It’s Friday night, it’s clear and it’s a new moon. I am at the club field near Pilot Mountain with my 10″ dob set up and waiting for it to get dark. I really don’t think it gets much better than this for an amateur astronomer. While it’s getting dark, a nine-year old boy is asking a fellow club member 10,000 questions about Saturn. All I could think, I sure am glad he was here or it would be me being grilled.
Finally, it’s dark and its ten o-clock, the sky still looks bright. The NELM is 5.8 and the seeing is a little below average. I can only use a magnification of 171x before the stars start to look a little bloated. My friend starts looking at M13, the Great Hercules Globular Cluster, so I follow suite. Wow! at 171x there are so many stars visible. M13 is truly the king of globular clusters in the northern hemisphere. I asked if he had ever looked at M92 and he said he had not. Looking at M92 at 171x, I would say that it too was about 70% resolved. Although it is smaller than M13, it is an amazing cluster to view. I wondered why it is so often overlooked. Surely if it wasn’t so close to M13 it would be declared to be one of the top five globular clusters that you could observe in the northern hemisphere.
It was here that we went our own ways. My friend went to one of my favorite planetary nebulas, the Blue Flash Nebula, NGC 6905. Although it needed more magnification and a OIII filter, it looked simply wonderful in his 9.25 inch SCT. I went off to M101 in Ursa Major. I was trying to see and identify some additional H2 regions in this galaxy. Try as I might, I could not see any additional H2 regions with these sky conditions. I was able to distinguish a faint foreground star as being a little northeast of the core of the galaxy and not at the core this time. Not only that, but there was a little bit of spiral structure visible near the core at 171x. Also the core area was definitely mottled in appearance. Even at low power, 50x, the galaxy showed an obvious oval shape that gradually got brighter toward the central core area.
Next I went off to M102, NGC 5866, to try to find some really faint companion galaxies that a friend had seen. Armed with a photograph and a detailed star chart that I had printed off the web; it went to 15th magnitude, I started identifying all of those faint 13th to 14th magnitude stars that would lead me to the magnitude 14.8 galaxy, NGC 5862. Once again, try as I might, I could not see it or NGC 5870. I guess I will have to wait till I have better conditions and a darker sky.
I next went off on a globular cluster survey. This is fun to do every once in a while. It helps you to appreciate the beauty and structure of globular clusters. Starting off once again with M13 and M92 so I would have a benchmark to judge the other clusters by. I would be viewing all of them at the same magnification, 171x, so I could compare them with each other. Next I went to M10, nice and maybe 55% to 60% resolved. Then M12, again nice and approximately 50% resolved. M107 disappointingly dim and unresolved. M4 looked to be fully resolved with the bright bar of stars across the center, like a band of diamonds. M80 is also a very dim and unresolved cluster. Next M22, simply wonderful and what appears to be maybe 70% resolved. M28 is a dim gray spot with maybe a dozen faint stars visible. Finally I looked at M71 also a faint gray spot with maybe a half-dozen stars in the cluster visible. At this point I noted that the sky was getting hazy and beginning to cloud over. Only 12:30 am and the nights observing is over. It will be fun to do this at a higher magnification when the sky is much better and include some of the NGC clusters in the area.
So with the clouds I packed up and headed home. Boy are the headlights on the highway terribly bright after several hours in the dark looking at faint objects.