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August the 18th


george7378
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Thanks tblaxland - they were amazing to see stretching from the horizon to well over my head.

Here's another report for the 18th August 2010:

Sights:

- Gibbous moon and features including crater Clavius (and surroudning creaters) plus the Appenine mountains.

- Jupiter and its north equatorial belt, plus the north and south equatorial zones and some more subtle cloud details and all four moons.

- M57

- M27

- M31 and satellite galaxies

- Albireo

- 'Coathanger' asterism

- Some satellites and a dim Iridium flare

- Bright Milky Way with Cygnus Rift

The night started with the Sun setting behind some light cloud to give way to the waning crescent of Venus on the horizon. I also tried to spot Mars and Saturn as they are close to conjunction, but it was too light and I couldn't see all the way down to the horizon for the best spotting opportunities. I was debating what the cloud would do, but the satellite images showed that it seemed to disappear as it came towards our region leaving a clear hole. I trusted this, and got the scope out for my first target - the low Moon.

The seeing was rather poor near the horizon, but that didn't stop me getting some great views of the shadowed cratered region around Clavius, which has always been a favourite of mine because it is easy to spot, and acts as a useful waypoint to others. The lunar disc was best viewed around 90X magnification, and this provided the right balance between detail and seeing to reveal the curve of the Appenines around the lunar sea they encircle. I tried to imagine the view from the top of one of those peaks which have a beautifully 3D appearance when the shadows fall on them, and watched as the Moon sank lower and got redder as the night came.

The first DSO I looked upon was M31 which turned out very nicely even in the half-light of the Moon and setting Sun - I could even spot one of the satellite galaxies close by before it got properly dark. As the night went on, the galaxy revealed more and more of its glowing disc until it stretched beyone the widefield view of the 36X magnification eyepiece. Also, the position of the satellite galaxies lets you imagine just how much of the galaxy you aren't seeing with the human eye - the photographs show the satellite embedded within the outer layers of Andromeda's haze, but there is a noticable separation between the two when you don't see the faintest outer regions. The oval glow extending out beyond the eyepiece and the two small satellite galaxies is enough for me though!

The dying light also gave way to clear views of the Ring Nebula, M57, which is probably my most viewed object of the Summer. I watched it get darker, and took my first view at 36X. The nebula immediately popped out from the very starry background and showed itself as a visibly circular blur which contrasted with the background stars. I could even see the central, darker region at this lower magnification, which gives the nebula its name. At 90X, the nebula was at its best, revealing this dimmer region without using averted vision, and taking on a very geometric shape. I still can't believe that tiny circle is 1.3 light years across!

Next came another favourite nebula of the Summer - M27. This one was slap-bang in the middle of the Milky Way, so the backdrop was breath-taking, with stars filling up the view, complemented by the shapely, bright glow of the nebula. The glow was pinched in at either side to give the impression of an apple-core shape with bites taken out of each side. It was very hard to miss, and lower magnifications embed it in a milky river of stars making it look just like an astro-photo.

While exploring the region, it is hard to miss the 'Coathanger' asterism's improbable arrangement of stars of very similar brightness in a distinctive line, with three more making a hook shape above. It looks very artificial as the line is near perfectly straight, and the hook shape is beautifully aligned to make the shape. Although the view was great through the scope at 36X, I couldn't fit it all in. The best view comes with a pair of 8X30 binoculars.

Jupiter was the final telescopic target, and the first views at 36X showed the north belt, and all four moons. Io was close to the disk, but it visibly moved out as the night went on. I also got the best view of the cloudy details of the planet I have ever seen as it climbed higher, with detials like the NEB, the equatorial colour zones and more subtle cloud details briefly appearing when the low elevation seeing momentarily calmed down. I wish the great red spot was on show - it would have looked great. I experimented with the views and got some interesting pictures (see bottom) which were very pleasing, since all I was doing was holding my camera up to the eyepiece and shooting. I will hopefully get a bracket soon, so I can take proper pictures and the camera can focus and take pictures without my hand shaking and blurring the results.

Finally, I took some time to absorb the bigger picture. The Moon was low down now and the night was close to properly dark, allowing me to see the finer details of the 'light river' of the Milky Way. The main feature was the imposing Cygnus Rift's vast dark space splitting the MW into a fork where the dark nebulae of our galaxy obscure the light. The shape of the light itself was interesting to trace, and it stretched all the way through Cygnus, and back to Cassiopeia. The best show is right at the zenith with the areas close to the galactic core shining through the constellation of Cygnus. A few satellites whizzed by in different directions, with the best giving a modest flare as it went from south to north - an Iridium no doubt.

Thanks for reading!

Jupiter:

Jupiterframes.png

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