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.

 Deep-Sky Obje…


 Deep-Sky Objects Contained in the book 

In Starland with a Three-Inch Telescope

By: William Tyler Olcott

Published in 1909

 There have been several people who have compiled a list of the double stars that Olcott included in the book “In Starland with a Three-inch Telescope.” This is a good list to work your way through for those interested in double stars. Then someone on Yahoo’s 60mm telescope club web page recently suggested observing the list of deep-sky objects in this book as an observation list, but I have never seen these objects put into a list, so I thought I would give it a try.

 When I started going through my copy of this book, I became aware that the numbers used for these objects were not the familiar NGC numbers. My problem was trying to figure out what numbering system Olcott used for the clusters and nebula he included. Remember that in 1900 everything in the sky was either a nebula or a cluster, there were no galaxies yet. I had always assumed that these numbers were NGC numbers. It turns out that they are General Catalog (GC) numbers, the predecessor of the New General Catalog (NGC). I now have it figured out and have converted these GC numbers to their equivalent NGC numbers for a possible observing project.

 The list turns out to be a strange mix of objects. There are only 41 Messier objects included and there are 44 NGC objects included too for a total of 85 nebula and clusters in Olcott’s list. I started to wonder why he included the objects he did and left out some really bright objects near other objects he included. For example he included M80 in Scorpius, a small dim globular to me, and left out M4, which is resolvable, and he also missed the bright clusters M6 and M7 which from a dark sky are naked eye objects. Another example, he includes Tuttle’s variable nebula, NGC 6643 (mag. 11.5) in Draco and left out the bright Cat’s Eye Nebula, NGC 6543. He includes NGC 2903 & 2905 in Leo but nothing of M65, M66 or M95, M96 and M105. If I recall correctly, Olcott entered into astronomy only four years before he wrote In Starland with a Three-inch Telescope. So I think this has more to do with information not being readily available in the early 1900’s and the fact that he had only been observing for four years when he wrote the book. He may have included all the objects he had seen at that time and nothing else. That explains for me the limited and spotty coverage of this list.

The first column in this list is the now familiar NGC or IC number for each object followed by the General Catalog number and the Messier number where applicable. I have listed next what we know each object to be today. For Olcott, each object was listed as a nebula, cluster and a few as globular clusters. The boundaries of the Constellations were not set when Olcott prepared his list of objects so I have shown the constellation each object is located in today, which is not always the same constelation that they are shown to be located in in Olcott’s book. This is followed by the integrated magnitude for each object and it’s listed size. Last I have shown the common name for each of the objects that have them.

I hope you enjoy observing this list as much as I did preparing it.

NGC No. GC No. M Type Const. Mag. Size

129     63    –   OC  Cas  6.5  21

224   116  31  Gx   And  3.6  192’x62′ The Andromeda Galaxy

225   120   –    OC  Cas  7.0  12′ The letter “w” cluster

253   138   –    Gx   Scl   7.8   27’x7′ The Sculptor Galaxy

457   256   –   OC  Cas  6.4  13′ The Airplane/Owl/ET Cluster

524    307   –  Gx   Psc  10.5  3′

598    352  33  Gx  Tri    5.8  71’x42′ Pinwheel or Triangulum Galaxy

663    392   –   OC   Cas  7.1  16′

752    457   –   OC   And  5.7  50′

869    512   –   OC   Per  5.3  29′ Part of Double Cluster

884    521   –   OC   Per  6.1  29′ Part of Double Cluster

1039  584  34  OC  Per  5.2  35′

1245  658   –    OC  Per  8.4  10′

1342  717   –    OC  Per  6.7  14′

1513  809   –    OC  Per  8.4  9′

1528  820   –    OC  Per  6.4  23′

1535  826   –    PN  Eri   9.6  48”x42” Cleopatra’s Eye

1545  831   –   OC  Per  6.2  18′

1662  905   –   OC  Ori   6.4  20′

1778  996   –   OC  Aur   7.7   6′

1817  1030  – OC  Tau  7.7  16′

1857  1067  – OC  Aur   7.0   5′

1893  1101  –  OC  Aur  7.5  11′ Associated with Nebula

1904  1112  79  GC  Lep  7.7  9′

1912  1119  38  OC  Aur  6.4  21′

1952  1157   1  SNR Tau 8.4  6’x4′ Crab Nebula

1960  1166  36  OC  Aur  6.0  12′

1976  1179  42  BN  Ori   4.0  90’x60′ The Great Nebula in Orion

1981  1184   –   OC  Ori    4.2   25′

2099  1295  37  OC  Aur   5.6  23′

2168  1360  35  OC  Gem  5.1  28′

2169  1361   –   OC  Ori   5.9   6′ The “37” Cluster

2194  1383   –   OC  Ori  8.5  10′

2244  1424   –   OC  Mon  4.8  24′ Cluster in the Rosette Nebula 

2281  1451   –   OC  Aur  5.4  14′

 2287  1454  41  OC  CMa  4.5  38′ The Little Beehive

 2318  1479   –   OC? CMa    –     –    Sparse group, NOT a cluster

 2359  1511   –   BN  CMa    –  10’x5′ Thor’s Helmet or Duck Nebula

2420  1549   –   OC  Gem  8.3  10′

 2548  1637  48  OC  Hyd  5.8  54′

 2632  1681  44  OC  Cnc  3.1  95′ The Praesepe or Beehive Cluster

 2682  1712  67  OC  Cnc  6.9  29′

 2903  1861   –   Gx   Leo  9.0  12’x6′

 2905  1863   –   Gx   Leo   –      –  The northeast arm of galaxy 2903

 3031  1949  81  Gx  UMa  7.3  27’x14′ Bode’s Nebula

3034  1950  82   Gx  UMa  8.9  11’x5′ Cigar Galaxy

 3166  2038   –    Gx  Sex  10.4   5’x2′

 3169  2041   –    Gx   Sex  10.7  4’x3′

 3242  2102   –    PN  Hya   7.7   45”x36” Ghost of Jupiter

 3587  2343  97  PN  UMa  9.9  3.4′ Owl Nebula

 3800  2488   –   Gx  Leo   12.9  2’x0.6′

 4361  2917   –   PN  Crv   10.9   2′

 4762  3278   –   Gx   Vir    10.0   9’x2′

 5194  3572  51  Gx  CVn  8.5  11’x8′ Whirlpool Galaxy

 5272  3636   3   GC  CVn  6.3  18′

 5904  4083   5   GC  Ser   5.7   23′

 6093  4173  80  GC  Sco   7.3   9′

 6171  4211 107 GC  Oph  7.8  10′

 6205  4230  13  GC   Her  5.8   17′ The Great Hercules Cluster

 6254  4256  10  GC   Oph  6.6  15′

 6273  4264  19  GC   Oph  6.8  14′

 6284  4268    –   GC   Oph  8.9   6′

 6287  4269    –   GC   Oph  9.3   5′

 6293  4270    –   GC   Oph  8.3   8′

 6341  4294  92  GC   Her   6.5  14′

 6402  4315  14  GC  Oph   7.6  12′

 6494  4346  23  OC  Sgr   5.5   30′

 6514  4355  20  BN  Sgr   6.3   20′ The Trifid Nebula

 6523  4361   8   BN  Sgr   5.0   45’x30′ The Lagoon Nebula

 6603  4397   –    OC  Sgr  11.1   5′ OC in M24, small Sag. Star Cloud

 6613  4401  18   OC  Sgr   6.9   9′

 6618  4403  17   BN  Sgr   6.0   20’x15′ The Swan, Checkmark or Omega

 6643  4415    –   Gx   Dra   11.5   4’x2′

 6656  4424   22  GC  Sgr   5.2  24′

 6709  4440    –    OC  Aql   6.7  13′

 6720  4447  57   PN   Lyr  8.8   86”x62” The Ring Nebula

 6838  4520  71   GC   Sge  8.4   7′

 6853  4532  27   PN   Vul   7.4    8’x6′ The Dumbbell or Apple Core Neb.

 7009  4628   –    PN  Aqr   8.0    44”x23” The Saturn Nebula

 7078  4670  15  GC  Peg  6.3    12′

 7089  4678    2   GC  Aqr   6.6    13′

 7092  4681  39   OC  Cyg  4.6    31′

 7099  4687  30   OC  Cap   6.9   11′

 7789  5031   –     OC  Cas   6.7   25′

 IC4725   –     25   OC  Sgr      –     32′




M104, Humidity and Observing the Deep-Sky

Although I have known this for many years, It really hit home this spring when we had some really dry air over us. A few weeks ago we had a rather dry air mass pass over us and I could see stars that I don’t usually get to see. I know that air with humidity in the 30% to 40% range is not very dry for some places but here in North Carolina, where the normal summer time readings are in the 70% to 80% range, it was very dry for us. It was wonderful observing from home with such low humidity readings where I could easily see the Messier galaxies and many NGC galaxies.

In contrast to the low humidity, this past Monday I was out observing with much higher humidity readings. With the humidity at a still low 63%, I tried to find many of the galaxies that I had observed only a week before, only to find that I could just detect the presence of those galaxies and no longer really see them. This was very disappointing, knowing that the humidity was only going up in the months ahead. 

What causes this to happen? Summers in the southeastern United States tend to be very humid and that humidity holds pollen and dust particles in the air. These particles and the moisture in the air tend to scatter the light pollution, that is so common today, making the sky appear brighter. The end result is that the summer sky is much brighter than in the winter months. This brightening of the sky makes it almost impossible to see faint objects or the fainter outer regions of galaxies. Only the brightest portions of the inner areas of galaxies may be seen. For example, I observed M104 in Virgo. This galaxy has a listed size of 9’x4′ but what I could see was only approximately 3’x1′ in size. Obviously I was only seeing the brighter inner core region of the galaxy. Here is a sketch of this portion of M104 as seen Monday night. I was suprised to see the dust lane at magnification of 200x.

NGC1662 & 2169 in Orion

Orion is the home of two of my favorite wintertime open clusters. With Orion setting in the western sky early in the evening now, I have been scrambling to see these clusters for the last time this winter. The first is NGC 1662, The Klingon Battle Cruiser cluster. If you, like me, were a fan of the original Star Trek TV series, then you remember how the Klingon Battle Cruiser looked. Sue French in her February 2005 Deep-Sky Wonders column has a picture of the battle cruiser superimposed on this sparse cluster, and the stars definitely look like the running lights on the cruiser. I have never seen this cluster as anything else since.  Even in my light polluted skies, I see in town a good dozen stars with my 4-inch TV102 refractor. Check it out if you haven’t yet.

The second cluster is the Thirty-Seven Cluster, NGC 2169. This is a wonderful little cluster, whose stars are divided into two groups of stars. From home in my light polluted skies, using a C-6 or a 6-inch SCT, I see 11 stars in the southeastern group and 7 stars in the northwestern group. All of these stars can be seen within an area about 6 arc minutes in diameter. These stars look like a mirror reversed 37 in my scope at a magnification of 150x. Here is a sketch I prepared last week of this cluster.