Sunday, November 29, 2009


The Herschel Project Night Three: 104 Down, 296 to Go

Ida came, and  Ida went--Hurricane Ida, that is, muchachos. The arrival of the out-of-season storm that had us Gulf Coast denizens so stirred up for a few days was actually pretty anticlimactic. She did indeed pass right over good old Chaos Manor South, her eye making a beeline up Mobile Bay. Or would have had there been a real eye left. Ida sat offshore for several hours and ground herself down into a disorganized Tropical Storm before finally making landfall. There were some gale force wind gusts and a lot of rain, but mostly she was the proverbial tempest in a teapot. We didn't even cancel classes at the university that Monday night, so I taught as usual.

All of which was a Good Thing, I reckon. There was one Bad Thing, though. After finishing with us, the storm hung a right and began moving east along the Florida panhandle, clouding out viewing down at the Chiefland Astronomy Village for the folks who’d come early for the Nova Sedus Star Party, or just to get in a couple of extra days on the Old Field.

Looked as if I might luck out, though. I’d be heading for the CAV on Thursday morning, the 12th of November, and it appeared that by then Ida would be fading like one of the chili relleno induced bad dreams I have every once in a while. It didn't look like Thursday night would be assured, but Friday and Saturday, the Weather Channel said, would be “go.”

I had good intentions for Thursday morning. I’d get up at my regular 4:30 in the a.m.; pack the car in two shakes of a lamb's tail, and head east. If‘n I could arrive by noon, that would leave me plenty of time for setup and maybe even for a nap before sunset, which would be arriving at 5:30 p.m. in that part of the world.

"Best laid plans," they say...  I don’t know what it was—maybe the leftover slices of anchovy pizza I had for supper Wednesday night—but I did a fair amount of tossing and turning, and when the alarm beeped at 4:30, I promptly shut it off and went back to sleep.

When I finally turned-to at 6, I had to scurry. By the time the Camry was packed with Big Bertha, my NexStar 11 GPS, and all the tons of support gear I’d staged downstairs in the front parlor, and I’d had a couple of cups of coffee to make me feel somewhat human, it was 7:30. Whatev. I knew I’d be bumping up against Chiefland’s sunset time and would be unlikely to get a nap in, but that would be alright. If I had to call it quits early on Thursday (which it didn't look like would be much good anyhow), so be it. I’d have two more clear evenings to play with. Probably.

As usual lately, I was travelling alone. I hope that after her retirement next year Miss Dorothy can be persuaded make the trip Down Chiefland Way once in a while; that sure would make it more fun. But the trip south wasn't too bad. I’d loaded the iPod up with my preferred road “reading” material, Stephen King; this time, an audio book of his enormous Dark Tower Four: Wizard and Glass. I’d put off reading his gargantuan multi-volume fantasy cycle for years, but now that I’ve got ‘round to it, I am enjoying the story of Roland the Gunslinger. No, it ain’t Tolkien, but it’s still good, and kept me amused for the near six hours the drive consumed.

The skies were beautiful when I left Possum Swamp, and stayed like that for the entire trip, more or less. When I arrived at the motel, there were a few clouds scudding, but they did not look serious to me. I checked into my usual hostelry, the Chiefland Holiday Inn Express, and headed for the Astronomy Village.

Bertha ready to rumble.
There, I proceeded to unload and set up Bertha, the new EZ-Up canopy, the observing table, the computer, the computer shelter, the eyepiece case, three dry-boxes, the Stellacam II, the DVD recorder, the DVD player/monitor, and my observing chair. How do I cram all that into a four-door Japanese sedan? Practice helps, but one thing that’s even more helpful is that staying in a motel frees me from packing a tent, sleeping bags and other space consuming bedding, and assorted camping gear. The fact that I have access to a refrigerator in the Club House means the ice chest can stay home, too, another space saver.

After about an hour, my field setup was complete and I took a look around. As usual, I chose a spot on the “old field,” now called The Billy Dodd Memorial Observing Field in honor of one of Chiefland AV’s founders. I wasn’t the only person who liked the friendly familiarity of the old digs; there were at least thirty other folks there with me, the biggest crowd I’ve seen on this field in years. Course, those numbers paled in comparison to the huge assemblage of people and telescopes on the new field just to the west. Peering over thataway revealed what looked to be close to two-hundred amateurs on Thursday afternoon, and with the incipient good weather, I expected there would be more coming.

I’ll have more about the “official” star party on the New Field, the Nova Sedus Star Party, next week; here I will just say that everybody who attended had a great time far as I could tell, and that I was made more than welcome when I strolled over to visit the vendors and listen to talks. Yes, I chose to set up in my old spot, but I think the star party is a worthy endeavor, and I supported it by registering even though I wouldn’t observe from the Nova Sedus field. Even if I hadn’t wanted to take advantage of vendors and talks, I’d have registered. Like I said, “worthy endeavor.”

Good turnout on the Old Field.
Anyhoo, with my gear ready to go, the next step, as it always is, was a visit to the Chiefland WallyWorld for supplies. Besides my staples, bottled water, Monster Energy Drinks, and Jack Links, I wanted to get a fuzzy hat of some kind, a watch cap sort of thing to keep my punkin head warm, as it was predicted to get way down in the 40s on Thursday evening, which is blamed cold for me.

After I’d obtained the necessities and stopped by the motel room to change into warmer attire, it was 5 p.m. and time to get on the stick. My plan of operations for the first night was a simple one: I’d leave the Stellacam alone and do visual only. I’d go until I couldn’t go, however early or late that might be.

Back on the field, I began to wonder whether I’d have to worry about how late I could keep my peepers open. In peculiar fashion for this site, a bunch of thick, low clouds had pushed in from the north. I spent the next couple of hours wandering the field, shooting the breeze with old friends and annoying all and sundry in my inimitable fashion. Just as I began to think the balance of the night would consist of cable TV and Rebel Yell at the Holiday Inn, I spied a line of clearing on the horizon, and in about half an hour I was getting Bertha go-to aligned.

Bertha’s optical setup for the run was the same as I reported on last week. She was in alt-az mode, natch, and I mounted my Denkmeier Powerswitch diagonal on her rear cell. The primary oculars would be the 8mm and 13mm Ethoses, but they’d be ably assisted by my other TeleVues and my William Optics Uwans. The Denk’s filter switch was loaded up with a Thousand Oaks OIII and a Lumicon (the old Lumicon) UHC. On standby for use later in the evening was an Orion hbeta.

One thing would be different from last week’s club site run: I left the NS11’s hand control in its box and ran the scope with NexRemote on the laptop. Don’t know what NexRemote is? Take a gander at this. I much prefer NR to the real thing, because, amongst other reasons, it allows me to use a wireless Logitech joystick as my HC. That is much more responsive and comfortable than the “real” hand control, and I don’t wind up hog tying myself and the scope with a dad-blasted cable at some point in the evening as I always do with the hardwired HC.

The bridge of Unk's Starship.
NexRemote really is just like a hardware hand control, including the ability to operate in conjunction with an astronomy program. The software of choice this evening was SkyTools 3 Professional. I know I rave about it all the time, but that is deserved. This combination of planner/logger/star atlas is incredibly powerful, and I believe will be the key to your ol’ Unk successfully negotiating deep Herschel Project waters. If I do manage to finish the Whole Big Thing, the Herschel 2500, a principal reason for my success will have been SkyTools; of that I have no doubt.

There has never been a computer program of any kind that does everything or does everything perfectly, however, and I’d be using another similar application, Deepsky, alongside SkyTools 3. Yes, I coulda managed with just SkyTools, but Deepsky does have a couple of very helpful features. One I’ve mentioned in the past is its database of log entries by prominent observers. Sometimes it helps you understand what you are seeing if you can read what another person thought about it. Also useful would be Deepsky’s DVD of Palomar Observatory Sky Survey images. Yes, ST3 can download and cache POSS plates, but the field Internet connection was slow and shaky this time out and lazy me had not got around to downloading pictures for all the HIIs with ST3 before I left the Old Manse.

Go-to alignment successfully completed, it was time to get my getalong gettin’ along. I brought up ST3, connected it to NexRemote’s “virtual port,” and clicked up the first of the evening’s deep sky wonders.

Oh, before we get started, let me ‘splain something: I’ve included each object’s Herschel Number as well as its NGC. Yeah, Willy-boy’s object cataloging system seems a little cryptic, but this is The Herschel Project, and I think I should identify the targets just as my Main Man did. Actually, once you grok his system, it’s not complicated at all, just a little unwieldy, maybe. The key to his catalog designations is a number based on an object’s visual appearance:

Class I - Bright Nebulae;
Class II - Faint Nebulae;
Class III - Very Faint Nebulae;
Class IV - Planetary Nebulae;
Class V - Very Large Nebulae;
Class VI - Very Compressed and Rich Clusters of Stars;
Class VII - Compressed Clusters of Small and Large Stars;
Class VIII - Coarsely Scattered Clusters of Stars.

Tom Clarke checking out a big Dob.
Each class was separately numbered, with, for example, there being both an H.I.10 and an H.II.10. Putting it all together? H.V.18, for example, would be the 18th object in Sir William’s list of “very large nebulae.” Yes, it’s a little awkward, but his system has an advantage: “H.V.37” tells you one heck of a lot more about what an object is like than “NGC 7000” does (which tells you nuttin’ if you don’t recognize the number).

One last thing: you’ll see the entries for most objects are a wee bit briefer this time. With so many to talk about, there wasn’t no way I could expound on each fuzzy like I’ve been doing and keep the blog short enough for you to feel like reading it. If an object was of exceptional interest, I did give it its due. And now, without further ado, transcribed from my cassette tapes made on the evening of 12 – 13 November 2009…


Just one Serpens object tonight, and it’s only here because The Snake’s Tail was temporarily in a sucker hole early in the evening and I figgered I’d best bop over that way.

It’s hard to see small (5’) NGC 6604 (H VIII.15), an open cluster, in this rich field. I can make out a little “U” shaped asterism and a sparse sprinkling of stars near the specified position.


The sky having almost magically cleared, it was over to the east to grab the small constellation, Aries. Most folks know it only for its luscious double star, Gamma Arietis, Mesarthim, but being where it is, hard up against Pegasus and Pisces and Triangulum, it has its fair share of galaxies. None of ‘em is a spectacle, but all were interesting.

NGC 1012 (H III.152): This SO galaxy is reputed to be as dim as magnitude 13, but was easy in the NS11. Little elongated sliver with a brighter and fairly large core.

NGC 1156 (H II.619) is a round oval of an irregular galaxy. Not hard, but looks considerably dimmer than its supposed magnitude of 12, probably because of its relatively large 3’ size.

This elliptical in Aries, NGC 821 (H I.152), is strongly elongated, about 3’ x 2’, with a bright nucleus. Overall effect is “dim.” Bright nearby field star does not help.


Onward to the Big Horse who, I shouldn’t have to tell y’all, is galaxy country. While there are a few objects of other types lurking, not one is in the HII; it is all galaxies.

NGC 7457 (H II.212), a large lenticular, about 4’ in size, is relatively dim but not hard to see. Somewhat brighter towards the middle. Maybe magnitude 12.

NGC 23 (H III.147) is a barred spiral, and shows itself as a dim oval in the 13mm Ethos eyepiece. A bright field star is involved with one end. At times I detect a tiny stellar-appearing nucleus.

An old buddy of mine in Pegasus, NGC 7332 (H II.233), is an edge-on lenticular with a brighter core and looks brighter and prettier than its magnitude of 12 would suggest. There is a second edge-on in the field, NGC 7339.

NGC 7177 (H II.247): This spiral is an oval smudge a couple of minutes across. I can tell it’s not round, but that’s about the only detail of this SABb galaxy that I can make out.

NGC 7814 (H II.240) is a large and dim edge on galaxy.

NGC 7463 (H III.210) is a small, slightly elongated spot of light in the same field with NGC 7465.

NGC 7465 (H III.211) is small, too, an elongated, almost edge-on appearing wisp.

Also small and somewhat dim and perhaps slightly elongated is NGC 7042 (H III.209).

NGC 7742 (H II.255) is fairly prominent; it is round with a brighter middle. Basically a cosmic lint-ball close-on to an 11th magnitude field star.

Although NGC 7623 (H III.345) is dim (most sources say magnitude 14), it’s also small, so it’s not hard. A perhaps slightly elongated deep sky dust bunny.

NGC 7626 (H II.440) is in the same field with NGC 7619. Round, fairly bright. Brightens very gradually toward the middle.

The above-mentioned NGC 7619 (H II.439) looks pretty much identical to her sister, 7626. A round elliptical with a slightly brighter center a couple of minutes across.

NGC 7156 (H III.452) is a somewhat dim face-on spiral with a small, brightish core.


The Horse’s large, fishy neighbor is, like him, loaded down with galaxies of every description, from the spectacular (well, on the right night) M74 and down. As is the case with Pegasus, the Pisces HII lineup is nothing but galaxies:

NGC 499 (H III.158) is a reasonably bright fuzzie in the 13mm Ethos; better than its 13.3 magnitude value would suggest. Little over a minute across and in a field with several other small galaxies.

NGC 410’s (H II.220) a small, round-looking lenticular in the field with an edge-on and at least one other little galaxy.

Medium-sized but bright at 3’ long and 12th magnitude, NGC 315 (H II.210) is an obviously elongated fuzzball in the 13 Ethos.

There are some real standouts in Pisces amongst the Hs, including NGC 660 (H II.253), a beautiful barred spiral. It is an elongated smudge a couple of minutes across in the 13mm ocular. At higher powers, I occasionally think I catch glimpses of its arms, but nothing sure. I’d like to come back here with the Stellacam.

NGC 514 (H II.252) is a large 3’ plus elongated oval of light. It’s a face-on SABc.

NGC 665 (H II.588) is a 13th magnitude spot maybe a bit elongated in the 8mm E.

NGC 7562 (H II.467), another slightly elongated fuzzball, is small, round, and has large bright core.

A small face-on Sc with a luminous core, NGC 706 (H II.596) doesn’t give up much detail, with the most notable thing in the field being a 12th magnitude star near the galaxy.

NGC 7785 (H II.468): This elliptical is an oval spot of dim light. Next to a triangle of prominent field stars.

Medium-sized elliptical NGC 741 (H II.271) is in the field with several small galaxies including one, NGC 742, that’s positioned just 50” east of its center.

NGC 7541’s (H II.430) an OK edge-on spiral mainly notable because it’s in the same field as a prominent smaller galaxy, NGC 7537.

This barred spiral, NGC 718 (H II.270), is just a small, elongated patch with the very faintest hint of an outer envelope.

NGC 125 (H III.869) is in a Pisces field with several other small and mostly dim galaxies. 125 is round with diffuse edges, but that is about all I can tell about it.

An Sc spiral, NGC 198 (H II.857), is round and faint in the 8mm Ethos. Brighter towards the middle.


I needed one little guy over Triangulum way, and thank god he wasn’t another galaxy; I was ready for a short break from the cosmic fireflies I’d been netting.

The prominent if small nebula (2’) that’s involved in M33, NGC 604 (H III.150), is always a treat; he’s the Pinwheel’s “M42 on steroids.”


There are only two Herschel IIs over in Cassiopeia and—surprise—neither one is an open cluster.

NGC 896 (H III.695): This large >20’ nebula is visible with the help of averted vision and a UHC filter in the 13 Ethos at f/6.3. No obvious shape I can see.

The Bubble Nebula, NGC 7635 (H IV.52). I’m not sure I can see the bubble shape itself, but plenty of nebulosity is on display in the 13mm ocular with a UHC. I can make out one arc of nebulosity that may be part of the bubble form, but mostly the impression is “haze around an 8th magnitude star.”


I only needed one Cetacean this evening; nice that it turned out to be a fairly outstanding galaxy:

This barred spiral in Cetus, NGC 171 (H III.223), is tantalizing. It’s obviously elongated, that being its prominent bar, I’m sure, and there are hints of patchy detail in the haze surrounding this bar, perhaps indicating the presence of the spiral arms. As usual, my impression is “considerably brighter” than the “13” most sources indicate.


Quick break for a walk around the field, a Monster drink, a bit of Jack Link jerky, and I was refreshed, pressing on to the winter star figures…

NGC 1883 (H VII.34): This small, round open cluster, 5’ across, is dim at 12th magnitude, with maybe half a dozen stars winking in and out.

NGC 2192 (H VII.57) is another small Aurigan open—maybe 5’ in diameter, too. With the 8mm Ethos, it resolves into an elongated patch of dim stars.

Less than 5’ in size, open cluster NGC 1778 (H VIII.61) is nevertheless reasonably bright. 15 or 20 stars in no discernable pattern.


I could hardly believe midnight had come and gone and Gemini was ready for the picking:

This 13th magnitude elliptical galaxy in Gemini, NGC 2274 (H II.615), is a round fuzzball with a slightly brighter center and is a couple of minutes across. Fairly dim.

NGC 2331 (H VIII.40) is a large, 20’, and bright, mag 8, open cluster. A loose group not well detached from the background. One clump of brighter stars off center, but the general impression is “blah.”

Another galaxy, NGC 2339 (H II.769), is a small and dim spiral that’s a fuzzie about 2’ in size. Maybe a bit elongated. Slightly brighter nuclear area.


Looked over to the east and found ol’ Orion had snuck up on me, and was now high enough for me and Miss Bertha to traipse across his starry reaches.

Orion’s NGC 1663 (H VIII.7) is a medium-sized galactic cluster, about 10’ across. 10 or 15 stars visible, with several forming an arc along one side. Sparse and not well detached. Hard to tell at first that I’m on the target.

NGC 1662 (H VII.1), another open cluster, is a large 15 – 20’ elongated group of about 20 stars. The brighter ones form a line down the middle of the cluster.

Galaxies in Orion? Yep. NGC 1762 (H III.453) is a small elongated one…slightly brighter core. One field star, mag 12 or so, is involved in the galaxy’s outer envelope.

NGC 2112 (H VII.24): Large near-half-degree open cluster. Sparse. Some 9th – 10th magnitude stars near the middle form a heart-shaped asterism.

NGC 2071 (H IV.36) is found in the M78 field in Orion; this small patch of nebulosity a couple of minutes across around a star forms a dimmer, smaller version of M78. Best in the 8mm Ethos without a filter.

NGC 1990 (H V.34): The Epsilon Orionis Nebula is a huge thing over a degree across. I was able to see some parts of it, but only by using the 35mm Panoptic with the reducer in place. Ugly vignetting, but at least I was able to detect the nebula. Maybe the UHC helped a little.

NGC 2023 (H IV.24) is the “nebulous star” near the Horsehead Nebula. Quite prominent in the 8mm eyepiece. Didn’t seem much helped by a filter. I took a quick look for B33, but didn’t see it. Conditions are degrading, with the nearby Tank Tracks Nebula, NGC 2024, not its usual ebullient self.

The famous Running Man reflection nebulosity, NGC 1977 (H V.30), was next. Despite conditions that are not as good as they were earlier, this nebula is criss-crossed with dark lanes and quite prominent.


SkyTools 3 listed NGC 7023 (H IV.74) as an open cluster in Pisces, but it was clear something was not quite right. Turns out this object is in Cepheus, not Pisces. Collinder 427 in Cepheus is a loose group of stars involved in a cool reflection nebulosity, the Iris Nebula. To further confuse matters, the Collinder 429 referred to by the program is apparently nonexistent. I located an updated HII list on the SkyTools website that corrected this small problem. The Herschel number, by the way, refers to both the cluster and the nebulosity.


If Orion is up, his friend the unicorn, Monoceros, can’t be far behind.

NGC 2259 (H VI.28) in Monoceros is an undistinguished little cluster less than 5’ across. A group of 10th magnitude field stars nearby resembles a miniature Andromeda (the constellation stick figure). The cluster itself is a small group of dim stars that looks like this “Andromeda’s” M31.

NGC 2245 (H IV.3) is a fairly obvious clump of nebulosity surrounding a bright star. It is oblong and is not centered on the star. Most of the time it requires averted vision. Filters have no effect, so it is likely a reflection nebula.

Hubble’s Variable Nebula, NGC 2261 (H IV.2), is nice tonight in the 8 Ethos. Best with no filter. The nebula’s triangular shape is very obvious with direct vision.

NGC 2254 (H VII.22) is a not bad little open cluster. About 4’ across in the 8mm. I see a half-circle of medium-bright cluster stars surrounding a 10th magnitude sun. This circlet is backed by quite a few dimmer stars.

Another good open cluster, NGC 2236 (H VII.5), is comma shaped, maybe 10’ in size. Bright star involved in the “comma.”

NGC 2252 (H VIII.50) is a somewhat shapeless collection of magnitude 8 and dimmer stars about 10’ in diameter. Almost forms a coat-hanger shape for me as I stare at it through the 8mm Ethos eyepiece.

NGC 2269 (H VI.3), a fairly identifiable patch of stars 5’ in size. Set in a rich field. It is shapeless at first, but a little lookin’ at this open cluster turns up a little stick figure—like a mini-owl cluster.

The Hourglass Planetary, NGC 2346 (H IV.65), is not difficult with the 13 Ethos at f/10. UHC filter helps with this big 1’ nebula. Oblong with a prominent central star and a faint outer shell.

NGC 2182 (H IV.38) is a fairly obvious puff of nebulosity around a 10th magnitude star. Round with a dimmer star about 30” away.

An extensive and obvious patch of nebulosity, NGC 2170 (H IV.19) is at least a couple of minutes across in the 8mm eyepiece.

NGC 2302 (H VIII.39): A nice little cluster. Maybe 5’ in diameter with a “C” shaped group of brighter cluster stars at its center.

NGC 2309 (H VI.18) is an attractive small (about 3-4’) galactic cluster. Spash of stars in roughly an oval shape.

This little nebula in Monoceros, NGC 2316 (H II.304), is not difficult at all. Several stars involved. UHC doesn’t help. It’s listed as 4’ across. Maybe I saw 2’ of nebulosity.


The night was old and the old bones was cold. But before pulling The Big Switch, I jumped over to Taurus, who was makin’ a spectacle of himself in the east:

NGC 1514 (H IV.69): After all tonight’s many dim galaxies, a nice planetary is a treat, and that’s what the Crystal Ball is. Bright central star surrounded by considerable diffuse haze. Maybe 2’ in size.

And there are galaxies even in Taurus. NGC 1587 (H II.8) is a round elliptical with a slightly brighter center. It’s next to and maybe in contact with the smaller NGC 1588. There is also a third smidge-smudge of a galaxy 12’ minutes away, NGC 1589.

Time for a little after-run Yell and cable TV.
Could I have pushed on a little longer? Maybe. Should I have? Maybe. But after the drive down and sweating over the equipment setup, yeah, the old bod was weary. And sixty-five cotton-pickin’ Herschels was, I thought, pretty derned good. So, I was not too disappointed when conditions began to worsen fairly dramatically at about 2:30 a.m. Shut down, packed up, took a quick look at some purties in a bro’s Mallincam, and it was back to my warm motel room, cable TV, and vaunted bottle of Rebel Yell.

What’s gonna go on here next week? What’s the plan, Stan? How about a break from The Herschel Project? Just to keep things interesting, we’ll go off in a different direction this coming Sunday with my review of a new computer program, Eye and Telescope

How was me and Miss D’s Thanksgiving? By the time you read this blog, we will be back at Chaos Manor South with the cats and the CATs, but, as is our wont, we passed the holiday at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Where I spent considerable time drinking in their famous Carousel Bar. If it is good enough for Capote, Faulkner, Hemmingway, and Williams, it is sure as heck good enough for the likes of me!

Cool post. I'm a fairly raw n00b, just planning my first shot at the Messier catalogue for 2010, but it's nice to see that I won't run out of stuff to look at anytime soon. Also useful to learn about your setup and get snippets from your field notes. Thanks.
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