Sunday, August 11, 2013


The Herschel Project: Unk’s Faves

When I began this blog eight years ago (on AOL’s long-gone blogger site), and especially after I transitioned it to a weekly schedule five years back, I was worried I might run out of stuff to write about. Obviously that ain’t never happened, muchachos. There is always something on my mind (such as it is) I want to share with y’all. Even when I am dealt a summer like this one that is so dadgummed cloudy and rainy I don’t get much observing done.

Sitting in Chaos Manor South’s cozy kitchen the other night, listening to the rain and wishing I were somewhere under dark skies, I began reminiscing about The Herschel Project, my quest to see all of Sir William and Caroline’s deep sky objects, which I finished last summer. That led to me recalling one of y'all had asked about my “50 best” of the 2500 (give or take) Herschel objects. Luckily, I kept a running list of my faves, and even put ‘em in a SkyTools 3 observing list of their own.

I fired up ST3 and had a look at said list. It ain’t quite 50, but near enough, 45 objects. I suppose I could have picked five more, but that would have been gilding the cotton-picking lily. These are the ones I thought were groovy-cool when I observed ‘em. What follows are my log entries for each one and additional words when called for. The aitches are in constellation order, and I’ve included Herschel numbers and NGC designations as well as alternate/common names as appropriate.

H.V.18 (M 110, NGC 205)

“M110, a satellite galaxy of M31,  is big and bold tonight. This magnitude 8.92, 21.9' x 11.0' E5 Peculiar elliptical looks very much like M31 itself as seen through a small scope at low power. Bright inner disk, diffuse oval haze, small star-like core. Outstanding.”

I did a lot of the H-project objects with deep sky video cameras, my Stellacam 2 and Mallincam Xtreme, but for this one it was the 12-inch Dob, Old Betsy, visually with an 8mm Ethos eyepiece. What a spectacle this “boring” little galaxy was. From the dark skies of the Chiefland Astronomy, I even imagined I glimpsed subtle interior detail in M110.

H.V.36 (NGC 206)

“12-inch Dobsonian. This star cloud in M31 is starkly visible tonight and looks oval and “grainy.” Best seen in the 8mm Ethos eyepiece at 190x.”

I’ve often struggled with this enormous elongated cloud on the western side of M31’s disk. The best look I have had of it thus far was this one in October 2008 as I was on the cusp of beginning the H-Project and was playing around with the Herschel 400 at the Chiefland Star Party.  

H.IV.1 (NGC 7009, Saturn Nebula)

“The famous Saturn Nebula. The 'ring' is obvious, no imagination required with the C11. It looks just like Saturn did just before the ring plane crossing in 1966 with my 4-inch Palomar Junior telescope. Some faint hints of detail in the disk as the seeing changes.  Stellacam 2.”

I’ve seen the Saturn Nebula’s ring fairly well visually in my 12-inch Newtonian, and even better in my friend Carl Wright’s big StarStructure Dob, but it is really an object for video. On a steady night, I can image the round “fliers” on the ring tips.

H.II.751 (NGC 5857)

“NGC 5857 is a pretty spiral with an elongated center and disk. What makes it outstanding is the presence of a brighter, near edge-on galaxy, NGC 5859, 1'59" to the east that shows considerable detail.  C11, Mallincam Xtreme.”

One thing I ran into constantly during the Project was fairly pedestrian galaxies that were made into true deep sky wonders due to the presence of other galaxies or groups of galaxies.

H.I.186 (NGC 5195)

“Stellacam 2, C11. NGC 5195, M51’s companion, is an ‘S’ type Peculiar galaxy of magnitude 10.45 that is 5.8' x 4.6' in extent. Though the seeing is not that hot and the stars are bloated, M51's interacting companion is amazing, displaying a bright small core and what seems to be a central bar. The "bridge" connecting it to M51 is bright all along its length.”

The next time you are looking at M51, tear your eyes away and spend a few minutes with 5195. There is a surprising amount of detail in the little guy.

H.I.213 (NGC 4449)

“Stellacam 2. I call this one ‘LMC Junior’ for its resemblance to the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is an intermediate inclination IBm starburst galaxy that is 6.2' x 4.4' in size and shines at magnitude 9.99. Despite poor seeing and clouds, it is a marvel, even exhibiting an LMC like bar and several bright patches of nebulosity that represent starburst regions. C11.”

H.I.180 (NGC 5297)

“NGC 5297 is an attractive magnitude 12.47, 5.6 ' x 1.3' SABc galaxy. What I see is a thin, silvery edge-on that shows considerable dark lane detail. Almost like a smaller, more edge-on NGC 253. Nearby, only 1'32" to the west-southwest, is a nice little fuzzball of a galaxy, NGC 5296. C11, Stellacam 2.”

H.I.197 (NGC 4485)

“Stellacam 2. NGC 4485 is an IB peculiar Irregular galaxy of intermediate inclination and a size of 2.3' x 1.6'. This is the small, interacting companion of the famous Cocoon galaxy. In the C11, even under fairly poor conditions, I can see it is distorted and that a bridge of material connects it to the larger galaxy, the Cocoon.”

Unk Getting Ready for a Chiefland Run
What do I also remember about this observation? That I couldn’t for the life of me remember that NGC 4485 is called “the Cocoon.” I knew it was a famous one with a common name, though, and a little Googling gave the answer right quick. Imagine that, y'all, Internet on the observing field. Ain’t modern amateur astronomy something?

H.II.660 (NGC 4625)

“NGC 4625 is a pretty and interesting small (1.27' x 1.20') intermediate inclination barred spiral. This magnitude 13.2 SAB pec galaxy is obviously interacting (probably with nearby NGC 4618), and its little disk has a disturbed look, with the spiral arm in the direction of NGC 4618 being more prominent than its other arm. Stellacam 2, C11.”
H.V.29.2 (NGC 4401)

“Stellacam 2 and C11. NGC 4401 is an Hii region in a larger galaxy, NGC 4395. It is a curving, maybe vaguely "S" shaped crescent of nebulosity. Looks about the same as it does on its Palomar Observatory Sky Survey plate. Cool. While its magnitude is given as 18.0, it seems way brighter than that.”

H.II.659 (NGC 4627)

“12-inch Dobsonian, 8mm Ethos. NGC 4627 has the honor of being the beautiful Whale Galaxy's (NGC 4631’s) ‘calf.’ It is oddly shaped, stretched out, and obviously interacting with the Whale. It is a magnitude 13.06 E6 Peculiar galaxy with dimensions of 2.6' x 1.8' and is intermediate in inclination.”

H.VII.42 (NGC 457, E.T. Cluster)

“Stellacam 2, C8. NGC 457 is the wonderful ET or Owl Cluster. Its bright star, magnitude 4.59 Phi Cassiopeiae, is just blazing away. Many dim stars that aren't readily seen visually show up with the camera, but its little 20.0' body is still plainly visible.”

H.II.326 (NGC 4676A)

“Stellacam 2. ‘The Mice’ are visible, but conditions, haze and poor seeing, prevent me from seeing them at their best. I occasionally think I pick out the ‘tails’ with the C11, but it is not easy. Magnitude 14.1, S0a. Size of 1.7' x 1.0' with an intermediate inclination (the ‘A’ galaxy).”
H.II.120 (M91, NGC 4548

“NGC 4548 (M91) is a magnitude 10.96 SBb that is 5.4'x4.3' in size. As befits its status as a Messier, this is a marvelous galaxy for the C11 and Stellacam 2; big, with a bright round core, a long bar, and easy-to-see graceful arms that give it that classic barred spiral 'S' shape.”

H.III.623 (NGC 6120)

“NGC 6120 is a nice, bright, round-appearing galaxy of intermediate inclination. It is a Peculiar type with a magnitude of 14.6 and a size of .6' x .4' and is set in a rich field of galaxies. Prominent NGC 6119 is 2'16" to the west, while an excellent edge on, NGC 6122, is 4'27" to the northeast. Quite a sight with the Stellacam 2 and C11.”

NGC 6120 was OK by itself, but the additional galaxies made this object a standout.

H.IV.73 (NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary)

“8mm Ethos eyepiece and 12-inch Dob, 190X. Bright and bold in Old Betsy. Both nebulosity and central star are prominent and the blinking effect is almost non-existent.”

What’s always interested me about this famous planetary nebula isn’t so much the legendary “blinking,” but the tantalizing hints of detail around its central star.

H.IV.72 (NGC 6888, the Crescent Nebula)

“The Crescent is visible without a filter, but it isn’t much. It takes the addition of my OIII filter to the 8mm Ethos eyepiece to turn it into a real wonder in Old Betsy. The whole loop is visible and it is detailed. After a while, I begin to see the interior of the Crescent isn't empty, but is filled with faint nebulosity.”

NGC 6888, the Crescent Nebula
I’ve had some good looks at the Crescent Nebula, a long-time favorite object of mine, but this one at the 2009 Deep South Regional Star Gaze on the night before I began the Herschel Project was probably the best. If you’ve got at least a 12-inch telescope (or a camera) and a reasonably dark site, this may become one of your faves as well.

H.III.740 (NGC 6140)

“Stellacam 2 and C11. NGC 6140 is a large, bright, detailed galaxy. It is at magnitude 11.1, extends 6.3' x 4.6', has a type of SB(s)cd pec, and an inclination that is nearly face-on. Onscreen it is marvelous, with a strong bar, and one very prominent sweeping spiral arm.”

H.II.612 (NGC 6338)

“NGC 6338 is the brightest member of an apparently anonymous group of galaxies in a rich star field. At least seven other objects are easily visible with the Stellacam 2 and C11. NGC 6338 itself is a magnitude 13.6 S0. Onscreen, it shows a bright, small, round nucleus and a tenuous, elongated outer envelope. It has a size of 1.56' x 1.0', and an intermediate inclination.”

H.I.215 (“M 102,” NGC 5866)

“Stellacam 2 and C8. NGC 5866 is sometimes identified as M102. Whether you think it is that, or whether you think 102 was just a duplicate observation of 101, which is more likely, this is a nice galaxy. It's a magnitude 10.7, 6.3' x 2.8' edge-on lenticular that shows the When the Earth Stood Still flying saucer shape characteristic of bright galaxies of this type.” 

H.V.48 (NGC 1097)

“Stellacam 2, C11. Despite less than optimum conditions, it's easy to see NGC 1097's magnificent spiral and the effects on its arms and center caused by interaction with its companion, NGC 1097A.”

I believe NGC 1097 was my favorite among the hundreds and hundreds of galaxies I visited during The Project. I’ll never forget the cool winter night in Chiefland when this monster of a galaxy burst onto my monitor. I got an even better look at it earlier this year when I was able to turn my color Mallincam Xtreme on it.

H.VI.17 (NGC 2158)

“NGC 2158, an open cluster, M35's magnitude 12.0, 5.0’ diameter ‘companion’, is a marvel in the C8 with the Stellacam 2. Like a loose globular made of countless tiny stars and lying on M35's outskirts.”

I’ve loved M35’s small and distant pal ever since I got my first good look at it with Old Betsy from my backyard.

H.III.958 (NGC 6501)

“Stellacam 2, C11. NGC 6501 is set in a lovely field in Hercules rich with stars. It is a round looking SA0+ galaxy of magnitude 13.03 with a size of 2.0' x 1.8' and a near face-on inclination. A slightly more elongated galaxy, NGC 6500, is 2'17" to the southwest, and a magnitude 7.43 star is 5'35" to the east-southeast.”

This was a large, pretty object, but what was most excellent was seeing a good galaxy in Hercules, a place most of us don’t associate with island universes.

H.III.957 (NGC 6500)

“NGC 6500 is in the field with another bright galaxy, NGC 6501, which is 2'17" to the northeast. A magnitude 7.43 star is 5'35" to the east-southeast. NGC 6500 is a magnitude 13.04 SAab that is obviously elongated and has dimensions of 2.2' x 1.6. Intermediate inclination. Set in a star- rich field in Hercules.”

It was cool to see a galaxy in a rich field where a cluster would look more at home, and the C11 and Stellacam 2 really did this one justice.

H.II.902 (NGC 6555)

“Stellacam 2 and C11. NGC 6555 is very pretty. A good face-on showing some tight arm detail. Very similar in appearance to its POSS plate. This is a magnitude 12.99 SAB(rs)c that is 2.0' x 1.5' and has a near face-on inclination. Spiral detail is easy.”

I like all face-on spirals, but there’s something special about the little fellers.

M43, DeMairan's Nebula
H.I.203 (NGC 3938)

“NGC 3938 is a face on SAc galaxy. Magnitude 10.9, 5.4' x 4.9'. Classic looking Sc type spiral with a tiny, fairly subdued core and wonderful M101-like grand design spiral arms. Stellacam 2 and C11.”

One of the unexpected beauties I ran across. Highly recommended.

H.I.17 (M 105, NGC 3379)

22mm TeleVue Panoptic eyepiece, 127X. On this evening, M105 looks good in the 12-inch Dobsonian. It is visible as a round, bright ball with an extensive outer envelope of nebulosity. Its companion galaxy, NGC 3384, is also visible easily, and actually looks bigger and more prominent than M105. The third member of this little group, NGC 3389, is also outstanding.”

I love this trio of bright galaxies in Leo’s “tummy” region.

H.VIII.5 (NGC 2264)

“This is the famous and beautiful Christmas Tree Cluster near the Cone Nebula in Monoceros. In fact, with the 12-inch Dobsonian and the 13mm Ethos eyepiece, I seem to see hints of the nebulosity near the tree's top.”

I searched for the Cone Nebula night after night with my 4-inch Newtonian way back when when I was a naïve little sprout. Naturally, I never saw a trace of that legendary object. It’s for big-dobs (barely) or a camera. The Christmas Tree Cluster is its own reward, however.

H.VI.40 (M 107, NGC 6171)

“It's a Messier, even if it’s not one of the top Messier globular clusters. M107 is more than just OK in the 8mm Ethos and the C8, even given its position near the horizon. I do admit this loose Class X (10) globular would be easy to pass over if you weren't paying attention. Some resolution, with a few of its stars winking in and out of view.”

H.III.1 (M 43, NGC 1982)

“When I was a kid observing the Great Nebula, M42, with my 4-inch and 6-inch scopes, I didn’t pay much attention to M43. With a dark sky and high enough power, though, this nebula is a thing of wonder. In the 8mm Ethos and the C8, it displayed not just its comma shape and “central star,” but plenty of streaks of dark nebulosity.”

H.V.28(?) (B33, IC 434, the Horsehead Nebula)

“The Horsehead is  downright spectacular in the C11 with the Mallincam Xtreme at 1-minute exposures.  IC 434 is a brilliant pink-red, B33, the horse herself,  is detailed, and the reflection nebula nearby, NGC 2023, 15'15" to the northeast, is an icy blue.”

Sir Willie may or may not have seen The Nasty Nag. Opinions vary, and his and Caroline’s notes are ambiguous. But I kept it on my Herschel 2500 list anyhow and was happy to have it there. Like most of y’all, I have a love-hate relationship with the Fickle Filly. She’s so easy and beautiful with a camera and so hard and lackluster with the eye. The only time I’ve seen B33 look like her pictures was one winter's night in Tom Clark’s 42-inch Dobsonian, the Beast. Even that massive scope could only deliver her horsiness with direct vision when seeing and transparency were just right.

H.I.193 (M 76, NGC 650)

“Stellacam 2, C8. M76, a magnitude 10.10, 2.7' planetary nebula, is very good this evening. In addition to the two lobes and brightness variations across those lobes, the streamers of nebulosity wrapping around the main body of the nebula are easy to make out on the monitor.”

H.IV.41 (M 20, NGC 6514)

“NGC 6514 is actually the cluster involved with M20, the Trifid Nebula. Its slightly sparse stars are attractive, covering some 28' of space. The real interest here, of course, is the nebula. It's a treat with the C8 and Mallincam Xtreme, with the dark lanes that divide the nebula into “petals” standing out incredibly well.”

Certainly M20 is a fine object for a dark sky and 12-inches or more of aperture, but what really brings it out is a camera, especially a color camera, which will show the contrasting pink and blue nebulosity.

H.V.9 (M8, NGC 6523)

M20, the Trifid Nebula
“The Lagoon Nebula is amazing with the C8 and Mallincam Xtreme, even on an average night. The fine cluster, NGC 6530, superimposed on the nebula is a wonderful sight, and the nebulosity, which is composed of eastern and western halves, is bright and distinct. So is the dark lane, the “lagoon,” dividing the nebula in two. I can make out streaks of bright nebulosity along the dark lane’s length and some faint haze beyond the main cloud.”

M8 is a wonderful and legendary object, but it took me a while to appreciate it. Visually, it’s best either in a small wide-field scope or with plenty of aperture. My 4 and 6-inch Newtonians didn't do much for it from Mama and Daddy’s backyard.

H.V.47 (NGC 3079)

“Ursa Major's NGC 3079 is a beautiful SBc spiral that shines at magnitude 11.54. Its size is 7.9' x 1.4', and its orientation is nearly edge on. With the C11 and Stellacam 2, it is a long, skinny thing with a tiny, off-center appearing nucleus and much dark detail along its long disk. It is accompanied by two small, bright galaxies, magnitude 15.4 MCG 9-17-9, 6'40" to the west-northwest, and magnitude 14.1 NGC 3073 that lies 10'4" to the west-southwest.”

H.V.46 (M108, NGC 3556)

“M108, located not far from the Owl Nebula in Ursa Major, is an SBcd spiral of intermediate inclination. Magnitude 10.69, size of 8.7' x 2.2'. Visually, this galaxy always reminds me of M82. With the Stellacam 2 and C11 it is revealed as a dusty spiral more like NGC 253. There seems to be a small, elongated, subdued nucleus.”

M8, the Lagoon Nebula
H.I.214 (NGC 5474)

“An SAcd peculiar galaxy of magnitude 11.5 and a size of 2.8' x 2.0', NGC 5474 (H.I.214) in Ursa Major is a curious thing with the C11 and Stellacam 2. It consists of a bright, round core, off center in a large, ring-like patch of round nebulosity. It has obviously interacted with another galaxy, but which galaxy? The only other object of note in the field is a tiny LEDA sprite.”

H.IV.61 (M 109, NGC 3992)

“NGC 3992 in Ursa Major is also known as "M109," so you know it is going to be a good one. This is a magnitude 10.6 SBbc with the generous dimensions of 7.6' x 4.7'. Its intermediate inclination of 78-degrees shows off the whole works to excellent advantage. There is a small, oval core, a broad bar, and delicate arms that wrap all the way around that bar. Stellacam 2 and C11.”

H.I.226 (NGC 3631)

“Ursa Major’s NGC 3631 is a face-on SAc spiral with classic good looks. It shines at magnitude 11.1, is 5.0 x 4.8' in size. In the C11 and Stellacam 2, it possesses a set of lovely grand-design spiral arms.” 

H.I.206 (NGC 4088, ARP 18)

NGC 4088 (Ursa Major), a.k.a. ARP 18, is a weird looking mess of a galaxy. Something, maybe nearby NGC 4085, must have disturbed this magnitude 11.15, 5.8' x 2.2' Sc spiral. Onscreen with the C11 and Stellacam 2, its two odd arms give it a fork shape, like a trident. One patch of galaxy to the northeast seems detached from the disk.

H.II.67 (NGC 4528)

“Mallincam Xtreme and C8. NGC 4528 is a bright, strongly elongated magnitude 12.97 S0 elliptical. Dimensions of 1.7' x 1.0' with an intermediate inclination. On the monitor, it is a bright round core pierced by a thick, short disk. Remarkable.”

H.I.139 (M 61, NGC 4303)

“M61 in Virgo is excellent visually with the 5-inch Meade ETX Maksutov. Large and diffuse. Using averted vision, I occasionally glimpse a stellar appearing core in this magnitude 10.2, 6.3' x 5.8' SAB(rs)bc galaxy. Most of the time, it's just a round glow at 125X, but as I continue to stare, it begins to look slightly elongated. Further, the more I look, the more I begin to pick up hints of subtle spiral arm detail, with an arm on the northwest side of the disk becoming visible at times.”

H.III. 287 (NGC 5746)

“NGC 5746 in Virgo is an absolutely beautiful edge-on SABb spiral with the C11 and Stellacam 2. A dramatic dust lane is readily visible, making it look a lot like a smaller NGC 4565 (Flying Saucer Galaxy). It shines brightly at magnitude 11.29, and measures 7.4' x 1.3'.”

H.I.70 (NGC 5634)

“This Virgo globular cluster is probably the best of the constellation’s paltry inventory of two globs. The magnitude 9.5, 5.5' ball of stars is well resolved on the monitor with the C11 and Stellacam 2, but its Shapley - Sawyer class of IV means it is fairly compressed, and given its small size it is not a forest of stars like a Messier. Still, a nice treat near the galaxy fields of Virgo.”

Until I visited Virgo for the Project, I don’t believe I knew the constellation had any globular clusters.

H.I.43 (M 104, NGC 4594, Sombrero Galaxy)

“I can occasionally see a small, stellar nucleus in M104 with the 15mm Expanse at 125X with the ETX 125. The central bulge of this magnitude 9.1 SA(s)a edge-on spiral is easy, and the “hat brim” extends a few minutes on each side of that. But only very occasionally do I get a glimpse of the dark lane.”

And that’s a purty good one to end on, muchachos, one of the top Messier galaxies, the good, old Sombrero. What is great about the Herschel is not just that it includes old friends like M104 and most of the top NGCs, but how many new friends you’ll make if you take on The Whole Big Thing. Resolve to travel William and Caroline’s starry road, and many, many exquisite but seldom-visited objects will become your new friends and boon companions.

Next Time: Depends on the Weather...

Hey Uncle Rod

My favourite Herschel objects are the ones at the extreme end of the faint fuzzy spectrum, like NGC2187, NGC4199, and NGC2842, objects that are incredibly faint even in today's large aperture amateur instruments. It is a testament to WH's skill, patience and determination that he was able to discover these galaxies with the crude instrument at his disposal. Most amateurs today, hooked as they are on GoTo and computer databases, would give up astronomy in a minute if they had to use Herschel's telescope to explore the skies. My other favourites are the dozens and dozens of "nonexistent" or "not documented" Herschel objects that require detective work to track down (usually because of erroneous positions, duplication or misidentification by Herschel and other observers). This is what makes pursuing the Herschel objects such a pleasing and rewarding challenge.

Mark Bratton
"The Complete Guide to the Herschel Objects"
(Cambridge University Press)
HI Mark:

Right on. What continually amazes me is that The Man saw objects that I find easy to miss even though I _know_ they are there, and even though I am often using a sensitive camera. Yep, just amazing.
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