Driving up the sinuous path of G4 up the mountain I was blinded a few times by the blazing sun directly in my line of sight, but arrived safe just before sunset. By the time I arrived, skies were nearly crystal clear, the temperature quite mild, no breeze and no one else around. I gave Jaime a call and discovered he was just leaving home, so I set up and collimated Jaime arrived soon afterwards and we munched on early dinners and waited for the winter canopy of stars to appear.
Turns out we had a couple of hours of splendid skies with rock-solid seeing with some occasional gusts of wind. Eventually the wind started kicking up and blowing consistently, though, making observing at high power difficult -- that was frustrating as we could see the seeing was still quite steady during still moments. I didn't try to make a limiting mag estimate but I was able to repeatably glimpse Comet Tuttle (total magnitude of 5.8) naked-eye. By midnight, more high scud was drifting in from the west cutting down transparency and the wind was still persistent so we decided to pack it in after a beautiful view of Saturn and Mars. During the evening, Jaime and I shared views on a number of objects. He was finishing up several winter objects in the Orion Deep Map 600 list I compiled several years back.
Before the breeze kicked in, I was able to use up to 800x in my 18-inch Starmaster in this observation of the planetary N1535 in Eridanus. At 565x the complex double shell structure of this gorgeous planetary was remarkable. The brighht mag 12.5 central star is surrounded by a well-defined dark central hole with subtle mottling. This is surrounded by a striking bright inner ring that is relatively narrow and sharply defined. The ring has a slightly clumpy appearance, particuarly on the north side and dims slightly on the SE end. This bright ring is encased within an outer shell of fainter nebulosity which doubles the diameter. Although the inner ring is round, this outer envelope is slightly elongated SSW-NNE. At 807x the view was stunning and brighter clumps or knots within the bright inner ring appeared to sparkle at times.
Another remarkable planetary is N1360 in Fornax which was faintly visible in my 80mm finder at 25x as a dim oval glow surrounding a faint star. Adding a OIII filter significantly incrased the contrast and the outline appeared better defined. At 115x in the 18", this unusual planetary is a huge oval or irregular egg-shape, ~6'x4', oriented SSW-NNE (PA ~30°) surrounding a very bright mag 10.4 central star. Excellent contrast with an OIII filter which really brings out its asymmetric structure. The planetary is noticeably brighter in a fan-shaped wedge spreading out from the central star to the north. At times the NE rim appeared a bit clumpy. The fainter south side has a dimmer lane extending to the southeast.
Abell 10 in Orion is a compact but relatively bright Abell that was immediately swept up at 115x and OIII filter as a 30" disc. I was surprised this planetary was still readily visible unfiltered at 115x to 220x as a faint, round disc (could have been discovered visually). The best view, though, was at 225x using a UHC filter and it appeared as a moderately bright, crisp circular disc with a slightly irregular surface brightness. Occasionally I picked up an interior sparkle - possibly a stellar knot or faint superimposed star.
Another surprise was the bright reflection nebula, N1788, in Orion. At 175x (unfiltered), two brighter stars were involved in the brightest portion of the nebula with a mag 10 star (very unequal double) at the NW end. An oval glow extends ~4'x2.5' to the SE and contains a bright "knot" that surrounds a mag 11.5 star on the SE side. Two fainter stars are also embedded within the glow forming a rhombus with the brighter stars at opposite ends. The SW edge of the main body has a sharper edge (due to dust). Surrounding this region are faint extensions that significantly increase the total size to ~8x6'. Towards the SE, dim haze could be seen as far as a 2' pair of mag 12.5 stars. Broad, wispy extensions appeared to feather off to the NE for ~6' with additional faint haze to the south. The entire complex is bounded by several mag 8-9 stars forming a striking star field.
It was a good way to begin 2008 and let's hope of many great observing nights in the coming year.
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