Monday, 4 January 2010

Life - and observing - in the freezer

Or 'Christ, it's cold!' could be a subtitle. The UK, unusually, has been in the grip of subzero temperatures for a couple of weeks now, with daytime temperatures barely getting above zero and night-time ones plummeting down to minus ten or colder. A lot of the country has got snow - except us on the South Coast, fortunately (or is that 'unfortunately'? If you have to have precipitation of some form, at least let it be of the picturesque-but-not-a-chance-of-getting-to-work-today type), instead we have had sleet, freezing rain and black ice making lethal driving conditions...and a few clear nights. In fact, 2010 is off to a flying start and out of four nights I have had three observing sessions, two binocular and one telescopic.
Tonight was the telescopic night. The Moon, which is 77% of Full, wasn't to rise until 2131 GMT so when I arrived home from work, via a doctor's appointment, I set my scope up and left it to cool for an hour.

Very cold -6C, No wind, icy underfoot (frozen dog pee!)

No Moon (rose at 2131 GMT)
Seeing Ant III-IV, transparency II
NELM 6.2
Instrument: 12 inch (30 cm) f5 Dobsonian

I will update this post when I get home from work tomorrow, with the objects I observed, except for Abell 12 which I'll mention now. I reobserved it this evening and this time it DID pop out with the OIII filter, as described by numerous people. I know, such a doubting Thomas...
Other objects I did observe were NGC 1514, a planetary nebula in Taurus, NGC 1980, NGC 1981 and NGC 2024 (a poorer view than the one I had a couple of weeks ago - if the Flame's crap, don't even bother looking for the Horsehead). I also looked for Abell 4 in Perseus and didn't find it, although it is fairly near the bright open cluster M34, but I really need to download some charts with that in, as it wasn't on my Sky Atlas 2000.0 (didn't try Uranometria, though). Not a hefty return from an evening's observing, admittedly, but I wasn't out there that long, too bloody cold.

NGC 1514, planetary nebula in Taurus. This was a piece of cake to find. At low power, and at first glance it looks like a bright, if fuzzy, star - indeed this is the 9th magnitude central star - but with averted vision a halo of fuzz pops out at you. Popping in the OIII filter really brings it out. At a higher power (190x), I could see darker areas between the outer halo and the central star and there are brighter areas in the halo itself. Slightly elliptical. As well as the central star, there is a much fainter, smaller, star next to it probably a foreground star. 61x, 190x + OIII

NGC 1980, open cluster in Orion. North of M42 this is a nice open cluster which is richer than nearby NGC 1981. I counted around 31 stars of which 10 are fairly bright, All the stars are white. 38x

NGC 1981, open cluster in Orion. Beautiful but sparse. Dominated by very bright white star plus a slightly fainter double which is also white, plus 17 other, much fainter, stars. 61x

I couldn't track down Jonckheere 320 again, but as I was having problems with the icing up of my finders I will give that another go before the end of the winter. I have read reports of it being seen in a 10 inch under comparable sky so there's no reason I shouldn't see it.

It was 'one of those' sessions again - my OIII filter fell to bits, a retaining ring-type object dropped out of it and the thing just fell apart. Fortunately I screwed it back together again, only to drop it onto the concrete of the patio five minutes later with, luckily, no harm done. I also dropped eyepieces, charts and gloves, but that's because, despite gloves, my hands were a bit cold. I was definitely fortunate in that nothing actually broke; fell apart yes, but actually broke as in completely destroyed, no.

I packed up just after 9pm, and after bending over the eyepiece (my final objects of this short session were in southern Orion) I couldn't straighten up properly, a combination of lower back pain and stiffness due to cold and bad posture from being hunched over the eyepiece meant that I shuffled indoors to warm up looking like the Missing Link between humans and apes - that almost-knuckle-dragging stance of something that can't quite walk upright... Once the Missing Link phase had passed I carted everything back in, pleased I had done some observing, but not too pleased that I didn't do as much as I had intended.

I'll chuck in the descriptions tomorrow and maybe a drawing or two, if I get them tarted up and scanned in, which is a tad unlikely as I don't get in from work until nearly 6pm and if it is clear again I'll be observing.

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