(RASC=Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, NGC= New General Catalogue)
The drive across to Llyn Brenig was tedious. It was early evening on a Sunday. The weekend had already been long and I wondered if it would be worth the effort. I reached my normal turn off to find the gate padlocked shut. Turning off a little further down I drove for a long way through a gloomy forest until a clearing appeared. This looked fair and after another 100 yards I was back on the road! I drove back to the start of the clearing to set up. On stepping out of the car I realised immediately that the trip had been worthwhile. The Milky Way arced clearly across the sky from west to east and the constellations were hiding amongst an almost overwhelming number of stars!
I started low in the south-west in Cetus. I was hoping to pick off some galaxies that had been missed previously owing to the poor transparency and light pollution that plagues observing sites south of Manchester. NGCs 157 and 210, at mags. 10.4 and 10.9 respectively were easily found between and adjacent to convenient finder stars. Moving right down to the horizon I was then amazed to pick up the large galaxy NGC 247 at an elevation of 5 degrees! This galaxy has in integrated magnitude of 9.1 however, being over 20 arc minutes long and 5 wide has a relatively low surface brightness of 14 mag/sq.arcmin. I could trace an elliptical glow from the finder star at one end up and across the FOV for about 15 arc minutes.
Another galaxy missed on several occasions is a member of the Local Group NGC 147. This time I had brought along a particularly detailed finder chart and the 14.2 mag/sq.arcmin galaxy finally faded into view. On the way I had seen M31, 32 and 110 blazing out from the dark sky. NGC 185 was also picked up again, another Local Group member.
Dropping right down to the horizon I had a try for some objects in eastern Cetus and Fornax (The Furnace). NGC 908 was an undistinguished galaxy however, NGC 1360 is a large bright planetary. It has a bright central star with a round diffuse halo about twice the size of the Ring Nebula. Moving up to the dizzy elevation of 15 degrees NGC 1232 is a galaxy with a bright central condensation and NGC 1300 a diffuse faint face-on spiral, both in Eridanus. Shifting a little to the east Lepus was now available below Orion. The galaxy NGC 1964 proved awkward right next to a star with an inadequate chart. IC 418 appears as a non-star-like planetary at mag. 10.7. This can be seen in the February Astronomy Now as The Spirograph Nebula.
The sky was still very clear and dark, with the telescope optics showing no sign of dew it was Bright Nebula time. I had hand marked a nebula NGC 1333 on a chart of the Perseus/Pleiades region. It had been commented upon in one of the magazines as worthwhile. On first sight I thought I’d found a comet! A bright oval coma with dense nebulosity hiding a star as the nucleus, recommended. Next I tried for the Tank Track Nebula. This is adjacent to zeta Orionis, the left-most star in the belt. The glare of the star did not overwhelm the nebulosity to the east, however it was much brighter with zeta Orionis just outside the FOV. The nebula had an obvious dark notch just like in the photographs. I then took the opportunity to have a look at the Rosette Nebula for the first time under dark sky. This was best seen using an Ultra High Contrast filter held over the eyepiece of the finder scope! Possibly even more spectacular then the Great Orion Nebula. A definite must for anyone, this large wreath of turbulent nebulosity surrounds a bright mini-Gemini star cluster. Nearby, I also found Hubble’s Variable Nebula, a fan shaped brightness hiding a star at the pointy end. Bright nebulae in Orion were also easily found this time. Mini comets, blobs and curtains of light all worthwhile.
Monoceros and Canis Major were now both well up. The Herschel 400 lists numerous open clusters in this region. Of the twelve I identified I can recommend NGC 2301 in Monoceros and NGC 2362 in Canis Major as well worth seeking out. At mags. 6 and 4.1 respectively they are bright and interesting. To finish of I sought out a couple of galaxies in Ursa Major. NGC 2742 was challenging at 11.4 whilst NGC 2768 is well worth finding at mag. 9.9. By now the moon was rising and it was time to finish.
I have been using the Herschel 400 and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Finest 110 NGCs catalogue to guide my observing program. I can certainly recommend the RASC Finest 110 NGCs. None of the objects listed have disappointed. The H400 can be a bit tedious, with some nondescript open clusters and galaxies.
by Paul Clark