Christmas Observing

An observing log from Paul Clark. Enjoy!?

Well, finding an opportunity for observing between family, weather and the 'flu proved quite difficult.  A few hours cloud watching with DaveT appeared to be the highlight of the season… …however the following day (Wednesday 27th Dec ?) brought clear blue sky with a forecast of heavy snow for later in the night.  The satellite animation on the BBC weather website promised a good four hour window for observing that evening.

By the time I had set up at Gradbach it was 1740, Venus was high in the south, twilight had another half hour to run and the temperature was about –2.  Numerous layers of clothes and a total lack of wind made the conditions feel quite pleasant!

Aligning the finderscope and Telrad using Venus gave an opportunity to have a rocksteady view of the 60% phase.  When undertaking a marathon of all the Messier objects in one night a key object to find in the evening twilight is M74, a face-on, low surface brightness galaxy in Pisces.  So I thought I'd have a try now.  It proved easy to find in the clear air although it was well away from most of the glow in the west.  A mag. 7.3 open cluster in Cygnus was an oversight from one of my observing lists.  NGC 6819 showed up well despite the Milky Way background.  Next I aimed for the Blue Flash Nebula, a mag. 12 planetary in Delphinus.   Well into the western twilight this was very surprising as it popped into view without using the filter as an elongated brightness.  As twilight drew to a close NGC 7217, a mag. 10.1 galaxy near pi Pegasi was logged.  I had missed this on a couple of occasions previously owing to poor conditions.

The finder and Telrad had showed signs of dewing after the first 10 minutes of observing however, the problem took on a different dimension as the dew froze onto the optics and streaks of hoar frost developed along the side of the tube.

Turning to the south I searched out some galaxies from the Herschel 400 list in Pisces, NGCs 488 and 524 were straightforward at mag. 10.3.  Moving down to Cetus I worked along a chain of four galaxies near theta Ceti.  The third galaxy, NGC 615, proved a real struggle at mag. 11.5 and I abandoned hopes of searching further down for faint targets.  I revisited the 'southern blue snowball' in Eridanus for some bright relief.  The cold was taking it's toll so I had a cruise around the magnificent Messiers in Orion before retreating to the car to warm everything up for 45 minutes.

After the restart the Eskimo nebula was excellent and bright against the dark sky background.  Detail could be seen at higher powers and it appeared a different object to that visible from Timperley.  After a previous failure I hoped to find NGC 1961, a LSB galaxy in Camelopardalis.  This proved tricky at mag. 11 with the alt/az. mount being unhelpful around the zenith.  The scope was completely free of dew and offered an opportunity for me to try for some Bright (ha, ha) Nebulae that I had outstanding.  The first object was a complete shock.  NGC 1931 is given an integrated visual magnitude of 10.1.  It was obvious as a small cluster of stars involved with nebulosity and at 3 by 3 arc-minutes was very striking.  It can be found near M36 in Auriga.  Next NGC 1491, a 6 by 9 arc-minute oblong was easily seen in Perseus!  This has no magnitude available however, it was found with the aid of a detailed SkyMap Pro chart.  NGC 281 at mag. 7.4 surrounds a bright star near alpha Cas.  An area of brightness could bee seen when compared to adjacent stars of similar magnitude.  So maybe they are 'Bright' nebulae afterall?  I finished off with a look at a few old favourites as the temperature reached a balmy –5.

We awoke the following day to a beautiful winter wonderland and went sledging.  Yes!

by Paul Clark

#GradbachHill #Venus #Galaxy #MilkyWay #OpenCluster

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