Friday, June 24, 2005

20061021 - Away from the Lawn - Custer Institute

Session Name: 2001021.2200

Session name: 20061021.2200
Location: Custer Institute, Long Island, NY
Conditions: Clear skies. Transparency and seeing were very good. No Moon and a fantastic meteor shower throughout the night.
NELM: 6.0++
Companions: Charlie and Kin

** Fujinon Polaris 7x50 FMTR-SX;
** Takahashi 22x60 binoculars on Bogen 410 geared head and Bogen tripod;
** Teleport TP-10 10" dobsonian reflector.

** Pentax 40mm XW magnification, 32x, field of view 2° 35';
** Tele Vue Nagler 7mm T6, magnification 181x, field of view 27'


Below is a list of the objects observed at Custer Institute. I don't have much dark sky experience, about a handful. So, a nights like this is like being in a candy store. All those objects which have to pulled, teased and squeezed from the NYC background sky just ooze of these black skies. Star-hopping can't be any easier with a wide field of view, set the scope in the general area and just sweep in the neighborhood. This generally applies to the open clusters and brighter galaxies. Some of the objects observed were surprisingly difficult and now I can properly set my expectations when looking for them from TotL.



Milky Way

Naked Eye. Not as "bright" as the last time I observed from here 20050910. Still visible but I didn't take notice of any features like the Great Rift about Cygnus. The area through Cassiopeia and towards Perseus captured my attention, particularly around the Double Cluster.


NGC869/884, Double Cluster. Naked Eye. Observed both in the Tak bins - a close second to Orion's Sword as a fantastic observation- and in the Pentax 40mm XW at32x/ 2° 35' fov, just spectacular knots of stellar dust and brighter stars that "sits" atop of a very, very rich Milky Way background.


Since I was nearby observing M33 with the Tak bins, I swung them over to this OC which I observe occasionally from TotL. Knots of brighter stars with many fainter stars, not much of a middle ground of stellar brightness.

Andromeda Galaxy. Naked Eye. All night long could see this naked eye and drop the finder right on it. In the Pentax 40mm XW at32x/ 2° 35' fov, the galaxy stretched across the field of view beyond the field stop. The nucleus and core were obviously brighter and the halo's magnitude fell of sharply. Averted vision helped to elongate its reach. Regrettably, I didn't look for any structure, such as dust lanes or structures in the arms.

Very easy to see and much larger than I am accustomed to from TotL. The nucleus was bright with a tight bright core. I wouldn't describe anything like a halo due to the size and brightness levels observed.

Now I know why this galaxy is difficult from TotL and all size scopes from the city, this galaxy has a low surface brightness with a softly focused nucleus that is slightly brighter than the core. It delicately reveals itself on the background sky.

This was the first object observed this session. I used the Tak bins while waiting for the TP-10 to cool down. It was obvious as a large, grayish cloud on the background sky. In TP-10 with the Pentax 40mm at 32x a different view from the bins was observed. In the bins the brightness profile is pretty even. In the scope a semi-stellar nucleus and bright core can be detected. The halo appeared slight off center favoring the preceding side. This preceding side has a trail of stars ending in an "arrowhead".

NGC 650/651, Little Dumbbell. Observed at 32x as a small, moderately bright, ovalish nebula. Using a Tele Vue Nagler 7mm T6 yielding a 181x/27' field of view (fov) in TP-10, the nebula appeared as a bright, rectangular, nebula. In the fov, a greater part of the bottom of the nebula was bright than what was exhibited across the lip of the top half. A slight darken crack ran across the width but not from end to end.

Crab Nebula. In the Px 40mm, this is easy to see, with zeta Tau in field, as a moderately bright and even glow across the oval shaped nebula. At 181x, the nebula appears very large and bright, brightness was pretty even across the object except with some dimming on its SSE end.

Pleiades. Sort of controversial as I suspected nebulae about Merope, Electra, and Pleione. Kin agreed with what I saw as nebulosity that was concentrated to the S side of each these stars, it wasn't apparent or I didn't remark on any around Celaeno, Taygeta, or Maia. I saw the same thing in the 10" and an 18" (?) scope. I tried to observe in a pair of big binoculars (?20 x100?) mounted an a sturdy tripod, but was unable to bring the left eye into focus, so I can't say I saw it in them. Other disagreed claiming that stellar irradiation, glare from the bright stars causing atmospherics, or even eyepiece irregularity.

Caroline's Cluster
Caroline's Cluster. In the Tak bins appears as a very large, delicate, unresolved bright glow almost centered between two pair of stars, one with sigma Cas the other with rho Cas. The cluster cheats toward the northerly pair, rho Cas & HIP117957.

In the Tak bins, this globular cluster was a brilliant round ball of light, unmistakable. In the Nagler 9mm eyepiece, this globular cluster was absolutely beautiful, the best I have ever seen in this scope. It was like looking at a flashlight's lamp through a pile of ice cubes, a brilliant concentration towards the center appeared to move around as resolution came and went. All the meanwhile, stars resolved above this shimmering ball of light. Trails of stars resolved from the edge as if they were tails of a jester's hat.

Caught this globular just above the treetops where it was also obvious in binoculars. In the 9mm eyepiece, the even illumination across the globular cluster fell off sharply at the edge. Compared to M15 the cluster's core was steady and equally bright, unshifting. I think this may be attributed to the faint stars not resolving as cleanly as those in M15. Some faint stars resolved on the easterly edge but uncertain if they were field stars or part of the globular cluster.


A knot of stars about 15' ~ 20' in diameter, rich and tight concentration of stars that distinctly stands above a very rich background of stars.


Sculptor Galaxy. A very long needle-shaped galaxy which was best observed with averted vision. This was low in the sky just above the treetops at the time. My notes question whether the nucleus was off-center and describe the length as 1/3 or 2/5 of the Px 40mm's 2° 35' fov field of view and between 2/3 ~ 4/5 the 9mm's 27' field of view . 3 filed stars were observed superimposed on top of the galaxy.

In the Tak bins a rich, tight open cluster with 2 levels of brightness. Tonight, the shape reminds me of a steer's skull.


This open cluster is very faint even for the 10", where the cluster remains mostly nebulous in low power. Under high power, ~30 stars resolve in a ~10' area, yet the cluster is somewhat loose with 2 levels of brightness.


I searched for this galaxy knowing where to look and could not see it. The surface brightness may have been too low to detect it. Actually, this effort settles an open question from a TotL observation - Not!

I had looked at this open cluster before or after the NGC6939/6946 observation. I didn't record any observation notes other than recalling that the cluster was an obvious concentration of stars. Not difficult as in the city where this needs a little more teasing.

Owl Nebula. This was a difficult object for the 10". A soft roundish, blockish glow that was better served with averted. In the PX40mm M108 was observed in the same fov. No details or distinct structure observed in 9mm. I noted with the 9mm that the nebula sat between 2 stars, N-S, closer to the S one, and its size was about 2/3 ~ 3/4 of the separation between those stars.

I noted that this galaxy was as difficult or more difficult than the Owl Nebula, exhibiting a very low contrast with the background sky and required averted. Under high power, the nucleus appears stellar or I see a foreground star superimposed near the center. The core's or halo's brightness falls off further from the nucleus. The length is about ~8', a quarter of the 27' fov.

Another difficult galaxy that has low contrast with the background sky. Apparently, M108 & M109 have a low surface brightness. I may not have seen the galaxy at 32x but at 181x I could detect with averted vision that the galaxy had a semi-stellar nucleus brighter than the core. There were two field stars to the north that were very difficult to see.

M81 & M82 were brilliant in the low power eyepiece, and NGC3077 was detectable though averted helped to give it size and shape. 2 field stars are seen west of the galaxy's core which is football-shaped. I didn't note the brightness profile of this galaxy.

In both low & high power, I noticed that M82's bright nucleus appears to be off center and a ragged edge. Contrasted with M81, this galaxy is long and thin and perhaps maybe brighter. I could almost say that the M82 is easier to see or, at the least, more structure is apparent. Not in my notes, but a residual impression that the galaxy is fragmented or a dark lane ran through it laterally reinforcing the impression that the nucleus was off center.


This galaxy was much fainter than the other two larger and brighter galaxies. With a low contrast to the background sky, averted helped to bring it out though it was visible with direct vision. My sketch of this galaxy shows it much smaller than the other two and round in shape. I remember the brightness profile to be pretty consistent across its diameter.


When I swapped out the EPs to higher power the scope moved slightly. Unmistakably there was a galaxy different from the 3 I was just looking at. It turns out to be NGC2976. Its shape was elongated and my sketch slows it in the same orientation (parallel) to M81. After seeing this galaxy, tossed the Px 40MM to see all 4 galaxies in a 2° 35' fov.

Kin found a chair and pulled it up to where we were and offered it to me for a while. I grabbed the Fujinon 7x50 binoculars and sat back. Straight up in zenith was Auriga in all his glory. No straining to see naked eye the Leaping Minnows, False Kids, or parts of Cheshire Cat. Threw the bins up there and in one field of view was M36, M37, M38. M37 & M38 hug the edge of the 7° 30' field but it is not uncomfortable. Each exhibits its own distinct characteristics and my preference is 37, 36 and last 38. A knot, where the Cat's nose could be, is barely perceptible.

See M38 description above. Without notes I recall a semi-resolved large knot of stars. Compared with the nebulous patches of the other two clusters, M36 is the smallest. Only observed with handheld 7x50s.

See M38 &M36 descriptions. I like this cluster because it escapes resolution in the binoculars and offers a nebulous cloud.Only observed with handheld 7x50s.

I took a quick spin in Cas but I forget which optics I used, either way it was low power. M103 was its distinctive pointy shape cluster. It is small with four brighter stars and a cluster of stellar dust intersecting it.

It is from Tr1 that I recall low power was used because I mentioned to Kin that this open cluster needs magnification. The interesting fact about this un-spectacular cluster is that it is the first cluster of Robert J. Trumpler's catalog of 37 clusters he identified from photographic plates. He used 100 clusters to publish his "Preliminary results on the distances, dimensions and space distribution of open star clusters" (1930).


Obvious bright concentration of stars larger than M103. It strikes me as diamond-shaped with a central spine of bright stars flanked by fainter stars on each side.


This was an obvious knot of stars seen above (in the fov) 663. Smaller and slightly fainter. I don't t recall resolution. But it was a pleasant surprise to see it so obviously; not so in the city.


Owl or ET Cluster. A usual suspect and just as fascinating in the dark sky as in the bright, urban sky. phi Cas anchors the cluster with its less bright partner and then a small waterfall of diamond dust falls away to form a rich spinal column and splayed, open arms.

I was expecting a brighter nucleus and core than what I observed. I was actually surprised and now realize why this is difficult in the city. In the Px 40mm, a low surface brightness yielded a low contrast. It was apparent in the Tak bins, low power TP-10 and best in the Nagler 9mm. Low power the nucleus appears semi-stellar and hard to determine orientation and shape. I noted that it was possibly roundish in a NNE-SSW orientation. Higher power magnification makes the nucleus more pronounced and it appears elongated with a length of 7'. It appears WNW of group of four stars that looks like a bent Sagitta.

In handheld bins, M46 & M47 beautifully displayed unique characteristics. M47 resolved its brightest stars, with another level of dimmer stars, and lastly a another level of unresolved stars.

M46 is an attractive, large, unresolved glow in the binoculars and contrasts nicely with nearby M47. this cluster escapes detection on the city but is bold in the dark sky. From its appearance, it doesn't appear to be so delicate that urban background sky could enfeeble this concentration to one or two brighter stars. I didn't observe long in low power because I was anxious to observe the planetary nebula, NGC2438 for the first time. It was obvious in the low power.


First time I've seen this planetary nebula. It was obvious in low power and more so in high power. No nebula filter was used and two bright stars in the M46 cluster point right to it. No structural detail was detected and the brightness profile appeared even across the object.

Naked Eye.Praesepe or Beehive Cluster. From since it rose, Kin and I could see this cluster naked eye. Obviously as it rose higher in the sky, the more pronounced its visibility grew. I glimpsed at the OC with the Tak bins. It struck me as the same size and shape that I am accustomed to from TotL. It has a Xmas tree shape of bright stars.

I threw the handheld bins on this cluster to ready myself with the scope. It was obvious as large unresolved nebula to the northwest of alpha Cnc, Acubens. In TP-10, a tight, concentrated cluster with two levels of brightness above a ground of unresolved stars. My notes state an estimated size of 12'.


At 32x, the galaxy was detectable with averted vision as a small, roundish ball of light, no other detail observed. At 181x not much gain as I was unable to detect any structure or detail of this low contrast object. A foreground star was observed on the north edge.


At 32x, a stellar nucleus and bright core can be seen. The halo extends its length a bit further. I noted that the nucleus makes a right triangle with the field stars and the sketch shows a star super-imposed on the galaxy: foreground star or nova :^D


In the Tak bins, this galaxy appears as an unresolved nebulous glow yielding good contrast and appears as football-shaped. In TP-10, the galaxy is more elongated like a flattened football, noting its length as 8' ~ 10'.

A moderatley bright galaxy with a smaller galaxy nearby, NGC3384. The shape is round with a stellar nucleus.


(NGC3371=NGC3384) Similar to and very close to M105, this galaxy appears round with a stellar nucleus. In my sketch, it is shown smaller than M105.

Of the four Leo galaxies detected in the 2° 35' fov, M96 & M105 were equally bright and seen with the most ease, followed by NGC3884. M96 was the largest and most elliptical of the galaxies.

M95 was the most difficult to observe among the four galaxies on field of view. (4 galaxies in a field of view!) If I recall this agrees with a past experience at TotL where M95 may not have been seen bit M105, its companion and M96 were observed.. In fact, this may have been my first look at M95. I'll have to check. It was roundish with not so stellar of a core.

These were the last objects observed for this session. Twilight was rising in the sky and these were difficult to detect in TP-10 with the Px40mm. I noted in my log that the more easterly galaxy was easier to see which is M66. This contradicts past experience where I've thought M66 is easier to detect. No structural detail or size or shape noted.

See description of M65. The last objects observed in the brightening horizon.