Location: Lichfield Radio Observatory
Observer: Andrew Thornett
At last, a clear night at the weekend! Actually, I am not being fair. There have been clear nights but, over the last few months since the NHS withdrew quite a bit of funding from my GP surgery, I have been working two evenings per week at the local community hospital. I have now completed some restructuring (at least of our personal finances) and am able to stop working on Friday evenings. I say evenings but these sessions last until midnight so over last few months (since April) this has left me too tired to observe over the weekend – something that has left me frustrated and unhappy. Now I am free of that Friday night work, at least for a while, and this weekend am able to make use of it for the first time in a more enjoyable astronomical activity. Yes, I know tonight is Saturday and not Friday but a good night’s sleep last night has left me excited at the prospect of a few moments under the stars. Not sure hoe long I will stay out as we are leading the 3-5 year old class at Sunday School tomorrow so I can’t afford to be too tired in the morning.
I used some of my best ever purchases tonight – my iPad to record my observations, Sky Safari Pro planetarium software on the iPad to help me find my way around the night sky, the ten inch Orion Dobsonian telescope (UK Orion) which is my workhorse scope with fantastic optics and a tendency to keep good collimation. It is also relatively light to carry out to any observing location and quick to set up. In addition, I was using my Telrad single power (1x) finder to point the scope, Explore Scientific 100 degree eyepieces, and an ironing chair from Amazon which acts as very portable and easy to deploy observing chair. My eyepieces are stored in a second hand Peli 1550 case – a brilliant purchase for £50 second hand from eBay. It provides a high level of protection for what has become an expensive collection of eyepieces.
Talking of which, the traffic noise was very obvious tonight. Much greater than when we moved in to this house in 2003. I think light pollution is also worse. I could also hear the fan from my new dehumidifier in the log cabin – a vital accessory when I realised just how much humidity there is in our garden! I bought this after seeing Ed’s in his observatory and thought it was a good idea…..which became a necessity after I bought a humidity meter and saw readings of 80%+ over the Autumn.
Milky Way, 3 Dec 2016, 23:19:16. The Milky Way can be seen easily overhead through Cassiopeia and Perseus. The Great Square of Pegasus is over our house in the southwest and Orion at a slightly low altitude in the southeast. Between them the Hyaides, the Pleiades, and Triangulum in order. I wonder if I will be able to see the Triangulum Galaxy M33 tonight?
Orion Nebula – Messier 42, Bright Nebula in Orion, 3 Dec 2016, 23:30. Very bright with ES 14mm eyepiece, very large and detailed in 9mm ES. In 9mm stretched right across FOV (field of view) of eyepiece. 4 trapezium stars visible with 14mm, 5 stars with 9mm easily visible. I did think I could occasionally see F (6th Trapezium star) but then decided it was an optical illusion. E (5th trapezium star) is a definite sighting with 9mm tonight. I increased the magnification further using my 4.8mm Televue Nagler eyepiece and now star F (6th Trapezium star) clearly popped in and out of view with the seeing as the Trapezium cluster in M42 literally shot across the FOV on this non-tracking Dobsonian telescope. Hence, why I think the 100 degree eyepieces are so great – they allow objects in the FOV to stay there longer. Not that a Nagler is a slacker in this regard, with 82 degree. The detail in M42 with the 4.8mm was incredible, with tendrils of nebulosity rather than just bright sky. For some reason M42 looked very bright to me tonight. Perhaps it really is particularly bright for some reason ( such as very clear sky) or may be this is my first view of M42 this winter and I am just bowled over by it!
Messier 32, Elliptical Galaxy in Andromeda, 3 Dec 2016, 23:57:32. you may wonder why I have listed M32, one of the two main companion galaxies of M31, the Andromeda galaxy, rather than M31 itself, as I have always done in my observing reports in the past. I hadn’t intended to make this change tonight but it turned out to be appropriate. I panned my scope towards M31, having replaced the 4.8mm with the 9mm eyepiece, the only other one still at the scope – otherwise I had to walk over to the table as I was feeling a bit lazy……as I panned across the sky I first came across M32. This is the the first time ever that M32 has been the first of the trio of M31, M32 and M110 that I have observed when approaching them during a session. Unlike previous sessions, I was using a higher magnification eyepiece (9mm when I would usually have been initially using the 20mm). that i noticed when I went to find them.. I noticed how big and bright the companion galaxy M32 looked in the 9mm and how the core of M31 was nearly a full field of view away from it. Likewise, M110 was nearly another field of view in the other direction away from M31 – nearly 2 FOVs from M32. I decided to use the 4.8mm to observe M32 at even higher power (250x). I have never done this before and I realised tonight that I have previously missed out on a wonderful treat. M32 is spectacular through a high magnification eyepiece. Tonight the 4.8mm is giving 250x magnification and in the ten inch Orion scope this led to M32 looking large, very very bright with even brighter core and distinct oval periphery. No dust lanes were seen tonight. Many stars from the foreground Milky Way could be seen in the same field of view. Again these were stars that I would probably miss on the lower power eyepieces as being too dim to see without enough magnification. I can highly recommend anyone taking a longer more magnified look at M32 – preferably while seated to give you time to enjoy the view.
Pinwheel Galaxy – Messier 33, Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum, 4 Dec 2016, 00:12:07. Often difficult to find, I seemed to drop straight on to this elusive low surface brightness galaxy tonight. Between 1/4-1/3 way from Metallah to Merach, but not exactly on the line between the two but instead slightly towards square of Pegasus from the line. Tonight, the galaxy was visible by direct vision, better by indirect, very little detail, more of an ill-defined smudge that was the core and a brightening of the sky around the smudge which was the peripheral regions of the galaxy. No chance of trying to observe NGC areas within the galaxy tonight – that would be hoping from my garden in centre Lichfield in any case!
Messier 36/37/38, Open Clusters in Auriga, 4 Dec 2016, 00:25:53, M36/37/38-all I want to say about these tonight is that I think in tonight’s views of these clusters I think I have found the sweet spot in observing them. I used the 14mm ES to find them and then luxuriated in the view with the 9mm ES on the ten inch Orion on this clear still night – wow! Enough said. Case closed. Wow!!
Double Cluster – NGC 884, Open Cluster in Perseus, 4 Dec 2016, 00:29:36. I am finishing tonight with an observation of the Double Cluster because it is my favourite. With this object, the 14mm ES comes into its own on the 1200mm focal length, 10 inch mirror diameter Orion scope, with its FOV encompassing both clusters to give a spectacular view of diamonds on black velvet. Another final wow!