Bad, better and best dark sky experiences.

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There are dark skies and there are pristine very dark skies. We were on North Skye at the beginning of October and a few weeks after in the New Forest. I took the same scope and eyepieces to compare targets. Most of these I cannot even spot from home. M33 has been a long time favourite, just a glimpse now and again from The Forestry Centre, for example.

North Skye is just magic , if the weather is right. We were given an exhausting two weeks of fine skies. The first thing that hits you is how many stars, even down to the horizon. Then try to pick out constellations. The most amazing sight is the huge wide arch of the very bright Milky Way. It twists, splits and disappears in dark dust clouds. Behind Deneb it just stops as you spot the bright North American nebula by eye. A huge branch goes into Auriga, this being out of the centre of the galaxy looking towards it’s edge. That’s why it’s not packed with stars.

Little bright puffs of brightness by eye are the many open clusters. The only light on the back of my hand was starlight. With so many faint stars, star hopping by eye and using the Pocket Sky Atlas is so very easy. Three are nine Milky Way dark sites on Skye.

The scope cooled and first up, the tangle of M33. There is no bright core, just knots and the clear sight of two huge spiral arms. Another minor group is nearby in the glow of the arms. It’s a huge transfixing sight. From the New Forest there were just slight signs of the structure.

Then onto the Eastern Veil, NGC 6992 giving a really bright view. I gently nudged across from this huge arc to get 52 Cygni. The Western Veil NGC 6960, swept across the view, bright at one end and finely whispery at the other. I could see why it’s called ” The Witch’s Broom”. I had never seen this before. At the New Forest , just a slight glow around Cygnus 52. From home , nothing. Although removing the UHC filter gave a lovely view of the faint companion to this binary star. I hadn’t realise it was a beautiful binary in the search for nebulosity.

NGC 891 out from Almach ( lovely binary ) is also a favourite. The best view showed it’s shape, halo and fine dust lane . It was easy to spot in a black background studded with stars. From the Forest , I was rewarded with s bright streak. From home, nothing ! Some years ago it was visible from here on the darkest nights, light pollution has got worse . There’s always the close by streak of NGC 1023 to brighten up a session.

I can’t really describe M31 and companions,M32 and M101. In x15 binoculars they fill the view. The dust lanes and full shape are a remarkable sight in the scope. Almost as good at the Forest and quite underwhelming from here.

The views of deep sky objects were near photographic from Skye. Even M1 put on a find show with brightness and filaments at one end. I followed a whole range of wonderful nebula, including the “Cocoon” , “Bubble”, Pacman” and ” Heart and Soul”.

Fierce glows showed some good sightings of the Northern Lights. We were very very lucky. Returning to our light polluted sky , it’s simply not worth seeking out faint targets , unless you’ve not seen them before. The Forest is excellent , but nothing ,even aperture beats the views from very dark sites under
Clear skies !
Old Nick.

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