Friday, 2 May 2008

Galaxy hopping through the spring sky

A clear night at last, so after the weekly meeting down at the VAS Observatory I came home and set my scope up. It was looking extremely promising, so I decided that I was going galaxy hunting and really seeing what the 12" can do in that respect. Because of work the next day and lousy weather I've not used the scope that much since I got it in March (about four or five times) and even then the sessions were cut short or a bit hit-and-miss because of poor sky conditions.

Date: 01-02 May 2008
Conditions: Cool, clear, very dewy. The odd bit of drifting cloud but otherwise good transparency.
Place: Back garden, near Sandown, Isle of Wight, England

My first object this evening was NGC 4361, a planetary nebula in Corvus. It was extremely easy to find, although not that bright, being low in the southern sky. It was easily picked up as a roundish brightening against the background sky and an OIII filter made it stand out more. At 102x, it was not quite round and brightened in the middle, with fuzzy edges.
I didn't bother with the Antennae, as I have seen these before under better conditions in Texas and Australia.

Next it as up to Coma Berenices and Virgo and the Realm of the Galaxies. I decided - because of an article on Cloudy Nights - to have a look along Markarian's Chain in Virgo. This is a long chain of galaxies and starts with Messiers 84 and 86 and includes NGC 4438, 4435, 4458, 4461, 4473 and 4477. It's ages since I've looked at the Chain, the last time was as far back as 1993, with our local society's 18" Dob.

Also in Virgo I observed and sketched NGC's 4596 and 4608. I've also observed and sketched others, but identification can wait until tomorrow - I mean later today.

With the 12" I can see stuff I couldn't have in my old 8" - galaxies were everywhere and a good proportion of them weren't just dim little ovals like they were before. Ones that were once seen as dim little ovals in my old 8" were bright and full of detail and previously unseen galaxies now made themselves available, courtesy of those few extra inches of aperture.

I eventually packed up at 1am as I was getting cold and also drifting cloud was increasing. It was an excellent session.