by Jamie Dillon
When the eyepiece is full of UMa galaxies, you know spring can't be too far away.
Said Kingsley. Yup, it was a night to remember. Schuermann, McKone, Blanchard, Czerwinski, myself and Kingsley were lined up in that order behind the ranger's station. A long time since a group of observers set up in that particular spot. And the sky was just dandy, 6.3-6.5 all night, with seeing staying moderate 3/5. Let it not be forgotten that a 6.5 sky overhead has plenty of stars in it. Starhopping was the easiest it's been in a while.
Myself, I had several wishes satisfied, things I'd wanted to see for a while. Started the serious stuff with the Fornax Dwarf, with the sky in that direction nice and dark. This is a little diffuse galaxy in our Local Group. Jay's article in the last October S&T was invaluable, esp the part where he said this object looks like vignetting in the field. No kidding, it's subtle, a lot like the image in the picture in that story. The pic matched the view, so the hop to NGC 1049 was easy. It was nonstellar. Therefore several of us that night were looking at real distant globulars. Peter was studying the IGW, NGC 2419; Kingsley was working his magic in M31; and here 1049 is a nontrivial 2 mly from here.
Buoyed by this, and by the fact that I saw the Fornax Dwarf before Bob Czerwinski ever did, at least minutes before, and Czerwinski was a seasoned observer before Hector was a pup, I sallied over to southern Ursa Major and Canes Venatici. There are so many big fat juicy galaxies there. Where the Bowl of the Dipper is filled with little subtle galaxies, all some 80-100 mly away, south of there in our sky there's a pile of neighbor galaxies, 10-20 mly from here.
A highlight was 4244, "A prize! Long cool lanky edge-on. No clear core, maybe 10-1 ratio. Off Chara." Gorgeous galaxy. Working to the West, got back to 2841, Shah's Galaxy, which you'll have to go see yourself. It beggars description. NW of 2841 is 2681, with a bright core, looking face-on, big with plenty of dust, 4 foreground stars. Has a similar but smaller neighbor, 2693, with almost stellar core, looking also face-on but apparently disrupted. That finished page 2 of my Dickinson atlas. Not without a gander at M106, a really magnificent object with a pile of neighbors.
Over to southerly climes, to Antlia and Pyxis, which were sitting there all bright and willing and tropical looking. In southern Pyxis, right above the Vela border, are 2818 and 2818A, very interesting in that 2818A is a planetary nebula that's an actual member of the open cluster 2818. There was discussion of this situation over a year ago on amastro, and according to Brian Skiff, a pro astronomer and no slouch, there's no good model for how this can be possible, since OC's are young by definition and stars that form PN's are good and old. Anyway, I'd tried twice last winter to find this pair. In February one night at Dino, Blanchard hissef had found 'em in his scope and showed me the view and the hop, at which point after plenty of time trying, I went back to my scope and the southerly hill had moved into the way. Monday night, got 'em. The PN took 126x to show, had an interesting applecore shape to Jeff's apt description. The OIII showed 2 lobes running N-S. By the way, this is at 35 deg south, one more aspect of how the Peak is a serious place to observe.
Off to the West in Antlia is 2997, a huge galaxy and not all that close at 35 mly. It was 8' wide in my scope at 126x. Face-on, wide bright core off center. Swirls galore. SkyAtlas companion calls it a smaller version of M101. And therewith, my friends, I finished page 6 of the Edmund's Mag 6 atlas. Everything I have left to find for the first time in that atlas is on page 7. Yes you guessed it, southern Virgo, south of M61, with a cluster of galaxies also to see in Coma. David, you asked, 22 objects in all still to see. Surrounded of course by dozens of bright galaxies in the same fields! Might just take a little while.
What a night. The double shadow transit of Io and Europa was fascinating, putting everything in 3D while the moons were occulting. After gazing up at the sky with hands in pockets for a while, for dessert I got to look at M3 and M5. We finished with the Sombrero in Blanchard's scope, with Venus riding high, and Lyra for crying out loud above the horizon.
(This was with Felix, a Celestron 11" f/4.5 Dobs with optics made by Discovery Telescopes, and very clean shiny mirrors they are. Was using a 22 Pan, 16mm UO Koenig, 10mm and 6mm Radians with a Lumicon OIII.)