Saturday, 12 December 2009

Binocular observing session 11-12 December 2009

Sod's Law was in action last night as I had a severe cold which prevented a proper observing session with the 12 inch, and it was the clearest and most transparent sky we have had in ages. I had spent most of the day in bed with coughs, sneezes and fever, having been sent home from work at lunchtime, but something compelled me to look out of the window at 2330, I am not sure why I expected it to be clear as most of the day had been cloudy and a bit foggy. I felt a bit better and I hate wasting clear skies so decided on a short session; besides it would have been a bit foolish to have stayed out for any real length of time and get cold.
Obviously I didn't feel like lugging the big scope out, or even one of its smaller friends, but I put on jeans, jumper and shoes and went out with the 8x42 binoculars instead. I also pulled out my UHC and OIII filters out to see what winter nebulae I could see with the binoculars.

11-12 December 2009; 2330 - 0005 GMT/UT
° above freezing
No wind
Excellent transparency apart from the odd bit of clouds on the horizon; out of 5, where 1 is bad and 5 excellent, it was 5. The seeing was reasonably steady too, Antoniadi II.
Naked eye limiting visual magnitude was 6.5

Of course, I just had to go for M42, the Orion Nebula. It is an irresistible object in any instrument, including binoculars, and is worth looking for even if it is the most observed deep sky object in the sky. I make a point of saying hello to it every year, as I do all my favourites, and I can't wait to see it in the 12 inch. Huge, very bright, fan shaped, with four stars visible in the Trapezium. Needs no filtration, although UHC brings it out slightly better (OIII not as effective). M43 also visible as a little round patch.
Also looked at NGC 1981 and NGC 1980.

I also had a (over optimistic it has to be said) look for NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula, but I did not see it. I didn't think I would in binoculars but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

NGC 2237-8/NGC 2246; the Rosette Nebula in Monoceros.
Large, round and bright with the star cluster NGC 2244 at the centre. The nebula is only just visible without a filter, but the UHC makes it very easy to see. The OIII is also effective but it's best with the UHC.

Ursa Major was low behind the trees but M81 and M82 were above the trees and easily seen with the 8x42s.

M31 was bright and huge through the binoculars, spanning the entire field of view. The core was bright and the spiral arms extensive. Good view of the dust lanes.

NGC 869 and NGC 884; the Double Cluster
Gorgeous through the binoculars. Very rich and large with the stars easily resolved.

Trumpler 2
Small fuzzy patch just SE of DC. Also NGC 957, another hazy patch.

NGC 1499; the California Nebula. This isn't quite as easy to see as the Rosette, especially without a filter, but the UHC filter brings it out and you can see a hazy brightening of faint nebulosity extending east-west, immediately north of Menkib.

By then it was 0035 (GMT/UT) and I was getting cold and coughing a lot so I had to reluctantly drag myself away from the sky and head indoors and back to bed.


The odds on me attending the 2010 Texas Star Party have slightly improved. I have got a temporary job until Christmas and have so far, managed to save nearly half the air fare. Hopefully, a run of employment between now and April will enable me to get there. The air fare's most of the battle, with prices ranging between £350 and £550 (of course I can't leave it too late before getting the plane ticket, must get that in January or February or it'll become more expensive), while the TSP, including accommodation, is fairly cheap and doesn't require a lot of saving for. The other big 'expense' is the cash for any goodies that might catch my eye when I am there such as a 2-inch UHC filter that I want for viewing large nebulae with my 35mm Televue Panoptic.


I have retrieved my clear sky spreadsheet from the wreckage, scanned it twice with Norton, and loaded it onto the new computer. I had been keeping a note of the weather in the intervening period - not exactly hard when it's mostly been cloudy! - and have been able to pick up where I left off. November makes dismal viewing with two clear nights and one partially clear night in the whole month, but I wasn't able to take advantage of those clear nights unfortunately. As noted in a previous entry, it has been two months of nearly continuous wind and rain, with a large part of the UK affected by flooding.

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