Observing Log 1/1/2017@22:50-2/1/2017@01:15, Lichfield LRO, Andrew and Rhys Thornett

Equipment used tonight:

  • Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 120mm Refractor
  • EQ6 Pro mount with Synscan
  • Explore Scientific (ES) 100 degree field of view eyepieces – 20mm, 14mm. 9mm
  • Tele Vue Ethos 100 degree field of view eyepiece – 6mm
  • Telrad zero power finder
  • 9×60 finder scope
  • Sky Safari Pro 5 software on iPad 2


Bode’s Nebulae – Messier 81, Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major, 1 Jan 2017, 22:52:44. Rhys and I made use of a lovely clear New Year’s night to observe with my Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 120mm refractor on EQ6 Pro Sky Watcher GOTO mount. I had bought a new Synscan version 4 handset from Astroboot and this worked really well – better in my opinion than the previous  Synscan v3. Three star alignment worked first time which is always a bonus. First object was M81 – straight into field of view. Tonight it is bright and its centre looked slightly oval to both of us – we did not notice this when using the Orion ten inch the other day.

Messier 110,Elliptical Galaxy in Andromeda,1 Jan 2017, 23:03:30,Incredibly faint. Rhys was unable to see it although i could do so with 100% certainty. Really shows how much difference ten inches aperture makes compared to 120mm tonight.

M31 very bright as you would expect and M32 obviously easily seen.

Having synchronized the Synscan to M31 using the function under PAE in the menu, we will now tried for M33.

Pinwheel Galaxy – Messier 33,Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum,1 Jan 2017, 23:07:55,Really, really faint – i can see it but no, i would definitely not have seen it unless the telescope found it for me first! Hardly any difference between the brightness of this galaxy tonight and that of nearby star clouds. Rhys did well – he suddenly saw it and commented that he needed to look to the side of the object for it to pop into view – he hadn’t heard if averted vision before tonight but discovered it for himself.

Beehive Cluster – Messier 44,Open Cluster in Cancer,1 Jan 2017, 23:13:47,Large bright occupying 2/3 of field of view of finder scope. Bright white and grey stars according to Rhys some were brighter and some fainter. To me, I could see 30-50 bright foreground stars and a surrounding ill-resolved fuzz of large numbers of background stars. Am i seeing it correctly?

Messier 41,Open Cluster in Canis Major,1 Jan 2017, 23:18:09,GOTO is wonderful. So many objects so quickly! This was an open cluster with tall head that looked like a swan to Rhys.

Seagull Nebula – IC 2177,Bright Nebula in Monoceros,1 Jan 2017, 23:21:54,All we could see was tiny cluster of stars above centre but no nebula! Hoping too much.

Messier 50,Open Cluster in Monoceros,1 Jan 2017, 23:22:35,Close by the Seagull Nebula and a shame to miss out on it. Large – 25% field of view in eyepiece. I have been using 20mm ES eyepiece 100 degree FOV tonight.

NGC 2368,Open Cluster in Monoceros,1 Jan 2017, 23:41:53,All I could see were sparse stars and nothing special. This is meant to be 11th magnitude open cluster so it might have been too faint for me to observer tonight.

NGC 2374,Open Cluster in Canis Major,1 Jan 2017, 23:45. At 8th magnitude this was easy to pick out and i was helped by having synchronized on M50.

NGC 2396,Open Cluster in Puppis,1 Jan 2017, 23:46:29,Described as moderately faint by Sky Safari, its listed magnitude was 7.34. Several bright stars and faint background haze with little to differentiate it from the light from stars in background Milky Way. Quite large – 1/3 of FOV in 20mm ES.

At this point, Rhys went inside and I continued alone.

Eskimo Nebula – NGC 2392,Planetary Nebula in Gemini,1 Jan 2017, 23:48:54,Refractors are made for planetary nebulae. These concentrated objects respond well to well-made objects but are bright enough that aperture is really not needed in abundance. The Eskimo was immediately obviously different to other stars, ill-defined vs bright spots. It looked like an out of focus star even in 20mm. I synchronized Synscan in it and swapped to 9mm ES. With 9mm, I could see a very bright core and bright fuzzy round periphery but no other detail.

Cat’s Eye Nebula – NGC 6543,Planetary Nebula in Draco,1 Jan 2017, 23:57:53,Obviously different from Eskimo Nebula in that this one is clearly blue in colour and appears to be just one slightly oval amorphous blob without obvious centre. It is located close to another bright star.

Blue Snowball Nebula – NGC 7662,Planetary Nebula in Andromeda,2 Jan 2017, 00:05:02,Even after synchronizing on M31 again (which by the way is looking lot bigger and brighter now as sky darkens), i could not find this magnitude 8.3 object – don’t know why (but see below).

IC 418,Planetary Nebula in Lepus,2 Jan 2017, 00:08:54,On the way to see this object i stopped by M33 again thinking it might be more obvious as the night darkened. I was wrong! Perhaps moisture in air affecting viewing? My excuse.

I mention the above because turned out that IC418 was behind a tree so this observation was not possible.

Owl Nebula – Messier 97,Planetary Nebula in Ursa Major,2 Jan 2017, 00:13:50,Getting very icy under-foot, obviously below freezing. Vague sense of faint circle in centre field of view for this object but once I swapped in the 14mm ES it became much more obvious. 9mm was too high a magnification for a magnitude 9+ object in this scope tonight.

Blue Snowball Nebula – NGC 7662,Planetary Nebula in Andromeda,2 Jan 2017, 00:16:35,After my success with Owl Nebula using a  lower power eyepiece, I thought I would come back to the Blue Snowfall and see if it helped here – an irony because when I failed to find it a few minutes ago I wondered if the answer was to use a higher power!

So did it help? No. I think i have found the answer to this problem. I swapped out to 6mm Ethos. If i am right, this nebula is quite bright but very condensed and star like which made it difficult to recognize particularly at low powers and not even then it is not really obvious as being non stellar at higher powers.

Owl Nebula – Messier 97,Planetary Nebula in Ursa Major,2 Jan 2017, 00:28:12,Synchronised back on this to help with next observation.

Messier 108,Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major,2 Jan 2017, 00:28:43,Seen with certainty but only with difficulty. Needed to synchronize on M97 then, once object was in scope, use averted vision AND also move scope slightly as easier to pick up moving object (i used slew buttons on slow speed) -this technique mimics nudging scope or tapping it as we often so with Dobsonians.

NGC 4026,Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major,2 Jan 2017, 00:32:08,Many people don’t know about the Ursa Major galaxy cluster, although they do know about the Virgo cluster. Using the same technique as above i managed to see faint slash of NGC 4026 tonight.

Messier 109,Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major,2 Jan 2017, 00:38:16,I kept trying to convince myself that i could see this but in truth i could not.

Pinwheel Cluster – Messier 36,Open Cluster in Auriga,2 Jan 2017, 00:48:49,I thought i would take the opportunity to compare the three famous open clusters in Auriga although i need to move fast as my optics are dewing up and I am freezing! This one is bright, and occupies about 20% field of view of 14mm ES.

Messier 37,Open Cluster in Auriga,2 Jan 2017, 00:51:05,This one appears to be much fainter, and more compact with lot more stars.

Messier 37,Open Cluster in Auriga,2 Jan 2017, 00:52:10,Again fainter stars than M36 but brighter than those of M37 and more sparse – less stars i think.

Worth bearing in mind order is M37, M36, M38 across sky and not a more logical numerical progression.

NGC 1931,Open Cluster in Auriga,2 Jan 2017, 00:54:26,One of the other Auriga open clusters. Could not see anything here – too faint at magnitude 10.1 i think.

NGC 1778,Open Cluster in Auriga,2 Jan 2017, 00:57:09,another Auriga open cluster. Not very bright or exciting although meant to be magnitude 7+.

Messier 35,Open Cluster in Gemini,2 Jan 2017, 00:59:36,Always strikes me as very large and beautiful cluster as it was tonight. Main bulk occupies half field of view in 14mm ES but there are streamers of stars across whole field of view.

NGC 2158,Open Cluster in Gemini,2 Jan 2017, 01:02:56,Just visible by averted vision.

Closing remarks:

I think I am now too cold to continue. It has been a great night. Time to call it a day and pack slowly away – to avoid dropping cold equipment!

Happy new year to all and may I wish that you enjoy many hours of happy observing.

Tonight I felt that I have made my first serious foray into the Ursa Major galaxy cluster. I have only seen a very small number of galaxies but there was some deliberate attempt to break into that cluster – the only way is up from here on! I have demonstrated that magnitude 10 galaxies can be seen from light-polluted suburban Lichfield using only 120mm refractor on good clear night, although GOTO helps a lot at this faintness!

In addition, I have also switched on the radio meteor equipment tonight, although i still have not got to the  bottom of the problem i have with detecting meteors. I am just crossing my fingers that i can pick up the Quadrantid meteor shower this week.


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