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In the company of owls

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6th-7th October, 2010

16x60 bins

120mm refractor

EP's: 26mm Meade5000, 10mm Plossl, 5mm X-Cel

Started off just after midnight, trying to find the elusive comet Hartley2, but lighting from the neighbours houses was making things difficult, and when another neighbour triggered his halogen floodlight, I finally gave up with the scope. But after the lousy cloud-bound Autumn I had last year, I didn't want to miss another observing opportunity, so once I'd calmed down, I got on my bike and cycled to a nearby woods with the binoculars.

I was also surprised at how mild it was, not exactly balmy, but not as cold as I expected it to be. Had a quick look at Jupiter (of course) which looked nice and symmetric with two moons fairly evenly spaced either side of the bright planet. I then spent the first half-hour just looking around, taking in the night sky, and noting how much the constellations have moved around in the past few weeks. Also saw three very fast moving meteors tearing it up across the heavens (Draconids, possibly?) - And all accompanied by the screeching and hooting of owls. I heard the flap of wings, followed by screeching very close by. I moved slowly towards the sound, hoping to get a glimpse of the nocturnal visitor, I must have been just feet away from it, but I couldn't pick it out from amongst the branches in the dark. I had a torch with me, but I didn't want to disturb it (ruin it's night vision?) Anyhow, back to the sky. Orion was now clear of the tree-tops, so I took my first look of the autumn at M42, which through the bins was a nebulous blob surrounding two bright spots. The Double cluster was easily visible to the naked eye and was fantastic though bins, but still no comet :p Then down to Auriga. There's a grouping of bright stars just to the East of Carol's Smiley, consisting of stars 16, 17, 18 & 19 Aur, and a couple of HIPs. I don't know if this grouping has any formal name, but to my imagination it resembles a deflated balloon. Just above Carol's Smiley was the bright fuzziness of M38, and just below the slightly brighter M36. Down a bit more to another open cluster, M37, slightly larger and brighter still. Carrying on downwards I reached M35, another open cluster and the best of the four, just a short distance above the golden coloured star Propus (eta Geminorum). Then just before I headed home, I looked up to M31 - close to the zenith, and with careful viewing, I could make out extensive fuzziness.

Back home, and with all the neighbours now in bed, I chanced another go with the scope. Back to M42, and the Meade ep was performing well, showing all four trapezium components, and plenty of nebulosity at around 40x magnification. With more time I would have attempted a sketch, but it appeared pretty much as in Messier's original drawing <HERE> . Then back to the clusters I'd seen earlier, and the scope resolved them as star clusters rather than just fuzzy patches. Cassiopea and M31 were too close to the zenith to attempt with a large refractor, however, I'd noticed that Ursa Major was looking good, so I thought I'd had yet another attempt at bagging M81 and M82. Without any real expectation of success, I started from 23 UMa, and just to the left there's a rectangle of four stars, who's longest axis point towards the two galaxies. I followed the line upwards, and...

...YES! There they were :( Woohoo! and Woohoo again! :( <Does a happy dance> Even though I'd never seen them before, I knew I had the right targets. M82 was an ovoid blob, and the larger of the two. But M81 was obviously cigar-shaped, slightly pinched in the middle, and although it's given magnitude is 8.4, I was amazed at just how bright it appeared. Amazing! How have I missed these two for so long? :-) Twenty minutes later, and now past 03:00, I reluctantly packed away, but went to bed a very happy bunny!!! :(:grin:

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