January 4, 2013 Observations, My first observation of the new year

After what has seemed like months of cloudy, hazy or brightly lit up sky from a near full moon, it was finally forecast to be clear last night. Sounded to good to be true,I know, so I was planning to set up a scope for some long-awaited viewing. Darn it, an hour before sunset the clouds moved in before I had set up for the night. So much for viewing I thought, but when I took the dog out before bed, wouldn’t you know it, the sky was crystal clear.

I had just read Phil Harrington’s January article on Cloudy Night’s about observing in the arm of Orion, so I grabbed my binoculars, bundled up and headed out to the back yard for some quick viewing. The sky in town was not really that good, only having a naked eye limiting magnitude of only 4.2. The humidity was a low 54% but the sky was still very bright. After sitting down and leaning back in a lawn chair I started to cruse north along the arm of Orion. When I arrived at Nu and Xi, due south of Nu, I could easily see NGC 2169, the 37 cluster. This cluster is a bright but small hazy spot, that when looked at with averted vision, I could see two brighter sections in the haze. Located approximately two degrees southeast of NGC 2169 is the cluster NGC 2194, a small dim spot of haze that is best seen with averted vision.

Moving up to what I have known as the end of Orion’s club, the two stars Chi1 and Chi2. Looking about two degrees east of Chi2, I was able to see NGC 2175 with averted vision about 20% of the time. This is a very faint nebulous spot that is according to Phil a small cluster. However the original NGC description describes this as a nebula around a faint sparse cluster, not an open cluster.

I also looked at Cr 69, the Lambda Orion cluster a the head of Orion. Next I looked at Cr 65, a large loose open cluster about five degrees in diameter on the border of Taurus. This cluster is larger than the binoculars field-of-view.

Then I went to the shield of Orion and looked at NGC 1662, a small gray puff in the night sky. I always find it interesting how so many small open clusters appear as small gray spots in the sky.

I went on to look at many more clusters in my brightly lit up sky. many could be seen and several I could not see with my 9.5×63 binoculars. I am so glad that I took the dog out and looked up.



I have  finished my sketching tutorial, so check it out. It has its own page so I have only shown you the beginning here. Hopefully it will be of help to someone. Let me know what you think.

“WHY SKETCH? You can’t even draw a stick figure, you say. Well the truth is that you do not have to be an artist to place dots on a piece of paper for stars and a smudge for a nebula or galaxy. So why would I wont to make a sketch of what I look at? Well there are many reasons why you may wont to try making a sketch, I will just give you a couple of them.

Sketching ties you to a long history of making a drawing of what you’re looking at. In science botanist, ornithologist, astronomers and many other fields made sketches for study and even publication. Before the advent of photography, the only way to record what you were studying, was to make a drawing of what you were studying. So making a sketch gives you a sense of being a part of that long history.

Sketching makes you a better observer. So often we use our goto mounts to go from one object to the next and only briefly look at each object. To make a sketch, we have to slow down and look at the object, study it and try to sketch all that we can see. The act of slowing down and looking for everything we can see to make our sketch, by necessity makes us a better observer.

Have you ever gone back over your older notes and started to think that all the descriptions kind of sounded alike? Each object being described as a faint gray spot that is twice as long as it is wide, etc. Sometimes I think when reading, what does it look like? Well have you heard that a picture is worth a thousand words? I think it is and it is fun going back and seeing the object once again on those cloudy nights. Not only that, others can see what you saw too.

So I gain a tie with the past, I become a better observer, and I have a much better record of what I have seen that can also be shown to others. That seems like a win win situation to me.”

Continued on the Sketching Tutorial page.

The Iris Nebula, NGC 7023

This observation was made from my heavily light polluted backyard in Winston-Salem, NC at 12:55am EDT on Saturday, September 15, 2012. After a summer of mostly cloudy weather we finally had four consecutive nights without clouds or moon to interfere with some observing. The sky, with high humidity, was bright in town as it always is in the summer time. It was 63 degrees farenheit with no wind. The elevated humidity (87%) allowed a naked eye limiting magnitude of 4.3.

You will find NGC 7023, sometimes refered to as the Iris Nebula, about three and a half degrees southwest of magnitude 3.2 Alfirk (Beta Cephei). Through my 5-inch Mak-cass (ETX-125) with direct vision, using a 19mm eyepiece at 100x, NGC 7023 appears as a uniformly bright, circular haze about two arc minutes in diameter and surrounding the 7th magnitude star HD 200775. Adding an Orion Sky Glow filter to my 24mm eyepiece, yielding a magnification of 79x, and using some averted vision, the nebula grew to almost ten minutes in diameter that was a rounded square shape. With light pollution in town, the nebula resembled a distant light seen through a fogged up window, although there was no fog visible around any other stars.

On Friday, September 12, 2012 I was out with my 10×50 Nikon binoculars and located what I thought was NGC 7023. Using the line of four stars, alpha Cephei, 6 and 7 Cephei and beta Cephei, I placed beta Cephei on the northeast edge of my six degree field-of-view. I looked for the little equalateral triangle of seventh magnitude stars with another seventh magnituge star just west of the southwest star. Having located this triangle of stars near the center of the field-of-view, I began to use averted vision to observe then. The southwestern star in this triangle was slightly bloted and did not appear stellar like the other stars. It is hard for me to believe, but I was able to detect this nebula with my 10×50 binoculars.

M22 using a 50mm Galileoscope


This observation was made from my heavily light polluted backyard in Winston-Salem, NC on August 16, 2012. After almost a month of cloudy weather it had finally cleared off last Thursday night, so I took my 10×50 Nikon binoculars out to take a look at the sky. The sky was bright in town as it always is here, but I was still able to see M22 with the binoculars as a round gray spot northeast of lambda Sagittarius. Since it was late in the evening and I had not set up a telescope, I decided to grab my 50mm f/10 Galileoscope for a look at M22. Sometimes it is fun using the telescope minimalist approach when observing, at any rate it is a great grab and go scope for fast setup and observing.

Using the little 50mm refractor with a 20mm Siris Plossl eyepiece, which gave a magnification of 25x and a true field-of-view of 02 degrees and 05 minutes, it was an easy star hop to M22 from lambda Sagittarius. The wind was calm and the temperature was a comfortable 74 degrees fahrenheit, but the humidity was 69% which made for a bright hazy sky with all the light pollution in town. Looking at the globular cluster, M22, through the little refractor, it appeared to be a small round gray spot that was brighter in the center and best seen with averted vision or with movement of the scope. There were no stars seen in the cluster with the little scope but it was still a very satisfying view given the conditions.

Back in early June of this year, I had a chance to look at this cluster from home with my 150mm C-6 SCT using a 10mm eyepiece at 150x, stars could be seen all across the gray cluster of unresolved stars. Still though the view that I will always remember is the one I had with my 4-inch TV102 refractor several years ago from Oak Island, NC using my 13mm eyepiece for a magnification of 67x. I had hoped over to M22 from the top of the tea-pot, lambda Sagittarius, and was not ready for the view I received when I looked in the telescope. Yes, M22 was still a gray spot with stars visible across the cluster but it appeared to be immersed in a round swarm of star-dust, faint stars, about 35 to 40 arc minutes in diameter. I have never seen this before due to the light pollution at my usual observing sights. Seeing M22 over the Atlantic Ocean without any light pollution there, was simply amazing to me. It was a view I will never forget.

A Summer Binocular Tour

I got home yesterday from a weeks stay at Oak Island, N.C. The forecast was for cloudy weather and scattered rain and thunderstorms so I did not take a scope with me, but I always take my binoculars for some birding. Well, not taking a telescope with me was a big mistake. There were four nights that were partly cloudy, You know those small puffy clouds that cover about 20% to 40% of the sky and move by quickly, while Saturday night was mostly clear. Someone should kick me if I ever go to the coast again and not take a telescope.

For those of you who do not know, binoculars are one of the best pieces of astronomical gear, other than a telescope, that you can own. Why do I say that? Well on those four partly cloudy and one mostly clear night, I found, identified and observed 55 deep-sky objects. To do that I only spent about 45 minutes out each night and about an hour and a half on the clear night.

It seems like every summer I enjoy taking a tour through Sagittarius, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, etc. This is a portion of the sky that is just packed with bright objects for viewing. After looking at the skies brighter Messier objects I started hunting for some of the brighter objects not usually thought about with binoculars. As my guide for this, I used Peter Birren’s wonderful little book Objects in the Heavens. Peter describes this book as The Complete Mag-10 Northern Deep-Sky Viewing List & Fieldbook. What I like about the book is that those objects mag-7 and brighter are shown in bold type. This makes for a great list of binocular targets.

I will not bore you with the whole list of objects that I viewed but I will share some of the highlights I really enjoyed. Like the false comet in the tail of Scorpius. This is an area of the sky that to the naked eye from a really dark site looks like a comet almost on the horizon. The false comet is made up of Zeta 1 & Zeta 2, NGC 6231 and Cr316. Zeta 1 and 2 are the nucleus on the south side of the coma, made up by NGC 6231, the fan-shaped tail is made up by Cr 316. Although there were stars visible in NGC 6231 and Cr 316 through my 10×50 binoculars, the comet shape was still very evident in them. The open cluster, NGC 6231, is a great telescopic target too. This cluster is sometimes called the Northern Jewel Box because it is so rich in stars.

Next I found, for the first time, a wonderfully bright, round with a bright center Globular cluster, NGC 6388. This cluster is only about a degree north of the declination of the Omega Centaurus Cluster and is located under the tail of Scorpius, so it is low in the sky but still bright over the Atlantic Ocean. This is a cluster I will definitely have to look at with my telescope. 

I have been reading about what some have refered to as a nonexistent object in the New General Catalog, NGC 6455. This object is shown in the Urano Metria 2000.0 atlas as a star cloud southwest of M7. I thought it would be a great telescopic target for a low power wide field-of-view through my 4-inch TV102 refractor, so you can understand my surprise when it was visible in my 10×50 binoculars. This star cloud looks very much like M24 in Sagittarius. By that I mean it is a milky patch on a dark sky background, that looks mottled and covered with faint stars. It looked as if M7 is located in the northeastern corner of this milky patch that extends for a full degree to the southwest of M7.

Now combine this with the string of objects that appear to flow out of the Sagittarius tea-pot spout and you will understand why I had such a good time with only my binoculars. Looking again at Objects in the Heavens, there are still another dozen and a half objects up there to be seen with binoculars this time of year. Let’s hope for some more clear dark skies.

M17, The Swan Nebula

Woo Hoo! Finally I was able to take a telescope out for observing the night sky for the first time in almost two months. The July object for the Las Vegas Observers challenge is M17 and I wonted to try to get a sketch of this object. Check out there site and look at all the sketches completed by other people. You will find it at www.lvastronomy.com

I set up the ETX 125 PE, a 5-inch Mak-cass telescope, at sunset to reach ambient temperature and went out to observe after it was good and dark around 11:00 pm. I began with a tour of the globular clusters visible from my yard, always a fun thing to do, while waiting for the nebula to rise higher in the sky. The sky was filled with the usual summer haze allowing only magnitude 3.9 for the naked eye limit in the southern sky where M17 is located. Overhead the sky was a little better with a magnitude 4.4  naked eye limiting magnitude.

I was surprised to see the nebula in town with my 10×50 Nikon binoculars. With the binoculars the nebula was basically an averted vision object, but still easy to see.  Using a 24mm panoptic eyepiece for a magnification of 79x, the nebula could be seen without a filter as a long hazy area extending from northwest to southeast. Adding a OIII filter to the eyepiece, the nebula took on the characteristic shape of a swan swimming on water.

2012 Venus Transit

Our club, the Forsyth Astronomical Society, planed a public outing on top of Pilot Mountain for viewing the transit and sharing the view with the public. My wife packed sandwiches, snacks and drinks for an afternoon on the mountain viewing the transit. We left home about 2:00 pm and arrived at the parking lot about 2:45 pm to find the area filled with club members already setting up to view.

The transit was scheduled to start at 6:04:44 pm so most were set up for some solar viewing and sharing with the public that was there. Although it was mostly cloudy, there were breaks in the clouds that allowed some intermittent viewing of Sunspots. The club had about a dozen scopes set up for viewing and it was a mad dash to them whenever a gap in the clouds appeared. The last good view of the sun was around 5:15 pm. We did not know that there would be only one more chance for us to see the Sun let alone view it. There was only one more opening in the clouds to see the Sun around 7:00pm that lasted about 20 seconds. All the while from on top of Pilot Mountain we could see downtown Winston-Salem, NC some 30 miles away standing out with the buildings brightly lit up by the sunlight. Here is a photograph of a few of the scopes set up on the edge of the parking lot on top of Pilot Mountain.

Note the large flower-pot in the photograph. A couple of weeks ago four families in the club got together for a cookout and the guys put together the Sun Gun telescope. It projects an image of the sun about 6-inches in diameter on the screen so that many people can watch the sun at the same time. The Sunspots could be seen easily with this setup when there were breaks in the clouds.

A fellow club member drove six hours into Tennessee before finding a spot that had enough breaks in the clouds to photograph the transit. This is one of his photo’s near the start of Venuses transit with clouds over part of the Sun and another further into the transit.

The last month has been a terrible month for viewing anything in the sky, unless you were interested in cloud watching. I hope you had a better view than we did.