As Snoopy might write, “it was a dark and starry night.” And I would add chilly. Last night, we had 11 people braving the cool weather to come out to the Gott Observatory at different times during the night. We had some regular observers: Tom C, Jerry, Gary, Scott, Mark, and Collin, as well as some visitors: Ram, Tommy, and his children Nathan, Oscar, and Olivia.
Gary readies his 12″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope as the sun sinks below the horizon.
There were a few clouds here and there during the evening, but never enough to bother the observing. The Milky Way looked stunning, stretching all the way from setting Sagittarius to rising Perseus. We jumped from object to object throughout the night, and went back to a few objects more than once, so I won’t put things in the order we observed them, but rather group them by constellation.
M31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy, was spectacular. Even though not many details were seen, we could see the spiral arms stretching out for seemingly forever. With our widest field eyepieces, we could also fit both M32 and M110 into the same field, which looked awesome. M32 was a bright, tiny, and almost circular patch of light, and M110 was much fainter, but large and elliptical with a stellar core. The best (and widest) view of these 3 were in Collin’s brand new Celestron 6-inch Newtonian reflector.
Also in the Andromeda constellation, we took a peek at NGC-7662, commonly known as the Blue Snowball. Through my 8″ telescope, it lived up to its name, looking like a fuzzy, pale blue ball of light.
Another delight in Andromeda was NGC-891, a large, dim, edge-on spiral galaxy. I was unable to find it in my 8″ (I may not have been looking in quite the right place), but it did show up nicely in Jerry’s 10″ and looked gorgeous in the 12″ SCT, where the dust lanes were quite visible as well.
M37 is a rich open cluster which was a crowd-pleaser. Dozens and perhaps as many as 100 stars were visible with varying brightnesses. A few of the brighter ones appeared to be yellow stars.
The kids (and adults) enjoyed seeing NGC-457 (The Owl Cluster). The two brightest stars in the cluster resemble the eyes of an owl, and other stars in the cluster are loosely shaped as outstretched wings and tail. I personally think the cluster looks more like E.T., but most kids nowadays have no idea who that is. Am I really that old?
We also wanted to find the Bubble Nebula (NGC-7635) tonight. It lies near the much-easier-to-find M52, so we stopped there first. M52 is a small open cluster that is so circular, it almost looks like a globluar cluster. Dozens of tiny stars could be seen, with the brightest star near one edge.
We found NGC-7635 nearby. I could see a nice arc of nebulosity, but was unable to see the entire bubble.
I also took a peek at NGC-663, an irregular-shaped open cluster. It has a couple of bright star pairs that make it interesting.
Whenever Cygnus is visible, no stargazing session would be complete without looking at Beta Cyngi, commonly known as Albireo. This double star is stunning, with a bright blue component and an even brighter yellow star.
Jerry found NGC-6826, the Blinking Nebula, in his 10″ dob. It was oval with a central star that appears to blink in and out if you look away. It did not have this effect with me, but others saw it and were impressed.
But my favorite in Cygnus tonight was the Veil Nebula. It was easily visible when using O-III filters. Although the portion of the Veil with the star (NGC-6960) was brighter, we all preferred the NGC-6992/5 section as it showed a lot of filamentation and detail.
Another great open cluster in Cygnus is NGC-7039. Through Jerry’s 10″ dob, hundreds of stars were visible, most of a similar brightness. At one edge was a faint patch of nebulosity, which we later determined to be the planetary nebula NGC-7048. This nebula was first discovered using a 31.5″ telescope, so seeing it in a 10″ dob (even though we were using an O-III filter), was incredible.
Throughout the evening, I kept taking a peek at Algol. It is an eclipsing binary star that dims approximately every 3 days as the fainter star moves in front of (from our vantage point) the brighter star. It was scheduled to eclipse tonight while we were out observing, so I kept watching its brightness in relation to other stars. As the evening progressed, you could tell it had definitely dimmed when compared to nearby stars.
Another widefield favorite is the Double Cluster (NGC-884/NGC-869). Dozens of stars centered around two cores are visible in the telescope, with a smattering of brighter stars.
One real treat tonight was getting to view NGC-1499, the California Nebula. An H-Beta filter was required to see it at all, and even then, in Jerry’s 10″, it appeared as a very large and extremely faint nebulosity surrounding a host of stars in the Milky Way.
A great globular cluster, M15, was visible tonight in Pegasus. I like to call it the Hedge Apple Cluster, because of its proximity to the winged horse’s mouth. Many stars were resolved in a tight little ball with a stellar core.
Before it sunk too low in the western sky, I pointed my 8″ at M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. To this day, I cannot see the shape of a duck or flock of ducks in this cluster, but it is nevertheless a pretty sight. It contains dozens of finely resolved bright stars with one really bright star towards one edge.
M45, the Pleiades, is another one of those celestial objects I have to look at every time I see it in the sky. Several stars in this stunning open cluster are visible to the naked eye, but through binoculars or a telescope with a wide field of view, it is simply breathtaking. Many of the brighter stars, to me, form a pattern resembling that of the Apollo lunar lander.
The Hyades is another naked-eye star cluster in Taurus. There aren’t a lot of members, but it is interesting because it contains 3 pairs of bright stars arranged in a lovely hexagon pattern.
Although low in the sky, we also looked at M1, the . It was a large oval of medium brightness. In my 8″ dob, details weren’t apparent, but just knowing that it is the remnant of a star exploding 1000 years ago is awe-inspiring.
While English knights were storming the French coast of Normandy, Chinese astronomers were staring in wonder at this mysterious “new star” that was visible even in daylight for a few weeks. Now, all that’s left is an ever-expanding mass of cooling gases that we call the Crab Nebula. Wow!
At one point during the evening, being told she would be attending a telescope party, little Olivia declared, “this sure isn’t much of a party!” But after seeing all these treasures last night, I would have to disagree with her. Despite the increasing wind, the cooling temperatures, and the increasing dew, it was a great night at the Gott!