Observing report for 7 November 2002

Location/Conditions

Gear/Objects

Objects

M31, M32, M33, M42, M43, M110, NGC 869/884, NGC 7331, NGC 7448, NGC 7479, Pleiades, Saturn

Report

I posted a report about a month ago where I gave my "new to me" 6" Criterion Dynascope a workout from fairly dark skies up in the Colorado mountains. Since then, I've bought some decent eyepieces to replace the Criterion brand eyepieces. The 32mm Plossl is an Orion Sirius and the two Orthos are from University Optics. The following report has turned into "War & Peace" so pack a lunch.

I did some map work to try to guess the locations of the darkest skies up in the Colorado mountains with reasonable access from Boulder. One of the interesting spots was Ute Pass, about 15 miles by air north of Silverthorne and about 60 miles west- northwest of downtown Denver. I knew I would still easily be able to see Denver from that distance, but figured it wouldn't be too bad. However, I wasn't sure whether I'd even have a good place to set up far from the paved road over the pass, or if not, whether there would be much traffic (the latter seemed unlikely after 8pm on a weeknight in the middle of nowhere, but you never know).

It took a little over 2 hours to get to Ute Pass (driving home was considerably quicker). There were large parking turnouts on either side of the road, but there were motorhomes, trailers, and large tents set up on the best side. Hunters camping for an early morning start, I guess. I kept driving and after a few miles ran into some sort of major operation (mining?) with a good collection of bright lights. So I went back to a smaller road turnout near the pass, and set up about 30 feet off the roadside.

I spent some time just letting my eyes dark-adapt and viewed stuff with binoculars. Only two cars came by in 25 minutes and I found that I only had to "hide" behind my car for 30 seconds to avoid the light pollution, due to the way the road was configured. And, I could tell they were coming in plenty of time to take cover. Thankfully, only 3 more cars came by in the next 3 hours! Also thankfully, there was very little wind, in contrast to the east slopes of the Continental Divide above Boulder and Denver. The temperature fell through the 20s (F) through the session. Only a small fraction of the sky was blocked by terrain and local trees.

So, I finally set up the telescope and started observing with it just after 9pm (0400UT). (I bet you thought I was never going to get to that part!) I didn't have an organized observing plan, but that was mainly because I was more concerned about doing the site assessment and testing out the eyepieces on some familiar objects. I checked out the Double Cluster with the 32mm. I noticed a tight concentration of faint stars near the center of one of the clusters, which almost looked like a resolved globular, but that effect went away at 98x.

I did have my Herschel 400 printout with me, sorted by the central RA of the appropriate Uranometria 2000 field. I didn't want to waste a 2-hour drive to look at a bunch of open clusters ;) so I decided to try the two galaxies on chart 213 in Pegasus.

I'm using an amalgam of data from two sources, so it might not be accurate to say that NGC 7448 has an integrated magnitude of 11.2 and is 2x1 arcmin. But, I said it anyway. Having the 32mm as a "finder" eyepiece sure helps! I eventually hopped my way over to the wrong field with the 32mm (okay it doesn't help with operator error) and put in the 12.5mm. That's when I discovered that I was one star short of the correct location. Once I corrected that mistake, the galaxy was nicely there. Small, not very bright, noticably elongated, with no distinct core. As a check, I tried the 32mm again at the correct location and could see the galaxy, but not as well as with the 12.5mm. While I was there, I tried unsuccessfully to see NGC 7442, for which I didn't have any information. (ngcic.com gives a magnitude of 14.2 so that was definitely a wild goose chase.)

NGC 7479 is listed in my spreadsheet as both fainter (11.6) and larger (3.4x2.6). That was the case, and this was a more interesting object. It was loosely bordered on one side by a fairly bright star (11th mag?) and more tightly bordered on the other side by a faint one (13th mag?). The lower surface brightness and the stellar contamination made it very difficult to pinpoint the shape of the galaxy. I was sure it was not circular and/or not smooth, but I couldn't pin anything down. I just took a look at the DSS image and it's a beautiful barred spiral.

I spent a good 45 minutes on all that, so at 0535UT I took a break from the telescope and decided to do some more naked-eye observing. I noticed that the sky seemed quite a bit darker especially near the horizons. I was finally barely able to get a reliable sighting of M33 (it was overhead at this point). Some of you may have seen my recent postings about star fields for determining naked-eye limiting magnitude, but I don't have any of those ready so I tried to use the Polaris area. Even with my too weak and scratched up glasses, I still was able to get a sighting of a +6.4 star, so the actual sky quality was better than that. (Luckily, my astigmatism is mild enough that I can observe telescopically without glasses and I'll have new ones in January.)

The most important observation of the night was that I finally got a reliable sighting of the Zodiacal Band! I had already noted the Gegenschein, but by this point I could see a linear extension for another 15 degrees or so to the "right". It's worth noting that without seeing this band, I couldn't trace the ecliptic through this area to save my life. But, my sketch exactly matched the correct part of the ecliptic. Once I noticed it, it was not a particularly difficult observation although averted vision definitely helped. Something that large isn't affected by non-optimal vision correction. (I tried to see the Geg without my glasses, but 7 diopters out of kilter, I couldn't quite see it.) This is also about the perfect time of year to see the Zodiacal Band. Anyway, this has been a goal of mine for many years and I finally did it.

I went back to the telescope for M33. I had observed it last month with a 16.3mm Criterion Erfle of unknown quality. The view with the 12.5mm Ortho was much better. I was able to detect a spiral arm on the northeast side. This effect may have been enhanced by the big H II region NGC 604 at the end of the arm, but I can't say for sure whether I saw that or not. [Subsequent investigation reveals that NGC 604 is very small and could not have had any affect on the sprial structure I saw.] The arm was "obvious" in any case. There was other structure visible on the other side of the nucleus, but I could not put together anything coherent like a sprial arm. The Ortho was just about right, even though the galaxy spilled outside the half-degree FOV. Although not as good as the 12.5mm, the old Erfle seemed to give a better view than the 32mm.

I also looked at M31 and its two satellites as well. For the life of me, I still couldn't see the dust lanes, with either the 32mm or the 12.5mm. One of these times I'm going to figure it out and it will be blindingly obvious.

I also checked out the Pleiades (no nebulosity), and M42/M43 (very nice, although I thought it was worse in the 32mm).

I decided to try to bag the 3 galaxies in Aquarius on Uran chart 304, but got a little bogged down in the finderscope. So, I changed my mind and went for something easier to get to, NGC 7331. This was easy to see ("bright" in the 12.5mm, I noted in my logbook), and quite elongated.

By this point is was getting close to midnight and Saturn was getting pretty high. (That's the main reason I bailed out of Aquarius.) So, I decided to give it one last shot, and it was well worth it! The views at 98x were crisp, so I went to 174x and was still getting moments of good clarity. The Cassini Division was quite easy, and I think I may have been able to trace it in front of the disk at the moments of best seeing. I also logged one certain dark band and probably a second one. It was getting way past my bedtime including the long drive home, so I didn't spend as much time on Saturn as I should have, and I'm not really a planetary observer. But, it was nice to finally verify that the scope can give good views at fairly high powers (about 30x per inch in this case).

Summary:
I really like the U.O. eyepieces, but I'm not as happy with the Orion Plossl. Still good as a "finder" eyepiece. I think I need a good 9-10mm eyepiece more than I need something in the 20mm range. I really need to get a Telrad, e.g. The 6x30 finder is too easy to knock out of alignment and too difficult to get back into alignment. This was a decent observing site, particularly with the limited traffic relative to the easy access. I'll be in a much better position to rate various sites once I get my new glasses.


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