Observing Log 1-2/11/2018, Bignor Hill, Sussex Downs, Andrew Thornett

Observing Log 1-2/11/2018.

Bignor Hill, Sussex Downs.

Andrew Thornett.


Back at Bignor Hill in the Sussex Downs, twenty minutes’ drive from Bognor Regis (see map) where my family and I were spending half term holiday week, this time on my own. After a great night’s observing on Sunday night, I have spent this holiday week hoping that there would be another clear night before we leave, and tonight was the last possible chance as we need to return to Lichfield tomorrow. Current Location 50º 47′ N 000º 41. Observing on Sunday was limited by a bright Moon and being accompanied by someone new to astronomy who needed to be at work the following day. Those limitations promised to be gone tonight.

I have bought along my Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 80mm telescope on Manfrotto video tripod and my Canon 10×30 image stabilised binoculars.

This is a very dark sky site and tonight it was particularly dark and clear as the Moon did not rise until just as this session came to an end.

I started at 22:00. Apart from getting out of the car and stepping immediately into a large puddle (typical for me) my first (well next reaction after an unprintable one following stepping into the puddle) was Wow! Wow! Wow!

A bright Milky Way ran across the sky and through Cygnus and Cassiopeia. Hundreds (if not thousands) of stars were visible. The only other time I have seen a sky like this was in Ladram Bay near Sidmouth in Devon. Owls were making noise in the background – that reminded me of observing nights in Rosliston Forestry Centre – but the sky here was many times better. I am hoping that this night will last and not cloud or mist over. Fingers crossed!

Pinwheel Galaxy, Triangulum Galaxy, M 33, NGC 598, UGC 1117, PGC 5818, MCG 5-4-69, CGCG 502-110,2MASS 01335090+3039357. I do not remember EVER having been able to so easily pick out M33 with binoculars as I could tonight, and I am using only a pair of 10×30’s at that…. although they are Canon and image stabilised with great contrast and pristine optics which does make it easier….

This was after seeing M31 as a bold bright white oval in the same binoculars, although it is worth noting I could not easily pick out the North American Nebula. I always put my difficulty seeing the North America Nebula back home down to poor Lichfield Skies/light pollution but after tonight where I can see that it is still difficult to pick out the North American Nebula even in dark clear skies I wonder…. perhaps it is a difficult object to see anywhere!

I turned my telescope to M 33….

M 33 was not round as it has appeared to me in the past in Lichfield, when I can only just pick it out due to light pollution. It was jagged in outline consistent with the presence of spiral arms. Although it would be claiming too much to say that I could see spiral arms tonight clearly, nevertheless I could see the suggestion of them. The central nucleus was brighter than the surrounding area and had an elongated nature to it consistent with a bar. I could observe tonight two definite brighter areas in the galaxy. Both were north of the nucleus (above it relative to the horizon). One was roughly vertically above it and the other to the left of the nucleus and above it. This latter brighter area was the brighter of the two. Using the map of M 33 on Sky Safari Pro 6, with confidence I identified the brighter knot above and left of the nucleus as NGC 604. I think (but as less confident) that the area above the nucleus was NGC 595.

[Added 2/11/2018 = Identification of NGC 595 and NGC 604 above confirmed as correct from further research – see https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=map+m33+galaxy+clusters&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj63Yv4obneAhUPV8AKHRO8CFkQsAR6BAgAEAE&biw=2048&bih=996

North American Nebula. Oh boy, what a difficult object to see! I have now picked this out and identified it with absolute certainty using 80mm scope and 11mm focal length setting on my Baader 8-24mm zoom eyepiece. Bear in mind that I do not have any filters with me tonight and this object is supposed to be far better seen with UHC filter. My identification is 100% certain tonight as I have double and triple checked the stars I used for the star hop and can see the outline of one side of the nebula…. the skies are still incredible, and the nebula can only be described as VERY faint and this is worsened by similar looking star fields in the surrounding dense part of the Milky Way. The Milky Way is still spectacular to the naked eye. Why do astronomy magazines list this as an easy object? It isn’t even easily seen in pristine skies! Perhaps all is different when using a filter – wish I had bought one with me.

Veil Nebula, Western Veil Nebula, Lacework Nebula, Cygnus Loop, NGC 6960, C 34, LBN 191, Without a nebula filter I could not say with certainty that I could observe any part of the Veil Nebula although there were possible hints of its existence in both the Witches’ Broom and Eastern loop……

M 39, NGC 7092, Worth saying I picked up this lovely object whilst looking for the North American nebula. Been years since I last observed this. Why have I waited so long?

M 29, NGC 6913, Fun little grouping easily picked out.

Milky Way now even more impressive than before. Stars visible down to about 15 degrees above horizon in all directions before atmospheric extinction.

Ring Nebula, M 57, NGC 6720, ARO 9, PK 063+13.1, PN G063.1+13.9, VV 214, Can’t leave Cygnus without observing the Ring Nebula. Looking much like it does under our skies in Lichfield, bright grey ring.

By now my telescope was distinctly dewing up – I have not bought any dew heaters with me…more accurately I have bought dew bands but not bought a battery…a mistake! But then I did not expect an observing experience like this.

Pleiades, Seven Sisters, Subaru Cluster, M 45, Mel 22, With the binoculars, the splendour of the Pleiades is evident.

Hyades, C 41, Mel 25, Aldebaran’s dominance over the Hyades, of which it isn’t even a member…

Cr 69, Collinder 69 which looks like it is something significant to the naked eye but I found it disappointing once the binoculars were directed towards it.

Orion Nebula, M 42, NGC 1976, LBN 974. M42 appeared as a very bright dense compact white area in the binoculars.

Barnard’s Loop, Sh 2-276, Can’t see this!

M 78, NGC 2068, Also can’t see this with the binoculars

M 37, NGC 2099, Having difficulty seeing even these clusters in Auriga – and realised even my binoculars had fogged up! I took a break in the car to warm my equipment – and me – up. Aw! My feet hurt as they warmed up!

I bought with me two sky tours that I wanted to give a try tonight. The first one came from Astronomy Now November 2018 and was a tour around the environs of the Pleiades and Hyades. The second was from BBC Sky at Night magazine November 2018 and was a tour along Orion’s Sword.

NGC 1980, LBN 977, The tour of Orion’s Sword started with this small bright open cluster. Nothing very exciting. Easily identified just south of M42.

Orion Nebula, M 42, NGC 1976, LBN 974, Next, I looked at M42 itself.

M 43, NGC 1982, I followed my observation of M 42 with M 43. This is de Mairon’s Nebula and is adjacent to the fish mouth on M 42 with a dark lane between. Again, easy to see tonight.

NGC 1977, I would not say this nebula is bright, but it was visible by direct vision tonight around the three stars above M 43. It is a diffuse reflection nebula.

NGC 1975, This was again visible as brighter patch of nebulosity surrounding two pairs of stars roughly to the north of the line of stars surrounded by NGC 1977. Not much detail seen but visible.

NGC 1981, Another bright open cluster easily seen to north of previous entries for the sword above.

Pleiades, Seven Sisters, Subaru Cluster, M 45, Mel 22, I started the second tour at the Pleiades, which looked like diamonds on black velvet!

NGC 1514, ARO 21, PK 165-15.1, PN G165.5-15.2, VV 17, Not seen although largely due to difficulty getting my mount to point at the proper location!

Hyades, C 41, Mel 25, Seen again as before.

NGC 1647, Large, scattered and not very exciting in my opinion after looking at it tonight!

M 35, NGC 2168, One of Damian’s favourites. Easily seen tonight. Gorgeous!

NGC 2158, The football to M35’s footballer. Easily seen tonight. Sometimes at home can be difficult to pick out but not in this dark clear sky.

Crab Nebula, Taurus A, M 1, NGC 1952, LBN 833, Easily found by star hopping not as much detail as when previously seen in Lichfield. I think this was due to my telescope dewing up again. Therefore, I swapped to my binoculars for the next few observations.

I started with the main clusters in Auriga.

M 37, NGC 2099, Bright in binoculars.

Pinwheel Cluster, M 36, NGC 1960, Also bright in binoculars

Starfish Cluster, M 38, NGC 1912, Also easily seen in binoculars.

NGC 1893 Again easily picked out with the binoculars.

I moved back to Andromeda to see the showcase galaxy there.

Andromeda Galaxy, M 31, NGC 224, UGC 454, PGC 2557, MCG 7-2-16, CGCG 535-17,2MASS 00424433+4116074, I spent some time looking at M31 with the binoculars – crossed nearly half field of view from end to end in binoculars.

M 110, NGC 205, UGC 426, PGC 2429, MCG 7-2-14, CGCG 535-14, IRAS 00376+4124,2MASS 00402207+4141070, Faint but just seen in the binoculars 

I wondered whether I would be able to observe M 101 in these skies.

M 101, NGC 5457, UGC 8981, PGC 50063, MCG 9-23-28, CGCG 272-21, Arp 26, VV 344, Not seen although I searched several times. This was a surprise as I expected it to be easy to observe. However, I was now at the end of my observing session. The sky in the direction of M 101 was different from other directions in that it was milky possibly due to light pollution from a neighbouring town – is Bognor Regis in that direction? M 101 was also quite low down and I think the binoculars were fogging up by now as well.

Consequently, I opted to call an end to the session, finishing at 01:00.

In summary I had an incredible evening of observing tonight in wonderful clear dark skies. I have discovered that dark skies really make a difference to what I can observe – and that difference in far more than the difference made by a bigger scope. I can see why Nick gets so excited about his trips to Scotland now!


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