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Stargazing notes from Jan 6


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12" Orion Optics Scope

21.00 to 00.15 UT with breaks for cloud cover

L.M 5.3

Hooray!! I got a partially clear sky on the 6th. The first time I have seen a starry sky since Christmas night. Gear out, kit on and I was in business.

First up - M78, the reflection nebula between Orion's belt and Betelguese. A relatively easy object once I had navigated to it from Orion's belt, although mostly unspectacular. At low power (x70) it appeared as an elongated dim haze of light that enveloped two stars, and faded out to the east in a sort of teardrop shape. Periods of cloud frustrated any detailed viewing.

Next, turned my attention to Alpha Geminorum (Castor) in Gemini. One of the brightest stars in the sky, and the second brightest in Gemini, Castor is actually a multiple star system. At x70 the system was split into three visual components. Castor A and Castor B sparkled like two brilliant white gems, separated by only 4.6 arc seconds. The view was mesmerising. I have read that the separation is increasing slightly year-on-year.

Position Angle was measured at roughly 60 degrees. A little way to the south shone the third component: a ninth magnitude star with a slight orange/yellow hue.

I sketched the system along with surrounding field stars.

My final object in my short stint before the cloud rolled back in was NGC 2264 - The Christmas Tree cluster in Monoceros. Loved this one. The cluster at x70 magnification took on a distinct outline of a Xmas Tree. It was really quite stunning to look at.

There is nebulosity associated with this cluster, including the Cone Nebula, located at the pinnacle of the Xmas Tree shape. Took some time to switch in different filters to see if I could detect any nebulosity. Thin high cloud was coming across at this point, so conditions weren't great. However, with my neodymimum filter in place, I got what seemed to be a gentle background glow south of the brightest star in the cluster, and what appeared to be some fine darker areas within it giving some vague structure.

Need to go back to this on another night and see if I can get anything further from it :)

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