were cloudy which was a big frustration. However, I was then treated to a couple of nights of spectacularly clear skies. I’m not sure what the limiting magnitude was because I could see so many stars it was hard to judge – the milky way and Cygnus rift were awesome. The double cluster, M31, M13 and the lagoon nebula could all be seen clearly with the naked eye.

So, there I was with my little 4.5” reflector and the chance to really judge the scopes limitations under perfect conditions. I started the first night looking for things that are too dim to see from my back garden in Exeter (M33, M110 and the veil nebula).

The core of M33 was clear as a diffuse circular patch approx 20’ in diameter.

M110 was brighter with clear elongation along a NNW axis. I was also treated to some spectacular wide field views of M31, M32 and M110.

I found both the main parts of the veil nebula, although NGC6992 was much clearer than NGC6960.

Thrilled with my success I moved on to some familiar targets to see how much difference the dark skies made:

M81 & M82 were brighter with better defined shape. M82 also showed some central structure.

M11 (wild duck cluster) could be resolved into approx 30 stars where I’d previously seen it almost as a nebulous patch with few stars resolved. It’s V shape was also clear.

M16 showed clear nebulosity and in M17 the swan was well defined (including the head that I’ve not seen before).

M24 was a mass of stars (maybe hundreds?) and in both M13 and M15 30-50 stars were resolved where relatively few had been seen before.

The shape of both M27 and M57 was easier and apparent without resorting to averted vision, unlike previously.

Like almost everything, the double cluster was spectacular.

On the second night I decided to take advantage of the conditions to look for targets close to the horizon that are impossible to see from my site at home, so I set up on a hill with uninterrupted views in all directions. I started in Scopius and Sagittarius.

M7 filled the central portion of a 2 degree FOV with 50+ stars resolved.

M6 showed a clear butterfly shape with at least 30 bright stars and many more on the verge of resolution at low power.

Globular clusters (M69, M70, M54, M55 and M30) were all seen although M69 and M70 were only clear in averted vision. M54 was brighter than most while M55 was large, but more diffuse with a less obvious core.

Next I moved on to some familiar targets to appreciate the dark sky views:

M8 showed nebulosity across a large area including NGC6530 (my previous views had shown it restricted to the middle of the brightest lobe to the west).

M20 was almost as impressive as M8 with clear nebulosity that I’d not seen before.

M21 and M28 were attractive, but M22 was the real surprise. Previously this had appeared as a dim diffuse patch under light polluted skies. Now it was huge with tens of faint individual stars at x75 and 50-100 clearly resolved at x150.

Next I moved on to look for some previously unseen objects:

I found M72 and M73 although both were faint.

M2 was bright, with heavy mottling and hints of a few (<10) stars resolved.

Next I moved up to Ursa Major to look for a few things that I’d either not found before or struggled to spot under less ideal conditions.

M108 was a clear flattened oval approx 5’ along its main axis.

M97 was a large faint circular patch 2-3’ in diameter.

M109 was the trickiest in this area, only seen in averted vision.

M101 was obvious, a large circular glow 7-8’ in diameter.

Since I was in the area I thought I’d take in NGC5866 (sometimes listed as a candidate for M102). It was a small oval, 2’ along its long axis, and seemed to show some irregularity in brightness, which might have been a part of its dust lane (seems unlikely with my scope) or possibly some combination of an outer limb with a faint nearby star.

By this time M45 was rising so I took a fairly quick reminder of this before finishing off with one more wide field view of M31 and its companions.

All in all a couple of spectacular nights. With views of 15 previously unseen Messiers I now have 9 left to find. Most of these are going to be pretty tricky with my small reflector, especially back in Exeter. Looks like I’m going to have to invest in something larger quite soon. :D

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Well done Andrew. Your star hopping skills and application has provided you with some great sights. Amazing that you have so few messiers to spot. That scope is performing well for you even given the good location.

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  • 2 weeks later...

That's a great report Andrew, and a big well done on bagging 15 new M's!!!

Having just returned from Cornwall, I can concur that on a clear night, dark skies are unbelievable in the SW. On the nights with no moon, you can almost see by the light of the milky way.

I feel a SGLSW star party coming on.......

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Higher Rewe Campsite near Salcombe.

If you're looking for somewhere around the South Hams it's a good option. The campsite is sheltered by a hill which is also owned by the guy (farmer?) who runs the place. He is happy for people to use it for observing and there is good access by road to the top which is flat. 360 degree views to the horizon plus the convexity of the slope shields you from any light from the campsite below. Only downside is a little light from Salcombe a couple of miles away, but it is highly localised and pretty much negligible.

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