Crystal Clusters of the Celestial Charioteer

by Tom Campbell


January 7, 2003

ObserverTom Campbell
LocationIola, Kansas (Long: 95°24'W Lat: 37°55'N)
EquipmentDiscovery DHQ 8" dobsonian
Eyepieces1.25" Plössls - 25mm (49x), 15mm (81x), 10mm (122x), 6.5mm (188x), 4mm (305x)
Time9:15pm - 10:45pm CST (03:15-04:45 UT)
TransparencyMostly Clear (7/10)
SeeingModerately Stable (6/10)
WeatherTemperatures in the low 30s and upper 20s. There was a slight but cold breeze.

Observing Summary
AURIGANGC-1907, NGC-1931, NGC-2126, NGC-2281

Although there have been several clear nights in the last few weeks, I hadn't been able to get outside and observe for one reason or another. Mostly, it was due to snow on the ground. And by the time one snow melted and the ground dried out, the sky would either cloud up or decide to snow another couple of inches.

Tonight, however, I finally got my break. The ground was fairly dry, the sky was clear, and the crescent Moon was setting in the western sky. The air was still damp, meaning dew would be a problem, but it felt so good to get back under the stars, I didn't care.

Auriga, the Charioteer, is home to many fascinating deep-sky wonders. The three Messier clusters (M36, M37, and M38) get most of the glory, and the other delights seem to get left out. I had some Auriga open clusters left to observe on my Herschel list, so I thought I'd start there tonight.

NGC 2281AurigaOpen Cluster9:15pm CST
RA: 6h 48m 31sDec: 41° 5'Mag: 5.4
This is a nice, bright, and wide open cluster. The main part of the cluster is Y-shaped, with the base of the Y containing two lines of stars. A large oval surrounds the bottom tip of the Y, which makes the cluster resemble an arrow stuck in a target. The best view is at 49x, where a couple dozen stars are visible.
NGC 2126AurigaOpen Cluster9:25pm CST
Mel 39RA: 6h 2m 34sDec: +49° 52'Mag: 10.2
This open cluster is fairly faint and somewhat spread out. Its shape resembles a 30-60-90 triangle with a bright star near the right angle. It is enough brighter that it appears to be a foreground star rather than a member of the cluster. In all, about a dozen stars are seen. The best view is at 125x. Most of the stars are single or double, and lie along the triangle outline. There is a clump of stars right in the middle of the triangle, however.
NGC 1907AurigaOpen Cluster9:30pm CST
Mel 35RA: 5h 28m 5sDec: +35° 19'Mag: 8.2
This cluster is small and compact, but it is very rich. At 188x, it looks nice. There are two bright stars off to one side of the cluster. The main cluster itself is a little ball of stars, nearly round in shape. About 20 stars are visible, but it is packed enough to look even richer. I really like this one. At low power, the nearby M38 can be seen in the same field. This is similar looking to the clusters M35 and NGC 2158 in Gemini.
NGC 1931AurigaCluster+Nebula9:40pm CST
CR 68RA: 5h 31m 24sDec: +34° 15'Mag: 10.1
This cluster is off of M36, but not as nearby as NGC 1907 is to M38. This cluster is an outline of stars that resemble a crescent Moon. One of the stars is bright and fuzzy, and is in fact a nebula. No details could be seen in the nebulosity. The best view is at 81x.

The dew was starting to become a major annoyance. But before calling it quits, I took a quick peek at some of my favorites. It was neat to be able to see Saturn and M1 in the same low-power field of view. Saturn was glaringly bright compared to M1, but the Crab Nebula held its own and was plainly visible.

M 78OrionBright Nebula10:30pm CST
NGC 2068RA: 5h 46m 45sDec: +0° 3'Mag:
The last time I logged M78, it was really low on the horizon. Now that it was higher, I thought I'd take another look. At 81x, it appears as a wide double star system with some background nebulosity. The two sides of the nebula closest to the stars are squared off.

The dew was getting much worse now. The eyepieces would fog up almost the second I cleaned them. I decided to call it a night.