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Observing report 6/2/11


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Twas as dark and cloudy night...

at least it looked that way until I opened the door at 1am to have a look at the weather before I nodded off to bed. It was a good thing I did because the sky was crystal clear and really quite dark so jumped at the opportunity to get some observing done. I hastily got re-dressed and plonked the dob out onto the patio to cool down.

The sky was clear as I said with no visible clouds interfering, the temperature was rather chilly, it must have been below 0*C at least due to the chill I was feeling as soon as I went out. Seeing was average to good I would say, the brighter stars were twinkling noticeably to around 30-40* alt at the most.

Binocular Observing

Everything was pretty much set up by 01:20 so I commenced observing. For the first 10 minutes I was using the 15x70 binoculars to take in some wide field views whilst the main 'scope cooled and my eyes became dark adapted. I aimed the binocs at Messier 51 at first to see if I could manage to see the galaxy in these again. When in the right area I saw the very small glow of the galaxy with a hint of the dual core shape.

I hopped over to Mizar and Alcor and then followed a chain of faint stars towards M101. This was slightly tricky but when in the right area I picked up the faint diffuse glow of the galaxy below a field star. Averted vision really helped to detect the galaxy in the binoculars with their small aperture.

Because it was later in the night than I usually observe, I was treated to the sight of the early summer constellations rising in the east over the garden shed and the fence. Hercules was high enough at this time to allow me to bag M13 with the binoculars. The little, compact ball of unresolved of stars looked quite nice in the binoculars, set between two of the main stars of the "Keystone".

I also had a quick peek at the three main open clusters in Auriga, which was rapidly setting in the West.

Dob Observing

I started using the main 'scope around 01:35 and went straight back to M51. I first located it with my still relatively new Celestron 32mm plossl and got a nice wide view of dual cores of each galaxy with an enveloping fuzz. I ramped up the magnification with the 9mm Ultrawide to get a closer view and a darker background sky. The separation of the cores increased and there was quite a large gap between the two, it was using this eyepiece that I swear I saw possible hints of structure in the main galaxy in the form of slight variations in brightness that could've been spiral arms.

I had trouble using the 9mm, I couldn't quite get focus right, the components of Mizar produced large disks which wouldn't focus to a point. It might've been the seeing was worse than I thought but I couldn't see much rippling in a defocused star. I have checked collimation and the Cheshire says it is spot on.

I turned the 'scope to M101 and panned about to find the exact area. I found the galaxy as a brightening of the background sky over a large area in the 32mm, there was a noticeable condensed centre. It is a large target and could do with a slightly higher magnification but a larger field of view. I didn't bother upping the mag for this galaxy and just left to the 32mm in to get a good wide view.

I had a pause for 5 or 10 minutes to write some observing notes down and went back to the eyepiece.

I went back to the eyepiece and M101 had drifted out of the FOV, it was around 01:55 and I saw a satellite moving slowly through the eyepiece. It was around 10th or 11th magnitude I suppose and moving slower than most brighter satellites I have seem before, it took around 12 seconds to transverse the 1.4* field of the 32mm, which works at around 8.5 seconds per degree. I thought it was strange to see a sat at this time of night as most in LEO would be in shadow, I deduced is must be in a substantially higher orbit and lit by the sun. Its faintness would probably suggest it was quite distant as well.

I followed it for around 5 minutes with the 32mm still in place as it tracked down from the tail of UMa down to an area 5-10 degrees west of Arcturus. It was then I decided to give up and let it on its way, I would like to know which sat it was but Calsky doesn't give me any results for the timeframe requested.

I did think at first it could have been a NEO making a close approach but it would seem unlikely to stumble across it like that without prior knowledge.

After that I decided I wanted to view m106, I admit I failed at this, the galaxy was near the zenith at around 02:00 which made it fall into the "dob hole" which I can't reach with my 'scope. Plus the enormous craning of my neck denied me observing it this time.

So off I went to M81 and M82, these were at a much more respectable altitude so I could easily access them with the dob. I viewed the pairing with varying mags from 32mm, 14mm and to 9mm. I think the lowest power eyepiece gave the most pleasing view despite the brighter background and loss of contrast because of the exit pupil, it is nice to see both galaxies in the same low power field together.

I managed to track down NGC 2796 which I have heard is part of the same group of galaxies, along with NGC 3077 which I have seen before and again observed in the same session.

The former is situated around 1.5* SW of M81 roughly halfway to a small triangular asterism of one brighter star and two which are fainter and are close doubles. It was rather faint at all powers and required averted vision to hold it in view, I found NGC 3077 to be brighter and more defined .

I packed up at 02:30 because of encroaching high cloud from the south, the cold had also begun to get to me and I was feeling rather tired.

Edited by Hypernova
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Great report Tom, I really enjoyed reading it, there are many great targets, did you see the bridge linking M51 and Ngc5195, you really have to stare and after a while a bridge developes, pretty stunning to view.

You done mega well to see Ngc3077 also known as Coddington's Nebula, I've managed to see this only once it needs really good seeing.

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Excellent report, you took in some great objects. For those of us who have been cloud bound for what seems like an Aeon, hearing someone elses celestial touring is the next best thing so thanks for sharing


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Ooops just realised I made a mistake in the title, should be 6/3/11 not 6/2/11 :p Mods please correct for me...

Hi Mick, I don't think it was Coddington's Nebula that I saw, that is an IC object further out than NGC 3077, about 3* E of M81. I think that is another target to try for anyway, it sounds like it will be a good challenge :)

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