Saturday, December 12, 2009

 

The Herschel Project Night Four: 159 Down, 241 to Go


Hokay, muchachos, let’s see…where was I? Oh, yeah. I’d just wound-up an awfully sweet first night at the Chiefland Astronomy Village. It was after two-thirty in the a.m., which you young sprouts prob’ly consider “way-early,” but I was satisfied. Over the course of a little more than five hours (it was after nine o’clock before the sky well and truly cleared), I’d done seventy-five Herschel 2 fuzzies. When the sky began to fuzz-up, I wasn’t ashamed to head back to the Holiday Inn to lap up some of Kentucky's finest bourbon and begin planning Friday Night.

I slept in until 8:30 a.m., good for me, since it’s hard to sleep late when you’re used to getting up at 4:30 for work every stinking morning. Schlepped down to the lobby for some insane biscuits and gravy, and then back to the room to strategize about the coming night's activities. A glance at SkyTools showed there’d be no lack of targets, and that I had better plan on keeping on keeping on a bit longer than I had the first night if I were to have a prayer of closing out the fall and winter constellations.

I figgered I’d need to set aside time for a nap somewhere over the course of the day, but the first order of business was to hie myself back to the CAV, get registered over on the new field for the Nova Sedus Star Party and, yes, BUY SOME ASTRO-STUFF from their vendors.

As I strolled down the access road to the star party proper, located just to the west of my haunt on the old Club Field, I felt a touch uneasy. I’d registered for the star party, but had not set up on their field. I hoped I’d be welcome. I needn’t have worried. The Nova Sedus (“new start,” I believe) folks were just as friendly as any of the amateurs I meet across the U.S. of A. That is, "very friendly." I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if there’s a nicer group of folks than amateur astronomers, I’ve yet to meet ‘em. Shortly, I had a name-tag and was good to go.

I couldn’t help but be impressed by what the NSSP folks have accomplished in only two iterations of their fall star party. In addition to an expansive observing field, there was a spacious building for talks and use as a warm room/club house. (They even had a cotton-pickin’ foosball machine and a big-screen TV in there!) Food, same as last time, was provided by the friendly and efficient Micki’s Kitchen. There appeared to be plenty of AC power on the field for everybody. And, most of all, everybody I saw looked happy.

Gotta admit to y’all, though, what really caught my eye was “vendors’ row,” a line of tent canopies housing astro-stuff-dealers. While browsing, I was pleased to run across the display of an old acquaintance, Bill Burgess of Burgess Optical. Haven’t heard much about Bill recently, but he and wife Tammy are still going strong, and I was pleased to hear from them that they are preparing to introduce a couple of new series of binoculars. I always thought the Burgess binocs were great—I wouldn’t be without my 15x70s—and I am happy they are getting back into that end of the astro-biz.

Yeah, yeah, I know: “But what did you BUY, Uncle Rod, what did you BUY?” I kept my spending at modest levels. I’m gonna be forking out bucks for the 21mm Ethos before all is said and done, and I’d just bought a new guide-camera, an Orion StarShoot, the week before, so I was trying to be frugal. I limited my purchases to a couple of red lights from Astrogizmos and a book, Scott Ireland’s Photoshop Astronomy, from Camera Concepts, who had the biggest spread I’ve seen at a star party in a while. Two big EZ-ups jam-packed with everything but the kitchen sink—and that was likely in there somewheres. They bill themselves as “The Astronomy Superstore That Comes to You,” and that is just what they are.

I stuck around the NSSP long enough to determine that, as you won’t be surprised to hear, I didn’t win one of their many door prizes. Without my good luck charm, Miss Dorothy, along I never win anything. Frankly, even when she’s with me I never win much; she’s usually the one who brings the good stuff home. I headed back to the Billy Dodd Field empty-handed, gave the gear a quick once-over, and made tracks for lunch and the motel in that order.

Following an excellent meal consisting of the famed Lunch Special at Chiefland’s Bar-B-Q Bill’s (sliced pork, beans, tater salad, fries, garlic bread, salad bar, sweet tea, all for less than 15 bucks), and a couple of hours of dozing, if not really sleeping, back at the room, I returned to the field at 4 p.m. to get set-up. My main tasks were removing the Denkmeier Powerswitch Diagonal from the NexStar 11’s rear cell, replacing it with a Meade f/3.3 reducer and the Stellacam 2, hooking up the portable DVD player I use as a display, and connecting the DVD recorder that saves my “masterpieces.” Luckily, I’ve done this enough that there were no hang-ups.

As soon as Vega and Fomalhaut appeared, I got Big Bertha focused roughly by the simple expedient of making Vega as small as I could make him on the screen, go-to aligned Bertha on the stars, and then improved focus by increasing exposure and working with dimmer field stars. Precise focus? Nope, but I had an ace up my sleeve to take care of that, a Bahtinov mask.

A whatsit and a whosit? A “Bahtinov mask” is the funny-looking thing seen at the left. It fits over the telescope’s aperture and, when the scope’s aimed at a bright star, produces a rather peculiar diffraction pattern. When you are reasonably close to focus, you get an “X” of diagonal spikes around the star. There’s also a “center” spike. When you focus, this spike moves (up and down/left right depending on the mask’s orientation). When it’s exactly centered between the diagonals, you are, theoretically, in perfect focus. The process is really easier to show than tell, and is well illustrated here.

Since focus is critical with the small chip of the Stellacam II, especially at the still fairly considerable focal length of the C11, even reduced with the Meade 3.3, I had decided a Bahtinov might be just what I needed. The question was “how?” There are several websites that will print patterns for do-it-yourself mask-making. That might be a good option for you, but the idea of fumble-fingered old me cutting those many slots with an uber-sharp Exacto knife was not an appealing one. I’d buy.

As always, maybe like most of you these days, and probably moreso than some of y’all, I wanted SOMETHING GOOD BUT CHEAP. Substantial searching, hemming, and hawing later I’d settled on a mask made by Farpoint Astronomical Research and sold by Scope City for a mere $22.50 (you’d be amazed how much some outfits want for such a simple thing). Scope City, out Califor-nye-ay way is a long-time astro-dealer, but one I’d never traded with over the course of the near three decades they’ve been in business. My loss, it turns out, since this purchase showed that not only do they have some good prices, their service is outstanding. I had my mask in just a few days.

How does the Bahtinov work in the field? I removed the dew shield from the NS11 temporarily and placed the mask over the corrector. It’s nice, hard plastic, not a mere film like some people are peddling, and fits over the secondary, which holds it in place. I still don’t have a moto-focus for the C11 (one of these days), so I stationed Good Buddy Pat Rochford, who’d arrived late in the afternoon with his son, at the monitor and told him to holler when the pattern looked right. Which didn't take long. I have no doubt the Farpoint Bahtinov Mask allowed me to achieve focus as good as or better than I’ve ever had with the Stellacam, and in just a fraction of the usual time required. Matter of fact, I liked the results so much I ordered another one for the C8.

Focusing done, all I had to do was sit under the EZ-up with the computer and the video gear and send Big Bertha to one target after the other with NexRemote. One thing I discovered in a real quick hurry? Being out of the dew, even under an open sided tail-gating canopy, keeps you a lot warmer as the wee hours roll in. I didn't even feel the need to put on my fuzzy hat till well after midnight, and I never donned my heaviest coat. From the beginning, Bertha and I were feeling good and ready to face any adventure that might befall the CAT tribe.

If I wasn’t clear earlier, let me be moreso: all these observations were done with the Stellacam 2 on Bertha, my Celestron NexStar 11 GPS. The spacing between the camera and the Meade f/3.3 focal reducer yielded an f/ratio of around f/4, give or take. The matter in italics was transcribed directly from my audio cassette tapes recorded as I observed (or is that “watched TV”?).

SERPENS

While waiting for a little haze to skedaddle, I noted that the west-southwest looked good, so we trotted over that-a-way. The Snake was hangin’-in, but was plunging rapidly into the horizon, so there we went, coming back with one prize…

A small and bright open cluster, NGC 6604 (H VIII.15) is about 5’ across and shines at a combined magnitude of 7.5. It’s in a rich field, though, and not well detached from that. Nothing to write home about. It is associated with nebulosity, however, the nearby Eagle Nebula, which is something to write home about.

SCULPTOR

Cluster observed and recorded and sky now magically cloud free—more or less—it was time to get down with the fall star pictures.

NGC 24 (H III.461) is an impressive if not overly detail-laden galaxy. Like a miniature M31 with little arm detail showing in this magnitude 12.1 5.5 x 1.5’ Sc spiral. Bright center, large disk.

NGC 7507 (H II.2) is a magnitude 11 elliptical, round, about 3’ in size. Bright core with an outer envelope that’s very slightly elongated. There are several small and dim LEDA galaxies in the field as well.


CEPHEUS

So much for Sculptor the, ah, “sculptor”—if’n you ask me, Lacaille displayed all the imagination of a wet dishrag in his constellation names. Ah, well, on to an ancient star-figure, Cepheus, the King of Ethiopia, to pick up where I’d left off with him.

The Small Cluster Nebula, NGC 7129 (H IV.75). On the monitor, there’s a small group of stars surrounded by very obvious nebulosity with a fairly prominent dark lane running through it. Visually, I suspect the nebula would be faint.

NGC 7139 (H III.696) is on the dim side, even with the Stellacam. It is a large planetary nebula, over 1’ across, set in a rich star field. Magnitude 13.5. Appears slightly oval in shape.


The moment the scope stopped slewing, NGC 7354 (H II.705) was obvious on the screen. This planetary is round, and there’s something that looks like a dark bar bisecting the disk. 22” in diameter. Outstanding object.

NGC 7419 (H VII.43) is a 5’ open cluster with a quoted magnitude of 13. Onscreen, it is extremely attractive, a mix of both brighter and dimmer stars in an hourglass shape.

TRIANGULUM

Like Aries, Pisces, and Pegasus before it, Triangulum is the hangout of countless galaxies.

NGC 925 (H III.177) is large and attractive. Over 10’ long, it shows traces of one sweeping spiral arm.

SAB galaxy NGC 890 (H II.225) is somewhat elongated with a bright center surrounded by faint haze. Magnitude is supposedly about 13. It’s hard to tell with the Stellacam, but it looks brighter than that to me.

NGC 1060 (H III.162) is a bright galaxy in a field rich with galaxies. In addition to this round elliptical, which sports a fairly extensive outer envelope, I see at least 6 other small fuzzy-wuzzies in the frame.

NGC 604 (H III.150) is the “little” nebula in M33. Pretty and detailed. Square or dumbbell-like shape.

A large and interesting galaxy, magnitude 11.4 NGC 672 (H I.157) is 6’ by 2.5’ in size and bright, sporting a strongly elongated nucleus enveloped in a considerable expanse of nebulous haze. One spiral arm is obvious.


CAPRICORNUS

The Sea Goat has his treasure, M30, but other than that it’s mostly dauntingly dim galaxies, as maybe befits Pan’s status as the second dimmest zodiacal constellation (after Cancer). Sir William only recorded a single dust bunny here, but it is outstanding:

NGC 6907 (H III.141) is a lovely classical barred spiral. The somewhat tightly wrapped arms are starkly visible with the Stellacam II.

CETUS

If you’ve got even a few observing seasons under your belt, I shouldn’t have to tell you that Cetus, too, is Galaxy Country.

There’s not a whole lot to near face-on Sb spiral, NGC 1070. It’s round, maybe slightly elongated, and set in a fairly star-rich field.

NGC 1073 (H III.455) is a somewhat odd looking barred spiral with a pair of skinny arms. An excellent galaxy despite fairly poor seeing at the moment.

Edge-on spiral NGC 1032 (H 2.5) has an easy to detect dark equatorial dust lane. Impressive, 2 – 3’ across on the monitor.

On both the POSS plate and with the Stellacam, NGC 428 (H II.622) shows off some slightly bizarre spiral structure. Hard to tell exactly what is going on with it. 2 – 3’ across with one prominent and one subdued arm.

NGC 1090 (H II.465) is another galaxy that gives up some detail to the Stellacam. At times, when the seeing settles, I can see one dramatic arm that makes it look a lot like Uncle Charlie’s M106.

NGC 1087 (H II.466) shows a hint of tightly wrapped spiral arms like an M77. Large and strongly elongated mag 11.5 Sc galaxy. Cool.

NGC 357 (H II.434) is fairly attractive with a bright center. Dim but visible. No sign of the bar seen in long-exposure images.

In its POSS plate, NGC 991 (H III.434), a 13th magnitude near-face-on galaxy, shows fairly prominent spiral arms, and I can see hints of them with the Stellacam and the C11 as the seeing changes. Fairly large, about 1.5’ across its longest axis.

NGC 636 (H II.283) is prominent on my screen, but there and in its images this elliptical is nothing more than a bright, round fuzzball a couple of minutes in diameter.

Impressive and strange looking, NGC 337 (H II.433) shows off weirdly warped-looking arms.

NGC 1035 (H II.284) is an interesting little galaxy that looks a lot like a smaller M82. Edge-on with hints of dark detail. There’s "fake supernova," a field star, stationed on one tip of the disk .

NGC 151 (H II.478) Shows intriguing and intricate looking spiral arms. Large, about 3’, and bright with the Stellacam.

In the Stellacam, this one, NGC 217 (H II.480), looks a little like a miniature Flying Saucer galaxy, NGC 4565. This is apparently an S0, and features a bright nuclear region. Nice, despite a supposed magnitude of 13.5.

NGC 1045 (H II.488) is just a smudge, slightly elongated with an extensive outer envelope and a non-stellar core. It is said to be a lenticular.

NGC 171, which looks to be about a minute and a half in size, shows strong barred spiral structure.


ERIDANUS

Ah, yes, that most boring of winter constellations, the meandering celestial river. Since his course steers him well away from the Milky Way, Eridanus’ flow is full of galaxies, including a number of outstanding ones…

NGC 1507 (H II.279) is an M108 imposter. Dusty, near edge on disk. Very thin, thinner looking than M108 or M82. Maybe 3’ in length.

NGC 1637 (H I.122) is interesting enough. It’s several minutes across and is a near-face on Sc spiral. Shows one prominent arm and a bright core.

NGC 1618 (H II.524) is another one that looks somewhat like the Messier galaxy, M106, to me, with an outlying, arcing, prominent spiral arm.

An elliptical, NGC 1700 (H IV.32) is a bright fuzzball with an elongated envelope. One other prominent galaxy in the frame, NGC 1699, is said to be dimmer than 14th magnitude, but is not a challenge for the C11/Stellacam.

NGC 1600 (H I.158), another elliptical, is a standout in a field peppered with small galaxies including NGCs 1601, 1603, and 1606. 1600 itself is bright and elongated with a non-stellar core.

The Stellacam shows NGC 1779 (H III.500), a barred spiral, as a small fuzzball. The center is elongated with no stellar core showing. It’s listed as 3’ in size, but I am for sure not seeing that much galaxy.

NGC 1162 (H III.469) is a round elliptical, nothing more. Looks brighter than its supposed magnitude of 13.5. Possibly slightly elongated.

NGC 1421 (H II.291) looks cool. At least 3’ across its major axis. Stellar core and a prominent, sharply hooked spiral arm. Weird.

A bright, off-round dust-bunny elliptical, NGC 1172 (H II.502) is listed as Magnitude 13 and 2’ in diameter.

NGC 1209 (H II.504) is pretty with a bright and elongated core and outer envelope. No detail, and I wouldn’t expect any from this elliptical.


NGC 1199 (H II.503) is yet another elongated and featureless elliptical galaxy. If it’s interesting, it’s because this 3’, magnitude 12.0 beastie swims in an Eridanus field loaded with numerous other galaxies including NGCs 1189, 1190, 1191, and 1192.

NGC 1114 (H III.449) is a somewhat subdued little sprite with a given magnitude of 13.2. Tightly wrapped spiral arms. There is a dim field star not far from its nucleus.

Back to bright round ellipticals with NGC 1400 (H II.593). The field contains one other prominent galaxy, NGC 1407.

NGC 1353 (H III.246) is bright at magnitude 12.4, but also large, nearly 4’. Obvious spiral arm detail.


NGC 1332 (H I.60) is a big, bright cd elliptical in a field with a couple of small galaxies including ESO 548 16, which is prominent despite a reputed magnitude of 15.7. NGC 1332 itself is highly elongated with a featureless, bright center.

A normal, dusty-looking spiral, NGC 1325 (H IV.77) shows good detail. There is an 11th magnitude star just off one tip of the strongly elongated disk. Supposedly, the galaxy is 4’ across, though I am not sure I am seeing that much of it.

NGC 1187 (H III.245) is beautiful if a little dim due to its nearly 5’ size. Magnitude is listed as 11.3but looks dimmer than that to me. Occasionally, when the seeing settles down, I can see this one looks like M83, a barred spiral with sweeping arms.

LYNX

If the sky’s cat, Lynx, is famous for anything, it’s the distant globular cluster, NGC 2419. That’s not what we’re after, though. What we are after is his galaxies, scattered across his dark den like romping kittens.

NGC 2500 (H III.709), an Scd face-on barred spiral galaxy, looks very good. Elongated with a patchy-armed appearance.

NGC 2541 (H III.710) really is low in the sky, but still shows off some odd off-center-looking spiral arm detail.

There’s not a whole lot to NGC 2493 (H III.750). It’s listed as a lenticular, but I can swear I think I see faint hints of a spiral arm.

Galaxy NGC 2415 (H II.821) is an odd little thing. This small 1’ irregular looks a lot like a planetary nebula.


LEPUS

Back over to the homey and familiar Orion area of the winter sky. That don’t mean we are done with island universes, though. Lepus, the little hare crouched at The Hunter’s feet, has a dramatic globular star cluster, M79, but his main fare is, yes, galaxies.

NGC 1832 (H II.292) is very attractive with a bright core and a prominent bar. One distinct spiral arm.

NGC 2196 (H II.265) is still low in the sky, and in this seeing this mag 12.0 3’ spiral is mostly a round glow. Bright core and elongated envelope, but only hints of arm detail.

A strange looking one with twisted spiral arms and a bright center, NGC 2139 (H II.264) is at magnitude 11.6 and is 2.8’ x 2 ’ in size.


CAMELOPARDALIS

What’s there to see in the camel-leopard? I know there’s a decent planetary, but tonight it’s more galaxies

NGC 2366 (H III.748), an edge-on irregular galaxy, is large, over 5’ across, and even with the Stellacam gain on high, it’s just a dim, oblong smudge in a sparse field near a triangle of dim stars.

Galaxy MCG 11-9-7 is tiny (42 x 32”) but obvious despite a forbidding magnitude of 15.3. As you’d expect, it’s just a fuzzy dot on the monitor.

NGC 2347 (H III.746) is nice, and when the seeing settles I can make out some detail in this small magnitude 13.3 1.7 x 1.3’ spiral. “Patchy, dusty spiral arms” is my impression.


After a quick trot through Camelopardalis’ savanna, that was all she wrote. I still felt pretty good despite it getting on toward 3 in the a.m. I’d run out of fall/winter HIIs, though, and the thought of twiddling my thumbs while ol’ Leo and the rest of the spring bunch pulled themselves up over the edge of the world and out of the haze now obscuring the east did not have a whole lot of appeal. I wasn’t overly cold, but a warm bed and dreams of the deep sky realms I’d tramped on this night had an irresistible appeal.

Next time: I am all caught-up on Herschels for the moment. Herschel IIs, anyhow. I still need to record my Herschel 2500 notes in SkyTools, but, for now anyway, The Whole Big Thing part of The Herschel Project will remain outside the purview of this here astro-blog.

What then? Two possibilities. If the sky cooperates Saturday evening, I hope to give my brand-spanking-new Orion StarShoot autoguider a workout at the club dark site. That dadblasted Wunderground.com is saying “mostly cloudy” for Saturday, though, so I’ll be lucky to get my ETX-125, Charity Hope Valentine, out to Tanner-Williams for a few quick sucker hole peeps. If that is how things turn out, expect one of my semi-regular guides to astro-computin’ hardware issues.

Whichever way the wind blows, I’ll be back here waiting for you next Sunday, same bat-time, same bat-channel.

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