2 Feb 2003, Looking at Lynx, Glimmers in a Sextant (17.5")

by Robert Leyland


I arrived at Grey Pine Flat, Lake Sonoma about 5:30pm to find the Ranger making his rounds, and about to close the "gate" for the night. We chatted for a bit, and he allowed me to stay late. Apparently they have had some troubles with vandalism, and are taking an extra cautious stance closing almost all the areas at sunset.

For the immediate future, if we want to use the primary sites at Lake Sonoma we will need someone to get there before 5:30pm (or sunset). I asked if we could call ahead, and he said they couldn't guarantee it, they only check the messages in the morning. If we miss the closing time, we can still use Skagg's Spring Lookout, which is a couple of miles up Stewarts Point Rd, but is really only suitable for a small number (4-5 tops) of observers.

An RV pulled in, and a nice couple ate their dinner overlooking the Lake. I showed them a few views in the early evening... mainly M42, Saturn and Jupiter. M42 in a 32mm EP showed some lovely coloring in the nebulosity, almost iridescent pale greens and red, with the bright blue baby stars in the trapezium.

ObserverRobert Leyland
Date2 Feb 2003
Time1830-1230 PDT (UT -8, or 0230-0830 3 Feb 2003 UT)
LocationLake Sonoma CA, 3843'N 12302'W Elev ~900 (Grey Pine Flat)
Weather5-11C Temp, 53-67% Humidity
SeeingLM 6+, transparency 10/10, steadiness 8/10, sporadic mild breezes
Equipment17.5" F5 Dob, Telrad + 9x50 finder scope, Pentax XL EPs

It's been over two months since my last logged session. When the weather cooperated (not often) other commitments didn't, so I've been suffering from APD (*1).

I did help out at a couple of elementary school star parties, showing off astronomy gems like M42, M31 and the gas giants, so I have not gone completely off the wagon. The Saturn/M1 conjunction got me out for a couple of short sessions also.

By 7pm the skies were wonderfully clear, albeit a touch soft, and Zodiacal light was quite prominent in the west, as a cone shaped glow tilted alongside the square of Pegasus.

Observing is a skill, and as with most skills requires practice. With a couple of months off, I was a little out of touch. It took me most of an hour to find my first three objects, but after that initial relearning period things began to hum along nicely.

(all NGC objects listed are Galaxies, unless otherwise noted)

LYNX

NGC 2537Bear paw galaxy. Just a short starhop form 21 Lynx past a wide double to a moderately bright circular glow. An adjacent star provides an excellent focus point and target for averted vision. An arc of brighter points shows on the NW side, and is much better with averted vision (at 160x). This is well worth checking out.
UGC 4051, UGC 4052While searching for NGC 2500, I stumbled across two very faint galaxies, from the position and looking in U2K (*2), I believe to be UGC 4051 and UGC 4052. A small circular galaxy with a stellar core, and an irregular arc shaped galaxy adjacent. Pretty cool, in a faint fuzzy way.
NGC 2500 showed as an amorphous dim blob at 100x, while averted vision shows a brightening area it looks to be a bit to the west of the the center of the galaxy halo. A pair of stars bracket the galaxy, and to the N is a rough horseshoe asterism.
NGC 2541 galaxy is oval a and very diffuse (100x), slightly brighter elongated core, perhaps a bar.
NGC 2552 harder to spot than 2541, definite dim blob territory. tow very faint pin prick points in the halo just offset from the center of the oval glow, but no discernable core.
NGC 2712 an easy star hop form 10 UMa (NSOG chart 19.6 (*3)), shows as a nice 3:1 oval galaxy with fading ends, and a point like core. Very good at 210x.
NGC 2776 a nice circular galaxy with a bright diffuse core, slightly offset towards an adjacent bright star. The halo looks to be a little bit flatter on the W side. The halo, and overall shape look best at about 100x, but the core came out better at 210x.
NGC 2798, 2799a pair of small faint galaxies with stellar cores and small haloes; surrounded by a bevy of stars below 36 LYN.
NGC 2782 a small circular galaxy with a point core at 100x, The core is more diffuse at 210x and the halo fades to nothing in a circle around the core. 2782 can be found in a triangle off 10 UMa.
NGC 2844a 3:2 elongated tiny smudge, two 8th mag stars form a triangle with the galaxy. At 100x it is easily lost next to the bright stars, but at 210x I can move the stars out of the FOV and better see the shape of the galaxy. Averted vision shows a pin prick core.
NGC 2793small diffuse oval glow, no core. Inside a triangle of two stars and a double star near Alpha LYN, beside a 6th mag field star.
NGC 2832easily seen galaxy amid a cluster of galaxies near Alpha LYN. NSOG has a photo of this group, and I was able to spot & identify most of the galaxies listed at 100x, thusly: 2826 easy; 2829 with averted vision; 2825 very easy; 2834 averted; 2827, 2828 averted; 2833 averted; 2839 direct but difficult. This is a nice challenging cluster.
NGC 2770 a nice 5:1 elongated smear. At 210x there were streaks along the galaxy, and a pair of stars adjacent are almost parallel. A very nice view, although I couldn't see the 'B' companion galaxy.
NGC 2683 a superb galaxy, edge on stretch out 6:1 with a bulge at the core. The best view was simply at 100x, although it took magnification well, and showed some mottling at 160x and some extinction on the NW end. A real treat, and a great way to end this survey of LYNX.

SEXTANS

At this time (about 10pm local), I shifted over to Sextans, as it had risen sufficiently to clear the horizon murk.

Steve Gottlieb had mentioned a challenging object, the Sextans B dwarf galaxy. A possible member of our local group of galaxies, and apparently the subject of much debate. The RASC 2003 (*4) handbook lists three galaxies in Sextans as possible local group members: Sextans A, B, and C. U2K lists two, Sextans A and Sextans B (aka UGC 5373), only U5373 is plotted in NSOG without observation notes. At the location of Sextans C, as described in RASC 2003, both U2K and NSOG show "Pal 3" a Palomar cataloged globular cluster. Thus armed with charts and notes I had a good look for Sextans B

Sextans BRA=10h00m00s Dec=+519'42" (between Regulus and Alpha SEX, star-hopped up from Alpha, using a chain of 7th mag stars with adjacent triangles of faint stars, and because this was a difficult object I got to know this star hop pattern quite well!)

Appeared as a large irregular, and very diffuse, mottled glow - real lumpy darkness stuff - there are hints of dark regions and dusty paths into the blob. Very low surface brightness, and nothing to really indicate a center.

I then started to survey other DSOs in Sextans, and came back to Sextans B around 11:30. By this time it was quite a bit higher, and somewhat easier to see. It doesn't seem like it will ever be an "easy" object though!

NGC 3166, 3169a very nice pair of galaxies N of Alpha SEX, and an easy star hop to find. Two circular "eyes" in a small cluster of "freckles" (stars). Very pretty and bright. Using averted vision I could see NGC 3165 a very small companion galaxy (see diagram 61.6 in NSOG). Also there seemed to be some concentric "ripples" in the halo of NGC 3169.
NGC 3156nearby the 3166 group, is small and slightly oval, perhaps 3:2, with a stellar core and easily seen near the base of a triangle of bright field stars.
NGC 3055with a number like this I had some hope that it would resemble the TO-3 case of the venerable power transistor (2N3055). It turns out to be small and roughly 2:1 oval, and only slightly diamond shaped. Averted vision shows a very faint stellar core, and three extremely faint adjacent field stars at 160x.
NGC 3023, 3018diffuse faint smudges next to a mag 9+ star. 3018 is larger and easier to spot, 3023 is very close to the star and hard to pick out against the star's glare. an easy starhop to find, as they are pointed to by a triangle of mag 7 and 8 stars near Alpha SEX.
NGC 3044very pretty edge on galaxy - a veritable streak in the sky - elongated 7:1 with some lineal features in the halo and a slight brightening near the center.
NGC 2967almost circular oval galaxy (maybe 6:5 ratio), no discernable core and a slightly mottled halo, basically a faint diffuse galaxy.
NGC 2990small, oval and slightly asymmetric, almost comet like, with a nice 10th mag star adjacent. (So that you can see that it doesn't move!)
NGC 2962near the center of a snake shaped asterism (off 2-Sex); a small faint 2;1 oval without a core; just a very slight brightening near the middle.
NGC 3115Spindle galaxy - really nice, it looks like a tilted spiral galaxy (25-30), with a lovely central bulge at the core. Averted vision shows some darkening features that might be lanes in the halo. Well worth visiting.
NGC 2978very faint, slightly oval, smudge between Gamma and 37 SEX. Companion galaxy NGC 2980, was a no show.
NGC 2974a very faint smudge, no core. two adjacent field stars give a little contrast to an otherwise unremarkable galaxy.

At this point the temperature had dropped to 6C and the humidity was climbing, so I called it a night. A great session after a long break.


NOTES:

  1. APD - Ancient Photon Deprivation - an ailment of amateur astronomers everywhere, exacerbated by long periods of cloudy weather around the new moon.

  2. U2K - Uranometria 2000 - Tirion, Rappaport, Remaklus, Willman-Bell Pub, 2nd Edition

  3. NSOG - Night Sky Observers Guide - Kepple and Sanner, Willman-Bell Pub.

  4. RASC 2003 - Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Handbook, 2003 Edition