This February new Moon period has been very productive. Five dark sky observing sessions with some good clear conditions. My latest trip out was on the 28th, just before Foot & Mouth restrictions came into force and with a Moon setting around 10 p.m.
While my telescope cooled down I used the Airport binoculars. Initially, I concentrated on bright clusters to the south and fainter galaxies to the east away from the moonlight. This resulted in a survey of Messier objects in Orion, Monoceros, Canis Major, Cancer, Leo and Ursa Major. I was also able to pick up some fainter galaxies in Leo down to mag. 10.5. The Coma Berenices star cluster looked superb in the 20x100's. A great surprise was picking up NGC 2467, a Bright Nebula at mag. 7.1 below 10 degrees elevation in Puppis.
Moving on to telescopic observing. I failed for the n th time to see NGC 3003 a long thin galaxy in Leo Minor, hmm! I recovered to locate another failure NGC 2811, a very star like galaxy at mag. 11.3, low down in Hydra. Working through the Canes Venatici and Coma Berenices constellations I located about 20 more galaxies. Several from the Caldwell and RASC catalogues are recommended viewing and many are set amongst the beautiful Coma star cluster. A few non-descript galaxies from the Herschel 400 list were also found in the Bootes and M102 area.
Finally, the centre of the Coma Virgo galaxy cluster had risen high enough for a first serious look of the season. Positioning the TelRad finder midway between Denebola and Vindemiatrix always finds the bright Messier galaxies M84 and M86 in the eyepiece FOV. The starting point for Markarianís chain of galaxies these two ovals form the eyes of a galaxy face, completed by the large and horizontal NGC 4388 of a mouth below. Using a detailed star map I was able to galaxy hop along the chain with always one or more visible within the eyepiece. Finishing off at M88 and M91 I decided to call it a night.
It was only when I put the telescope back in the car that I could see that a thin layer of ice had formed all round the tube. I guess the snow had insulated my feet from the cold ground so I hadn't noticed.
by Paul Clark