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Gradbach Hill / Part Deux: the return!

I wasn’t going to write up anything about this trip.  I’m sure people have heard enough from me by now however, endless cloud and rain have forced me to re-live a very enjoyable session.

The Tuesday weather forecast suggested a good Thursday night.  Decreasing northwesterly winds, rising pressure and heavy showers dying out through the evening.  By Thursday lunchtime it was looking very unlikely but, as predicted, the clouds and showers began to break .   At 8 p.m. it was getting dark, cold and very clear.

I arrived at Gradbach at about 10:15, the waxing Moon was still visible but soon set behind a ridge to the southwest.  After aligning the Telrad and finderscope using Polaris, I swung the 'scope over to the darker eastern sky and the Pleiades.  I was using a couple of new Tele Vue eyepieces for the first time.  The 32 mm at x63 gave a good view of the cluster.  In the preceding days I had generated a list of the brighter planetary nebulae and using a star chart, printed from SkyMap Pro, I located IC 2149 in Auriga.  This appeared as a non-twinkling star with the suggestion of shape at x100.

A couple of my observing targets were the Helix and Veil nebulae.  A borrowed (from Roger L - GC?) Ultra High Contrast filter was to be very helpful.  Turning to the south I orientated myself between Capricorn and Aquarius with an observation of M30, a mag. 7.5 globular cluster, easy to find near 41 Capricorni.  From here I hoped to locate the Helix Nebula.  Initial alignment with the Telrad and finderscope was difficult at the low altitude with some slight light pollution from the town of Leek and the Moon!  I swept over the area where I expected to locate the nebula but found nothing.  Resetting the 'scope to my starting point I put the UHC filter in the eyepiece.  Half a FOV later a large ghostly straight-sided oval nebula moved into view.  Filling half the eyepiece it is an impressive sight!  Invisible without the filter or at higher power, clear as day with the filter in a low power wide FOV.

Next the Veil Nebula.  For some reason observing the Veil has been a long standing personal goal.  I think it goes back 25 years from pictures seen in magazines and books.  The sky was very dark and clear now.  The Moon had set completely and Cygnus was at about 60 degrees in the west.  I had carefully printed out a chart at home and using this I starhopped my way to where the eastern segment of the Veil should be.  Looking into the main eyepiece I couldn’t believe my eyes.  A broad band, Veil even, of light crossed the eyepiece.  This I followed back and forth detailing the full 1.5 degree shape of the eastern Veil.  Thickening, thinning, braided brighter and fainter.  After "gawping" for many minutes at this remnant of an age-old supernova I remembered that there was a western Veil to find.  This was a snap with the bright 52 Cygni to pinpoint the field.  The northward arc of the Veil was easy to follow using the UHC filter and I took my time savouring the view.

Previously, from dark sky in the Lake District, I had failed to spot the Blinking Planetary amongst the profusion of Milky Way stars.  This time, equipped with a better star chart, I was successful.  A clearly defined disk but no blinking for me at x100.  A quick look for Stephan’s Quintet failed but a very good view of the edge-on mag. 9.5 spiral NGC 7331 was some reward.  Next NGC 772, mag. 10.3 galaxy in Aries was located.  This was seen easily at x100 whilst I warmed a dewed up low power eyepiece under my duvet.  Wandering down to Cetus the Seyfert galaxy, M 77, was observed along with nearby NGC 1055, a mag. 10.6 galaxy.

The final ‘find of the night’ was NGC 1514, a mag. 10.8 planetary nebula in Taurus.  Nearer to Perseus, this has a bright central star surrounded by a lovely 2-3 degree circular nebula.  I recommend this to everyone.  The UHC filter gave some improvement however, concentrated observation and averted vision does the trick.

I wound down with quick views of M74, 33, 31, 32 and 110.  Finally, the optics dewed up completely and I drove home very satisfied.

by Dave Timperley

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