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Moonshane

OOh all excited - my first dark site report!

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Observing Report 10th October 2010

Location Sheltered car park, south of Buxton, Derbyshire and between A54 and A53. England

Equipment – f5.3 300mm Orion Optics UK Dobsonian, f11 150mm Orion Optics UK Dobsonian, Helios Apollo 15x70 binocular. TV eyepieces

Main Targets: Milky Way, Veil Nebula, Comet Hartley 103P and M31/32/110 group.

This was my first ever visit to a dark site and organised at short notice given the good weather predicted for Sunday evening. The skies around the Peak District are well known as being some of the darker skies in England and this site whilst not in deepest, darkest Peak District had the advantage of being very close to home (18 miles away) and also somewhat sheltered; strong(ish) winds had been predicted for the evening but myself and Mike Cook, were very keen to get out and do some observing. A long time friend of Mike’s joined us with his girlfriend (I am rubbish with names – sorry guys!!).

The conditions were good initially and the air quite stable with good transparency and the sky getting nicely dark as we arrived. We started the cooling of the Newtonians and collimated etc and then did a little binocular and naked eye viewing initially. Unfortunately as the night went on the usual scopes cooling/skies deteriorating ratio kicked in and the seeing went seriously to pot at about 10.30pm. It was not great all night but noticeably worsened as the wind picked up. I’ll apologise now for all the repeated language and superlatives but it’s tough – if you have seen the objects that we saw then you’ll know what I mean!

One of my main targets personally was the current comet Hartley 103P. I had tried several times to find this at home with the scope and had been unsuccessful. Initially after looking at the Double Cluster (NGC 884 and NGC 869) for a short while in Perseus I had a brief scan for the comet but unfortunately could not find it. The Double Cluster was a really distinct naked eye object here and as others have said, it’s amazing that this was not included by Messier in his list. After a short time, and having never seen the Milky Way (that I can recall – must have seen it as a kid I suspect) my attention was quickly drawn away from the search by comments of ‘oooh doesn’t the Milky Way look great’ etc. Looking up the view was superb. The skies were not completely inky black but really a massive improvement on my home observing conditions and later in the autumn this will be an even more beautiful sight. The wide span of the stars was really amazing and the dark lane in Cygnus was quite apparent.

The scopes now cooled and the skies getting quite dark, we started to have a look around for some of the other targets.

One of the first was M27, The Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula. At home this is at best a faintly visible apple core and which is enhanced somewhat by the UHC filter (not really by the Oiii filter). Looking through the 35mm Panoptic, this (unfiltered) view was unbelievable. It really shone out like the proverbial beacon and the shape was really quite obvious and impossible to miss; it took magnification quite well too as the 13mm Ethos provided a more magnified and detailed view. Just a completely different object at this site.

As if the Dumbbell wasn’t enough we then put in the Oiii filter and swung the scope across to Cygnus for a look at The Veil Nebula. I am glad my shoes were tied properly as this view really blew my socks off. The whole of the Eastern loop (NGC 6992) fitted within the field of view and was sensational. The levels of contrast here were much greater than I have seen before and it was not possible to miss this if in the right spot. Scanning up and down the length of the loop was breathtaking. We then moved across to the ‘Witches Broom’ section (NGC 6960) and again this was so easy to find. Clearly this object only needs a dark sky and an Oiii filter and you really cannot fail to find it – I am considering the purchase of a couple of 1.25” Oiii filters if they ever come up used to put in my 15x70s; I suspect the Veil would look brilliant when seen as a whole. We increased the power a little with the 13mm Ethos and, much to my surprise, the detail was still there. We tried the Astronomik filter directly against the Castell and although there was undoubtedly a little more contrast and detail visible with the Astronomik, the Castell stood up well to the test and really did show how good it is in terms of value for money.

As we were close to Lyra, our next target was M57, The Ring Nebula. This is a straight forward object to find at home and shows up well in all the scopes I have owned. I looked up to find Vega, my usual starting point for locating this target and stood there with a puzzled look on my face. Mike said, ‘ahem, are you lost??’ and laughed. Then he said ‘look behind you’. I was looking in completely the wrong direction(!!) and almost completely disorientated by the huge numbers of stars in the sky. Eventually I got the hang of it but it’s a completely different experience being under so many stars. Anyway, back to the Ring. It was easily found, once in the right constellation and although not as bright and different from home as the Dumbbell, was still very detailed and defined.

Hercules was sinking fast and approaching some trees at one side of the car park so we turned the scope and located the always popular M13, The Great Hercules Cluster. This globular was not done any justice by the conditions which were starting to deteriorate and even at 123x in the 13mm Ethos, it was only an acceptable but unstable image. I could see that this would have been quite stunning if the conditions were better. M92 (the ‘other’ cluster in Hercules) was close by and we turned the scope on this. To my eyes, this cluster is every bit as attractive as M13 and really warrants some time spent on it. As it is getting toward the end of its season though it is more likely to be one for next year now.

Throughout the evening we tried to get decent views of Jupiter (and this was the sole reason I brought the 6” f11 Dobsonian) but it was reasonably low in the sky and also the seeing was so atrocious that all we could get was a fuzzy blur. Hence this scope was pretty much unused and I don’t think I’ll bother with it at a dark site in future as ‘it’s all about the fuzzies’.

Ursa Major was in the direction of (I think) Buxton and there was some light pollution over that way so the sky was a little lighter than we hoped for. However, we managed to see the M81 Bode’s Galaxy and M82 Cigar Galaxy easily in the same field of view. The contrast was generally better than at home and for the first time, and despite the light pollution present, I could see clearly the dark lane across M82. These will be revisited again and again along with some of the other Messier objects I have not yet seen in Ursa Major.

My next target was another go at the comet Hartley 103P. I was determined to find it and was not going to stop to look at anything else until I did. I rechecked the map which coursed the trail of the comet over the month of October and then got my bearings a little better. Seeing that it was likely to be about a binocular width approximately north from the Double Cluster, and with the two clusters forming a pointer in themselves I scanned the area, with my 15x70s, which was actually a little further from the Double Cluster than I had looked earlier. Bingo! There was a triangle of stars at the top of Perseus and there in the centre was a huge and really quite obvious ball of (slightly grainy??) haze with a quite bright centre. Once located it was really quite easy to relocate and I even managed to see it clearly in my 7x36s. Back at home I could also see it in my 15x70s but not the smaller pair. In the scope it was plainly visible but I preferred the view in the 15x70s. I was really quite pleased with this find and feel that comets just have a certain charisma despite the fact that this particular comet was not very ‘showy’.

A good comparison with the comet was M33 The Triangulum Galaxy. This was barely naked eye to me but Mike could see it quite clearly – I obviously need to get some new glasses or contacts as my neighbour also sees things a lot clearer than I can at home! In the 15x70s this was roughly the same size as the comet and had a slightly smoother appearance and a less obvious bright centre. Through the scope and with averted vision the arms of the galaxy were just about visible and this is the first time I have seen this sort of feature in a galaxy.

With the success of the comet and M33, I then had a look at M31 The Andromeda Galaxy and it’s satellite M32. Having tried many times to see M110 at home and failed, it was with some resignation that I dropped the scope down a little to try and find the other satellite M110. To my astonishment there it was as clear as day; a large diffuse oval patch in the sky with a brighter centre. In fact M110 was actually larger and more obvious than M32 under these conditions, which amazed me further. M31 was also really stunning. The size of the thing is massive and the visible portion almost filled the whole field with the 35mm Panoptic. The large dark dust lane was readily seen and I regret not putting a little more power on this to increase contrast further and tease out a little more detail. One for next time!

The Crescent Nebula NGC 6888 is an emission nebula in the Cygnus constellation, and needs an Oiii filter. Mike picked this up quite easily and with averted vision a distinct pie crust of gas was visible. A tricky one to find at home I suspect but I’ll be trying this soon before Cygnus disappears for 2010.

M56 is a lovely and somewhat loose globular cluster in the constellation Lyra. This was looked at briefly during the evening and as it was almost directly overhead was affected less by the poor seeing than some of the other targets. Really nice at low power against the backdrop of the masses of stars locally.

Mike found several objects which were new to me during the evening and including this lovely object in Andromeda. It is a planetary nebula called the Blue Snowball NGC 7662. Even at relatively low power it showed a distinct pale blue, disc-like shape with a darker central core. We could not increase power too much as the seeing really could not take it but I expect that in good conditions, this would be really nice at higher magnifications

The next object Mike found was the Ghost Cluster NGC 457 in Cassiopeia. This is a dense open cluster in this rich constellation and with a background speckling of stars. I really must try and work through the features within this area as there are so many and it is well positioned currently; I will certainly be visiting this one again at home.

The final object of the evening, again located by Mike was the fine edge on galaxy NGC 891 in the constellation Andromeda. This was a little tricky to locate but once found it was superb. Like a classic ‘flying saucer’ shape with a well defined central bulge. This was initially located with the 35mm Panoptic but took the 13mm Ethos well especially with averted vision.

This was a great end to en excellent night and with only three hours of observing and despite the poor seeing and regular intervention of cars driving through the car park (really not sure where they were coming from or going to but we hope they were not expecting ‘dogwalkers’!) we had seen an excellent range of objects and went home completely happy!

Edited by Moonshane

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Great report. I used to live quite close to there.

Could you tell us which scope you using when you describe your views. The 12" or the 6"? I am interested to know what my 6" is capable of in a dark sky. Or whether I'll need to upgrade to a 12" :(

Edited by iamjulian

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hi Julian - cheers!

sorry I thought I said in the report. really I only took the 6" in the hope of some views of Jupiter / Uranus when not looking over rooftops but as it happened the seeing was so poor that it was useless trying to use anything like the magnifications required for Jupiter so we gave up. the 6" being an f11 is superb when the seeing allows on planets and moon and miles better than the 12".

all the descriptions given were using the 12" - upgrade - oh yeah i f you can I would - the difference even at home is astounding (there go my superlatives again!). I think in future I'll just take the bins - superb for galaxies and the 12".

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Excellent report! It's great that dark skies are only 18 miles away. :( The Veil (my fave summer nebula) is the stuff dreams are made of... so wispy, so delicate.

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Thanks for that great report Shane, it was fun reading. Hopefully the next time you go there the conditions will be better, still it sounds like you had a good time and that is what is important.

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Excellent report! It's great that dark skies are only 18 miles away. :( The Veil (my fave summer nebula) is the stuff dreams are made of... so wispy, so delicate.

Cheers Carol! I agree, it's just over 30 mins away and we can be set up and ready in just over an hour - fabulous! The veil is amazing, you could literally look at this all night I think.

Thanks for that great report Shane, it was fun reading. Hopefully the next time you go there the conditions will be better, still it sounds like you had a good time and that is what is important.

cheers! I agree, brilliant to get out and it was so like my previous moth trapping jaunts it was untrue :(

Well done Shane an enjoyable report. To get NGC891 is very good - a dark site makes all the difference.

Mark

Thanks Mark,

this was a 'proper flying saucer' galaxy and highly recommended to anyone to find if possible. I cannot wait to get there when the Virgo galaxies are up. :(

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That was one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in a long time. Dark skies are amazing and they help so much in finding and enhancing objects. I can feel your joy, it's great to get out of this dreaded light pollution, something I must do more often as well.

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cheers Mick!

I loved every minute mate.

cannot wait to get out again.

trouble is, as a result I'm already thinking about (eventually) getting a larger more portable truss dob. just a shame I cannot afford yours at the minute.

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Another very enjoyable read as usual Shane, (I feel like I was almost there myself). And I agree with what you said about M92. For my money it's a close rival to M13 in more than one sense... :D

But can you please tone down the dobsession a bit - you're making me hanker after one of those big things :)

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ha ah cheers matey, glad you enjoyed it.

sorry but in the words of 'Yaz and the Plastic Population', "the only way is Dob, Baby, for you and me-ee!!"

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Congrats on your first darksky session.....they are addictive :D

You really clocked up some wonderful views and made the most of the night. I highly recommend having your eyes tested and if needed, get a pair of glasses or contacts. I did this back in the summer. Wearing a pair of glasses when you need them is a mind blowing experience, like seeing the sky for the first time. Forget all the scope upgrades, eyepieces and filters.....I couldn't believe how much i had been missing. I now find the naked eye (with glasses) experience so good that i spend most of our darksky visits just gawping at the sky. I can now see M31 in all its glory naked eye and M33 is no probs. :)

Great reading about your first view of the Veil. It's an amazing object that only comes to life with a dark sky and narrowband filter and preferrebly a 2" low power widefield eyepiece. We've viewed it everytime, just don't tire of the view. It's incredible the amount detail visible.

And M56 is another fav of ours too. Looks lovely in a widefield setting. While M27 is transformed under a dark sky, especially with a UHC filter.

Great report Shane. Be warned though, there is a huge almighty massive ultra mega downside to a darksite.......the backgarden just seems pointless other than a bit of solar/lunar/planetary. I've not observed DSO's from the backgarden since March of this year and don't plan to ever again.

Edited by russ

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Very enjoyable read. Felt like i was almost there. Always nice when you have dark skies as it takes the viewing to another level.

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Glad to hear you had good viewing under dark skies. I'm 30 minutes from dark skies but it's always well worth the journey just to see the milky way.

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Thanks for the report it made very interesting reading. I can empathise with your loss of star direction as it reminded me of a recent camping trip in which I found myself looking up at a very dark sky on top of Exmoor. It's embarassing to admit this but there were so many stars, I couldn't even locate the Plough let alone anything else. :D Just goes to show how bad our city skies really are and perhaps why a lot of people aren't naturally attracted to astronomy when you think that most people have never seen a 'proper' night's sky! Like yourself, I too drive out to several sites to observe though thankfully I don't need to drive as far as you do - however it is nearly impossible to shake off the 'dogwalkers' no matter where you go, oh well observing of a different kind.:):D

Thanks again for your report though there was no mention of any munchies!!(...I'm a stickler for details) so if we could include a catering component in your future reports that would be most pleasing :p

Clear skies (...and crumbs)

James

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