February 1, 2011 Observing Report

In my previous post I stated that I had good weather on my recent trip to Zephyr Ridge Observatory.  This is a report of my observing sessions.

On my first night there, the sky was overcast but the forecast called for clearing.  I napped on and off while repeatedly checking the sky.  By 1 AM the sky still had not cleared, and this time I went to sleep without setting the alarm.  But, I awoke spontaneously at 3:51 AM – perhaps I have an internal clear sky sensor! – and found that the sky had finally cleared, so I was able to make a few observations before the beginning of astronomical twilight.  In the list below, the first six observations were made during this brief session, and these constituted a brief spring sky preview of Virgo and Hydra.

The sky remained clear throughout the day and again that same evening, when I set myself the task of some true winter observing.  It was very cold, with an early evening temperature of 16F, dropping to 12F by the time I finished.  I made frequent trips to the warm room to defrost in front of the heater.  But the sky was crystal clear, with steady seeing and no breeze at all.  Orion blazed brightly as the dominant constellation in the sky, and I could not resist a quick view of the Orion Nebula with both my 20” Obsession and my 15×50 binoculars.  I enjoyed great views in both cases (no formal notes are provided for these observations).

I devoted most of the early evening to observing galaxies and galaxy clusters in the southern constellation Cetus.  These objects were at low altitudes, and I made note of instances in which I think my telescope was partially blocked by a wall of my observatory. I also made observations in Eridanus and Lepus before eventually reaching Orion, where I finally observed the Flame Nebula, a well-known object that for various reasons I had not seen before.  (One big reason: clear moonless nights in the winter are rare in my part of the country.)

Readers may be curious why I also did not observe the nearby Horsehead Nebula, which should be well within reach of my telescope.  The short answer is: weird things happen in the dark.  The longer answer is that something was wrong with the map of the region that I printed using Voyager software, and I spent considerable time sorting out the locations of the Flame Nebula and nearby NGC2023.  Once these were observed, my frozen fingers compelled me inside, and after warming up I decided to pursue other objects and save the Horsehead for a time when my map issue is resolved.

It was a great night under the stars.  My notes follow.


2/1/2011 4:43 AM
NGC4856 Galaxy Vir Mag 10.4
RA 12h59m21s DEC -15°02’34” Size 4.6’x1.6’

After a cloudy evening, I awoke early to a clear sky and braced against the 13.6 degree F temperature to get in an hour of observing. At 212x this galaxy is small, with a broad, bright core that yields abruptly to a diffuse, elongated halo. There is a bright star on the SE side near the core that is either superimposed or just slightly outside the halo.

2/1/2011 4:48 AM
NGC4030 Galaxy Vir Mag 12.4
RA 12h00m24s DEC -01°05’59” Size 4.3’x3.2’

At 212x this galaxy was reasonably bright with a circular halo and a bright core. I glimpsed a stellar nucleus intermittently with averted vision. There are two bright stars nearby that bracket the galaxy, one on the north side and one on the south. (I discovered later that there are actually two bright stars to the south, and I am guessing one of these was outside the field of view at the time of my observation.)

2/1/2011 4:55 AM
NGC4590 M68 Globular Cluster Hya Mag 9.0
RA 12h39m30s DEC -26°45’00” Size 12.0′

Low altitude view – about 16 degrees – and possible loss of aperture due to south wall partial obstruction. Observed at 212x and confirmed at 363x.  This globular is quite bright, and typical of a Messier globular, although not as bright as some of the more conspicuous showpieces. The core, in particular, did not have the intense brightness that some Messier globulars have. I could resolve at least 25-30 stars, including several that appeared to be superimposed upon the core area.

2/1/2011 5:15 AM
NGC5694 Globular Cluster Hya Mag 9.2
RA 14h39m37s DEC -26°32’18” Size 3.6’

Very low altitude view. At 363x this globular cluster could be mistaken for a magnitude 11 or 12 galaxy. It is a small circular ball with a bright, compact core area and a small, hazy halo. No stars were resolved. There are two bright stars on one side and another bright star opposite, and these together with the cluster form a V-shape with the cluster at the bottom of the V.

2/1/2011 5:29 AM
NGC4261 Galaxy Vir Mag 10.4
RA 12h19m23s DEC +05°49’32” Size 3.9’x3.2’

This galaxy is not as bright as I expected. It does have a conspicuous core, with an elongated halo. Looks like an oblique spiral. There is a very bright star to the SSE and another bright star to the NNE. Observed at 212x.

2/1/2011 5:35 AM
NGC466 Galaxy Vir Mag 10.8
RA 12h45m08s DEC -00°27’49” Size 4.5’x1.5’

Nice. At 212x, I saw a bright spindle with a bright elongated core. The halo is extended and appeared slightly thicker on the SW side. There is a small, curling three-star asterism to the SE, and just beyond that I saw the companion galaxy NGC2668, which was a slightly elongated hazy blob with no central brightening.

2/1/2011 7:05 PM
NGC908 Galaxy Cet Mag 10.2
RA 02h23m05s DEC -21°14’02” Size 5.5’x2.8’

Excellent sky. 16 degree F now, dropping to 12F by the time I quit for the night at around 11 PM. At 212x this galaxy has a fairly large elongated halo with an irregular texture that suggested gaps in the stellar contents. There is only mild brightening in the core and averted vision revealed a stellar nucleus. A faint star was seen just to the east of the halo. To the north there is a pair of bright stars, and further north is a row of three even brighter stars.

2/1/2011 7:15 PM
IC1613 Galaxy Cet Mag 9.3
RA 01h04m47s DEC +02°07’07” Size 12’

Very difficult, and I probably should have waited another hour until my eyes had fully acclimated, but this galaxy was close to being obscured by the west wall of my observatory, and in fact part of my mirror may indeed have been obstructed. I used a map to pinpoint the location at 98x, and the best view was at 212x. I was able to see a very faint distortion in the field at the precise location of this galaxy according to the map. This was visible with direct vision, and, strangely, averted vision did not seem to enhance the perception very much. Slewing the scope gently helped confirm the sighting. Based on my map and the data I had for the angular size, I believe I may have seen only a brighter portion of this galaxy.

2/1/2011 7:25 PM
NGC 426/429/430 Galaxy Trio Cet Mags 12.8/13.4/12.5
RA 01h12m49s DEC -00°17’26”

Viewed very close to the west wall, so possible loss of aperture. All three galaxies were visible in the field with direct vision at 363x. The northernmost galaxy, NGC430, has a bright core with a stellar nucleus surrounded by a small fuzzy halo. Two stars are nearby, one just to the south and the other to the ESE. The next galaxy, NGC426, is located just to the SW of NGC430. It is also quite small, roughly circular, with mild central brightening and a tiny halo. Finally, NGC429, located to the SE of NGC426, is also small and quite faint, with a slightly elongated halo and mild central brightening. There is a star just off the halo to the north of this galaxy.

2/1/2011 7:35 PM
NGC615 Galaxy Cet Mag 11.5
RA 01h35m06s DEC -07°20’27” Size 4.0’x1.7’

Again, partial west wall obstruction likely, but the galaxy was easily visible at 363x. The galaxy had a small, elongated halo – looks like an edge-on spiral. The core also appeared elongated and had a stellar nucleus. There is a bright star just west of this galaxy.

2/1/2011 7:42 PM
NGC779 Galaxy Cet Mag 11
RA 01h59m43s DEC -05°57’53” Size 4.1’x1.4’

At 363x this galaxy is a nice elongated streak, with a fairly extended halo. There is a bright nonstellar core. The halo seemed to extend further on the S end than the N end. My map showed a PGC galaxy off the S tip of the halo. I did not see this per se, unless the additional extension of the S side halo of the main galaxy is due to the combined light of both galaxies. There are two faint stars visible to the NE.

2/1/2011 7:52 PM
Hickson 14 Galaxy Cluster Cet (brightest member Mag 14.2)
RA 01h59m48s DEC -07°01’43” Size 6.7’

Rather dim. At 363x I was able to see two galaxies located between a pair of very bright stars oriented in an approximate N-S line. The southernmost is PGC7557 and north of it is PGC7553. Both were very faint and barely visible with direct vision; they brightened with averted vision. A third galaxy between the two bright stars, PGC7550, was not visible. Nor was PGC7546, located NNW of PGC7550 and beyond the northernmost bright star. Continuing further north, there is another bright star, and to the NNW of that star I was able to see IC184, which appeared a little brighter than the two PGC galaxies just mentioned, but was still only a slightly elongated glow.

2/1/2011 8:05 PM
Hickson 15 Galaxy Cluster Cet (brightest member Mag 14.3)
RA 02h07m39s DEC +02°08’18” Size 7.7’

At 363x, I was able to see five members of this cluster. UGC1620 and UGC1624 are the two brightest, each of which appeared as small hazy patches with pinpoint stellar nuclei. I saw a pair of field stars a little south of UGC1624. The southernmost member of the cluster is UGC1617, which seemed a little fainter than the first two mentioned, but I did discern a stellar nucleus with averted vision. The northernmost galaxy, UGC1618, is a little brighter than UGC1617 and also has a stellar nucleus. Next to UGC1618 I saw a stellar pinpoint; since my map showed no field stars in that location, I am guessing this is PGC8116, which was shown on my map in that location.

2/1/2011 8:13 PM
NGC1022 Galaxy Cet Mag 11.4
RA 02h38m32s DEC -06°40’41” Size 2.5’x2.1’

At 363x this galaxy is fairly bright with a slightly elongated halo that exhibited a mottled texture with an irregular perimeter. The core is also elongated and there is a stellar nucleus. A field star is just off the halo to the NE.

2/1/2011 8:24 PM
NGC1084 Galaxy Eri Mag 10.6
RA 02h46m00s DEC -07°34’42” Size 3.0’x1.5’

At 363X this galaxy is bright, with a slightly elongated, milky, mottled halo that had a lumpy appearance. I did not see any brightening in the core area, but averted vision revealed a stellar nucleus. The perimeter of the halo seemed irregular, suggesting the possibility of spiral arms protruding outward. An interesting bright galaxy.

2/1/2011 8:39 PM
NGC1407 Galaxy Eri Mag 9.8
RA 03h40m12s DEC -18°34’51” Size 2.5’x2.5’

At 363x NGC1407 is bright, with a circular halo. The bright nonstellar core is fairly extended. No structure was seen in the halo. The immediate area is filled with other galaxies. North of NGC1407 I found IC343 located between two field stars; it is a rather faint smudge with no discernable features. Returning to NGC1407 and moving westward, I found a small, faint hazy spot that I identified as NGC1402. Moving southward from there, I saw a much brighter galaxy, NGC1400; this galaxy is not quite as large as NGC1407, but it has a bright core and a roughly circular halo. There is a field star just to the SW. There are some other nearby galaxies shown on my map, but the cold air stifled my motivation to search further!

2/1/2011 8:57 PM
NGC1964 Galaxy Lep Mag 10.7
RA 05h33m22s DEC -21°56’45” Size 6.2’x2.5’

This galaxy is located to the SE of a triangle of bright stars. At 363x the galaxy had a bright stellar core, with an elongated halo that had a rather ghostly appearance. It seems to be an oblique spiral, but I could not trace any spiral arms. Instead, evidence of structure was exhibited by the broken, lacy texture of the halo. Four faint foreground stars were involved in or in the vicinity of the halo, one each on the SW and NE ends of the halo, and the other two just off the halo near the core to the NW.

2/1/2011 9:09 PM
NGC1973,1975,1977 Bright Reflection Nebula Ori Mag 7
RA 05h35m06s DEC -04°44’00” Size 20’x10′

A beautiful area in Orion, viewed at 98x. Three bright stars form an arc, with a couple of dimmer ones nearby. Northwest of this area, there is a straight line of bright stars. Near the line there was obvious nebulosity. To the west of the curving arc is another bright area of nebulosity. In general, the whole area was aglow, with some regions more prominent than others. It is difficult to precisely describe, as the entire field of view was filled with the glow to varying degrees.

2/1/2011 9:47 PM
NGC2024 Flame Nebula Neb Ori Mag 10.7
RA 05h41m54s DEC -01°51’00” Size 30’x30’

Observed at 98x. Quite beautiful, but Zeta Orionis had to be moved out of the field due to the intense glare. This is a large nebula with lots of swirls and filaments. There is a dark area in the middle that was elongated – rather like a thick dark lane running within. There are a few stars superimposed on the nebula. This nebula has the sort of structural interest of something like the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. I viewed it at both 98x and 212x to fully enjoy the many structural aspects, too numerous to fully describe. I tried an OIII filter, but it did not enhance the view. Gorgeous!

2/1/2011 9:55 PM
NGC2023 E Neb Ori
RA 05h41m38s DEC -02°15’33” Size 10’

At 98x, I saw this nebula without difficulty as a hazy glow surrounding a fairly bright star. It is moderately large, but there was no structure evident, although I confess I did not spend a lot of time on this object.

2/1/2011 10:18 PM
NGC2185 Neb Mon Mag 12
RA 06h11m03s DEC -06°13’46” Size 5’x3’

I used a map printed from Voyager software and found the precise location of this nebula. At 212x, I saw a rather faint glow that seemed to encompass a star, with a few other stars in the vicinity. To the west of this location, NGC2183 appeared as another faint hazy glow. Neither of these nebulae were particularly exciting, but they were visible.

2/1/2011 10:25 PM
NGC2215 Open Cluster Mon Mag 8.4
RA 06h21m00s DEC -07°17’00” Size 11’

At 212x, this is a fairly loose arrangement of 30-40 stars in a rough oval shape. Most of the members are reasonably bright (mag. 11 or so), but there are fainter members as well. There are some gaps/voids interspersed.

About Denis

I am the owner of Zephyr Ridge Observatory and the writer of this blog. For more information, please click the About link at the top of this page.
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