Blue Canyon 2/22/03

by Jane E. Smith

February 22, 2003
Blue Canyon
18" GOTO Starmaster
Jane Smith

It was back to Blue Canyon last night for "Round 2" with my new 18". Joining the outing were Brian Zehring, Gregg Blandin, Alvin Huey, Shneor Sherman, and Marsha Robinson. Temps were colder, reaching a chilly 27 degrees, but dew was nowhere near the problem it had been the night before. At one point I recall Marsha saying it had dropped to 50%, having started out at a whopping 87%. I noticed a slight breeze pick up around 8:30pm that may have helped dry things out a bit.

Driving up the mountain, my hopes were high for better sky conditions than the previous night, but alas it was not to be. Seeing at 7/10 was slightly better, but never seemed to improve as the night wore on. The real killer was the transparency, which started at a dismal 6/10 and went down from there. Contrast was so poor that objects which should have popped out immediately had to be dug out with a shovel, if at all. I suspect the thin clouds approaching from the west at sunset may have been the culprit. Even so, there was lots to see so I dove in with vigor.

The evening began with Hickson 22 in Eridanus (that's pronounced "eh-RID-an-us", for those duped into think otherwise by the bearded TAC-SAC troublemaker). Component "a" (NGC 1199) was easy at mag 12.2, a large bright round disk with a prominent center. Component "b" was more difficult at mag. 14.5, very intermittent with averted vision, elongated, but popping into view fairly often. Component "c" was the toughest, visible with averted vision about 1/4 of the time, very small faint blur. Components "d" and "e" were not noted. BTW, Hickson 22 was the dimmest object I found all evening. Everything else, despite a healthy averted imagination, was mag 14 or higher.

Next was Hickson 37 in Cancer. I entered NGC 2783 on the Sky Commander, punched the button, and up popped the message "no object in database". Hummm. that was odd! I then tried component "b"s designation, UGC4856. Again the same message. Clearly GOTO was having a "senior moment". Undeterred, I threw the drive levers, pulled out my Sky Atlas 2000, and prepared to do it the old-fashioned way. ALAS... no NGC 2783 in Sky Map Pro 2000 either. Now I was truly puzzled. I made a note to check this out when I got home, then moved on to Hickson 51 in Leo.

I found Hickson 51's star field with little ado, but had to get the "shovel" out for component "a", NGC3651 at mag 13.9. I finally located it, but it was only intermittently visible as the seeing came and went. The seeing finally went for good and didn't come back, so I decided to bag hunting for Hicksons and move on to brighter objects.

My first bright object was NGC 2237, the Rosette Nebula in Monoceros, a huge emission nebula which is impossible to miss, even with terrible transparency. It was enormous, having a mottled appearance, and showing a sparse but pretty open cluster at the center. I made a note to try this in the TV-85 when I get it setup.

I then moved to Canes Venatici and spent some time looking at galaxies and galaxy groups. First was NGC 4111, a stunning edge-on with a bright oval core, and a very elongated dust lane. Then NGC 4490, large, bright, and elongated, forming a pretty image with smaller bright spiral NGC 4485. Next, a group of five galaxies, NGC 5353, NGC 5350, NGC 5355, NGC 5354, and NGC 5858, all visible but with NGC 5858 at mag. 13.8 only visible intermittently with averted vision. Finally NGC5351, faint and elongated. At this point Shneor yelled he had Copeland's Septet in his EP and I couldn't resist the temptation to try one more Hickson.

Shoulda stuck by my guns... I didn't have any better luck with Hickson 57, Copeland's Septet, than I did with the others. Component "a", NGC 3753 at mag 14.0, was just barely visible. It was fairly large, but incredibly faint. As I sat looking at the star field, I finally realized what Mark Wagner means by the term "lumpy darkness". A number of areas were ever so slightly less dark that the background indicating that there was lots more there, but just beyond my reach. This should be a fascinating object under a super good sky. At this point I was finally convinced to leave the Hickson list to a better night.

I moved on to Thor's Helmet, NGC 2359, after seeing in first in Gregg's 25" (gorgeous image) and next in Brian's 30" (much more detail). When I tried it in my 18" Brian loaned me his 2" Nagler 20mm so I could use my OIII filter. The "helmet" showed well in my "dinky" scope, but the detail paled in comparison to what I'd seen in the "big guns". I need to get my filterslide installed so I can use my OIII with 1 1/4" EPs.

Then came M104, The Sombrero Galaxy in Virgo. This is always a pretty galaxy, long dust lane with an incredibly bright round core. This was a favorite in my 12.5" so it was easy to see the difference an additional 5.5 inches of aperture makes.

Finally came the "show piece" image of the night... NGC 4565, a breathtaking, very long needle-like galaxy in Coma Berinices. The dust lane stretched the entire field of the 13mm Nagler with an elongated core showing brightly. Beautiful object! Thanks to Shneor for the suggestion.

Last of the evening was a jaunt down Markarian's Chain. I left the identification of the individual components to another night, and I just enjoyed the trip. Galaxy after galaxy. I can only imagine how it will look under a really good sky. Thanks again to Shneor for showing me the way.

I packed it in about 20 minutes before the moon made it's appearance. Another great night.