AFTER the UFO's in Westport...

AFTER the UFO's in Westport...

Postby Rotorhead » Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:58 pm

Now for the serious part of the observing report. As Saturday afternoon progressed, the weather was looking fabulous, the CSC was the best I’ve seen since last winter, and it began looking more and more like the grandkids would be going home (the impending birth of their sibling Joshua was the reason I could not make it to the Ct Star Party) and I would be free for the night! :D

Contact with Mark, and Paul D, showed that the three of us were available after missing the CSP, so we agreed to try for it. A call to Brian and Joe B showed that they were ready on a last moment’s notice, and we all headed to the Destruction Brook Conservation Area parking lot. Joe B and Paul D were already there and explaining their telescopes to some locals who, we suspect, had hoped to use the parking lot for other purposes. While Mark and I were setting up, Brian showed up scopeless, looking to hang out for a while. The ‘UFO’ incident happened at about this time and had us all pumped up for some observing.

My Herschel list was probably way too ambitious for a single night, but what the heck, if you don’t try, you’ll never know. This site is very, very dark. Even though it has a poor southern horizon up to about 25-30 degrees, it is still very nice for viewing in almost all other directions. Traffic was a bit heavier than when I’ve been there before, but it still was not much of a nuisance, but the site would probably be very unsuitable for imaging.

I needed to quickly grab a couple of globular clusters in Sagittarius, NGC 6522 and 6528, before they dipped out of sight. These are in the ‘steam’ that is rising from the spout of the Teapot, and were quickly found. 6528 is a bit fainter than 6522, but they both fit in a wide field ep, and were somewhat easily identified as globular clusters at 221x.

Those were found just past 8 PM, but the next few targets proved a lot tougher. I had searched for the Little Gem at this same spot for nearly an hour a couple of weeks ago, but never found it. On this night, the sky was a half magnitude darker, and the two groups of mag 5+ stars between Sagittarius and Capricorn were much more visible than previously. It still took a long, long time to get the right star in these groups as the marker star for this planetary nebula. Finally, almost as an anti-climax, it was there. A quick examination with an O-III filter gave a positive identification. It is called the Little Gem, and it is a pretty and intense blue-green, but my hour plus of searching for it over two nights was giving it a different name in my book, believe me. :evil:

Vulpecula, the Little Fox, was more visible Saturday night than I have ever seen it, but it is a constellation that I had to constantly review in my charts, since it is normally so faint that I really don’t know it well. Several targets were in that constellation, and Paul joined me in a mutual hunt for some really faint targets, mostly open clusters hiding in the Milky Way. The first to fall was NGC 6802, in the Little Fox, which I thought would be a cinch since it is in the Coathanger asterism. However, it is faint and elusive, and only a misty fog in a wide field ep. Magnification proved the key to identifying it, however, and I also checked Paul’s view in his telescope since his finder scope could show the entire Coathanger at once, thus verifying the location. Next was NGC 6823, near 13 Vulpeculae, which could only be identified by the surrounding stars. Our complaints about ‘just another open cluster’ were met by derisive stories from the others, and soon we were all laughing and wondering what Herschel was thinking when he included THESE on his list. It was like identifying a sand formation in the middle of the Sahara. Next was NGC 6830, which has an asterism near its center that resembles our own Starman’s avatar. Finding it by star-hopping in the Milky Way was again a trying experience, and only Paul’s copy of the Herald-Bobroff atlas made it remotely possible. However, the ‘star’ asterism gave us good proof that we had indeed found it.

The next target is a ‘two-fer’ with NGC’s 6882 and 6885 together. In fact, even the professionals wonder if Herschel could detect two star clusters here, or if he logged the same one twice on successive nights by making a 15’ position error calculation. It is sort of like having the Double Cluster overlapping, and in the ep it resembles one large conglomeration of stars. However, the identification was so daunting that it ate up a half hour of referencing Paul’s atlas, and looking at the photos in O’Meara’s Herschel book. But the Herschel 400 list gives double credit for this one, so it was worth the time. I rounded out the evening with NGC 6940, which is a huge cluster, nearly the size of the full moon, but residing very close to the Great Rift in the Milky Way. Again, low power helped find it because it is so full of stars that low power brings out the ‘mist’ that I think Herschel came to associate with open clusters.

Paul and I both spent about 25 minutes searching for NGC 6834, which is a tiny open cluster, only 6’ across. I think I saw it, and Paul had a possible sighting also, but I’m going to have to bring a good chart of the surrounding 1.5 degrees along on a future trip before I’d be comfortable saying I found it. O’Meara’s photo only shows the surrounding 8’area, and is just too restricted.

At some points during the night, I also checked on Jupiter several times, noting a moon shadow transit that perhaps Mark found (can’t remember). Jupiter was so bright that I needed to recover my night vision after every observation.

After the long search for NGC 6834, we realized it was nearly 11:30, and very cold (42 degrees), so we packed it in and headed home. I counted it as a winner of a night, seven more objects down in a serious four hour search.

Returning to the same site on Sunday, only Joe B could join me, and we found it to be as dark as the night before, although some moisture seemed to dull the sky later in the evening.

My first target, NGC 6756 turned out to be another 'two objects in one field of view' with NGC 6756. Both are open clusters, with the former fairly large and the latter quite small, 15’ and 6’ respectively. Both were easily found by hopping off 19 Aquilae. NGC 6712 was another easy target, a globular cluster - faint but large and pretty - was just a half-Telrad field off epsilon Scuti, and easily identified.

We spent some time hunting for NGC 1 and 2 in Pegasus, just for the heck of it, but we could both see that there was moisture spreading into the area, and since these galaxies are 13th and 15th mag, it’s going to take a perfect evening to see them. They aren’t on the Herschel400 list, but there’s just some attraction to seeing the first two things that Herschel saw. Maybe another night…

Next, Joe headed off to find the Blue Snowball, and had some difficulty, so I dragged out my own copy of the Herald-Bobroff atlas, and in short order, Joe was right on it. A very lovely and very bright planetary! With an O-III filter, it nearly hurts your eye! Very blue indeed! Nearby was a Herschel object, NGC 7686, which proved very frustrating. Only by remembering that Herschel identified most of his open clusters by their background ‘nebulosity’ - unresolved stars - could I find it. I used only 56x to star-hop to the area. I kept returning over and over to a star field, but only when stopping for a deep breath and studying it very hard did I see the background ‘fog’. Higher power revealed the faint stars behind the more obvious foreground stars, and a quick perusal of Guide 7 this evening confirmed the target.

At about this time, I had a sudden bout of nausea, and had to quit. I spent the next day and a half in bed with some kind of bug, which is why this report is so late. :? Thanks, Joe, for helping to pack up my gear to head home. If I had been alone, my scope might have been really tricky to get into the car by myself. :(

My Herschel count is now 127...
Bob M
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Postby Bruce D » Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:07 am

Thanks for the great report Bob, sounds like a nice spot to observe from.
Sorry you weren't feeling well, there is a bug going 'round
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Postby WCGucfa » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:06 am

Excellent report Bob! It was just like being there and you actually observed my favorite asterism, the Coathanger, which I only a few years ago realized existed. Coincidentally, I photographed it Friday night in one of my experimental modes. Then again I'm always in experimental mode, trying to pull more and more from the Sony with different scopes.
I'll post the photo next time I get a chance.
Thanks for posting all the great details of your outing!!

Bill G.
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Postby Paul D » Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:01 am

One other sight that Bob M forgot to mention that night that was almost as spectacular as the UFO was a tumbling satellite that was at a perfect angle that when the sun deflected off the panels it was as bright and as blinding as a strobe light. I have seen many of these tumblers at Stellafane but none in a direct line of sight to the sun that made it appear that bright.

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