November 19, 2007

November 19, 2007

I was back out with the XT8 tonight before the fog rolled in. Comet Holmes is now a large, diffuse blob near Mirfak, the bright star in northern Perseus. I could not see the nucleus at all, though I did see stellar objects through the tail.

The moon is out tonight, a waxing quarter. It was over behind a pine tree, but it was washing out the dimmer objects, I'm sure. Still, Holmes is visible to the naked eye as a diffuse glow near the star. I saw it as soon as my neighbor turned out his porch light. Even so, Holmes is not terribly interesting any more, visually. NHAC club members are still getting good images of it, though.

Next I explored the brighter clusters of eastern Cassiopeia! Beginning at Ruchbah, I traveled east to M103. At 240x, I see about 27 or 30 stars in the cluster, depending on what counts. M103 is easy to find and nice to look at.

Next I found NGC 659 and 663. 663 is a grand sight.

But the most interesting cluster I saw tonight is NGC 654. I have decided to name this one "The Brain Cluster." At 240x, the cluster looks like a brain, pickled in a jar. The top of the head is pointing off to the northeast. The bright star on the eastern edge is, I imagine, the point in the lower cerebral cortex where consciousness seems to sit. The cluster even sports a brain stem moving off to the southwest, where the second-brightest star in the small field is located at the end of the stem. NGC 654, I dub thee, "The Brain Cluster."

Nearby I found NGC 559 and 637, and before going back to Ruchbah I also took a look at the Double Cluster. What a stunning sight, always!

But Stock 2 is also very interesting. I never noticed this large cluster before, probably because it is so large. It seems to cover nearly as much ground as the Pleiades' brighter members. It is dimmer than the Pleiades, of course, and I suppose in binoculars would look like a fuzzy, brighter patch of light.

I also took a look at NGC 457, always one of my favorites. In fact, the highlights of the night were NGC 457, the Double Cluster, and the Brain Cluster! Viva la Brain!

November 17, 2007

November 10, 2007

Times change. My family life has become much busier over the last two months, and that means I have not had time to set up the camera and gather images. I will probably stay in this non-imaging mode for some time, perhaps 18 months. But I feel a need to be out under the sky, even if I can only make it as far as the back yard. And I feel like I ought to be producing something while I do that, so here I am writing.
I was out on the night of November 10. Comet Holmes is the big attraction. It was shaped like a large, diffuse C. I was using the 8-inch dob, and I was unable to see any nucleus that I could clearly identify, though a very stellar light source shone where I thought the nucleus should have been. It was still stellar at 240x, however, so I doubted whether that was it. Several stars shone through the tail.
Mars is rising. I could see some markings on the planet, but it is so bright in the dob that I would need a filter to see anything, preferably a blue filter. I had none with me. The planet is getting large, almost as large as Saturn in the eyepiece.
M42 and M43, I saw, and six Trapezium stars. The Trapezium is a small cluster of stars at the heart of M42. Most any scope will show four stars, named A-D. I have seen four stars even when using very small scopes. Usually I see five stars with the dob from my backyard, but I saw both the E and F components this night. F was visible most of the time, and E was apparent when seeing was steady at 120x and a little less apparent at 240x. It's a grand thing, to see these other stars. The Trapezium is one of my favorite targets.
M78, I also found.
R Leporis, sure enough, is a very red star. It is said to be a carbon star, one that has fused most of its hydrogen and in the process of fusing helium and heavier elements has developed a surface of carbon, which glows redder than other elements. The color was obvious against the other stars in the vicinity. I noticed the color in my 50mm finderscope.
I also saw M79, a globular cluster in Lepus. And I found S478, a beautiful, easy double star in the Lepus quadrilateral. Each component of S478 is about the same magnitude and appears white or white-blue to me.
I finished off with IC 418, a bright, oval planetary nebula (also in Lepus). It looked stellar to me at 40x, and about as bright as the 7th magnitude stars in the coathanger-shaped asterism that points to it. At 120x, the nebula looks like an out-of-focus star, but I knew it because the rest of the stars in the view were in focus. At 240x, the nebula is a bright oval. I could see no details, really, except the central star. It is such a bright object that it would have been obvious in a
much smaller telescope that can handle the magnification.
As is usually the case, the yard was quiet and dark. Many thanks to my two closest neighbors who keep their back porch lights off.

November 5, 2007

M42 & M43 October 2007

I took this early one morning around the time of the October new moon with the Vixen R135S at f/5.3. Mount: LXD75, unguided. Camera: DSI Pro. The sky was beautiful and the neighborhood was quiet. (Please click on the image for a better view.)