Saturday, February 09, 2008

Observing Report 8th February, 2008

The heavens cleared this week and we had several nights of very nice clear skies. THis past Wednesday I ended up at the local observing spot doing some casual observing and socializing with other folks, as well as introducing another Aussie mate of mine to the hobby. However, last night was very clear with excellent transparency (but poor seeing conditions). I headed out to the Canyon of the Eagles, eager to get my new Lightbridge 12" under those dark skies. My aim for the evening was to have an "olde fashioned astronomy session". Namely, no computers, no goto, just a star chart or two, a logbook, my binoculars and my telescope.

I was joined by two other chaps, one having a 10" Meade LX50, the other having both his Orion XT10 and Celestron C9.25 on a GEM. The latter let me use his fancy Howard Glatter collimator, which did a great job and allowed me to observe with wonderful pinpoint images. I had also replaced the standard red dot "deluxe" finder that came with my scope with an 8*50 right angle finder which was much more useful at chasing down DSOs.

I bagged 26 objects in total over about six hours, taking the time to study them carefully and make notes. Some of these objects I had seen plenty of times before but not with the 12", others were new and challenging objects I needed to hunt without the aid of goto.

Here's a quick summary from my logbook:

  • M78: Nice reflection nebula. Could make out three stars within it.
  • M81: Nice and bright at COE with the 12".
  • M82 (Bode's/Cigar Galaxy): Central dust lane component highly visible, nice detail!
  • M103: Nice colorful cluster with lots of fainter background stars in the distance
  • M33 (Triangulum/Pinwheel Galaxy): This is the first time I've really seen this galaxy. Very large nebulosity, difficult to make out structure.
  • M31, M32 & M110: Looked delightful using the 1RPD 30mm eyepiece. Central bulges of each galaxy remarkably bright.
  • M74: Small galaxy near Aries constellation, not bad though.
  • M42 & M43: Looked gorgeous last night, as always. This time I could make out extended nebulosity well beyond the trapezium, thanks to the extra aperture I think. It was rather faint but still quite noticeable.
  • M36 & M38: Nicely resolved!
  • M37: Very bright and contrasty, best view yet!
  • IC434 (Horsehead Nebula): For the first time I could make out distinct nebulosity around Alnitak in Orion. My eyes wanted to make me think I could see something resembling the Horsehead, but naah! Cool, still.
  • M1 (Crab Nebula): Nicely defined shape, not too much detail within the nebula itself though.
  • M47: Nice cluster I found by accident while scanning with binoculars.
  • M46 & NGC2438: Probably the coolest object I saw last night, closely followed by M51 (see below). Rich star cluster with planetary nebula (NGC2438) within it. Quite a sight! (Click link on object name for a picture from the web)
  • Saturn: Counted 5 moons. Not much surface or ring detail seen due to bad seeing conditions.
  • M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy): Amazing! The Lightbridge easily revealed the two central bulges of the galaxies, and I could easily see spiral structure in the surrounding luminosity. I spent a long time admiring this sight, just amazing.
  • M63 (Sunflower Galaxy): Central bulge observed, slight external structure seen.
  • M35: Nice detail seen.
  • NGC2158: Close to M35, a faint cluster.
So, a nice bagful of goodies for the evening. It was good fun tracking them down using the star atlas initially, then binoculars with scope's finderscope to starhop to each object. I also learned a lot more about the constellations and these objects themselves, reading snippets of Burnham's while observing.

There were two other highlights to the evening:
  • Iridium Flare witnessed at 19:22. Brightened dramatically for about 10 seconds.
  • Towards the north, we saw some military aircraft dispensing flares. I followed the aircraft in my binoculars and noticed it performing some pretty nifty maneuvers. It let off three sets of three bursts, and despite being somewhat far away, they brightened the sky dramatically.
All in all a brilliant night out. The Lightbridge is a real light bucket, it's an amazing performer for the price. Images were sharp and detailed all night long and I was constantly smiling away with each observation.

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