Into the Lion's Den

by Tom Campbell


May 3, 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), 6mm (203x), 4mm (305x)
Time10:00pm - 11:30pm CST (04:00-05:30 UT)
TransparencyVery Clear (9/10)
SeeingStable (8/10)
WeatherTemperatures in the lower 60s. There was little or no breeze.

Observing Summary
LEONGC-3226/7, NGC-3377, NGC-3412, NGC-3489, NGC-3607, NGC-3608, NGC-3640, NGC-3810

When I came home at 9:30 tonight, the sky was pristine. Despite the crescent Moon in the west, the sky looked darker than it had for a long time. Maybe a streetlight had burned out somewhere nearby, or perhaps a tree finally leafed out enough to hide it from view. At any rate, despite the late hour, I hauled out my equipment.

After only cooling down my telescope for a few minutes, I swung it over to M51. Man, that was a lot brighter than I'd seen it recently. Just for a test, I quickly pointed to M101. I can rarely see this galaxy from my backyard. Sure enough, tonight it was there, appearing as a large, faint glow. I decided to dig out my Herschel 400 list, and dig out a few galaxies while I could. Leo was high overhead, so I started there.

NGC 3607LeoElliptical Galaxy10:05pm CDT
RA: 11h 16m 55sDec: +18° 03'Mag: 9.9

This was a fairly bright elliptical galaxy near the hindquarters of Leo. The shape was difficult to determine, but the core appeared stellar. Several nearby field stars were about the same magnitude as the core. The halo was easily seen with averted vision, but difficult with direct vision. The best view was at 203x. NGC-3608 was in the same field.

NGC 3608LeoElliptical Galaxy10:05pm CDT
RA: 11h 16m 59sDec: +18° 09'Mag: 10.7

This elliptical galaxy was in the same field as NGC 3607, but it was fainter. The core was stellar, but faint. The nebulous halo could only be seen with averted vision. It was oriented in a slightly different direction than NGC 3607. The best view was at 203x.

NGC 3344Leo MinorSpiral Galaxy10:25pm CDT
RA: 10h 43m 31sDec: +24° 55'Mag: 10.5

This face-on spiral showed a stellar core. A bright field star was superimposed on the outer edge of the galactic disk, and gave this galaxy a strange appearance. To me, it looked more like a comet breaking up than a galaxy. The best view was at 122x, but its overall shape was difficult to determine.

NGC 3226/7LeoInteracting Galaxies10:45pm CDT
RA: 10h 23m 27sDec: +19° 54'Mag: 10.3

These galaxies were difficult to detect in my telescope, but with averted vision, they appeared as a dark gray exclamation point. With averted vision, the core of NGC 3226 appeared stellar, while the other galaxy was a bit brighter near the middle. The best view was as 81x.

NGC 3412LeoLenticular Galaxy10:55pm CDT
RA: 10h 50m 53sDec: +13° 25'Mag: 11.5

This galaxy showed a stellar core, best seen with averted vision. The galaxy was faint and appeared somewhat round. The best view was at 81x.

NGC 3377LeoElliptical Galaxy11:00pm CDT
RA: 10h 47m 42sDec: +13° 59'Mag: 11.2

This galaxy was faint, with a stellar core. It was slightly elongated, but no details were visible. The halo could barely be seen with averted vision. The best view was at 81x.

NGC 3489LeoLenticular Galaxy11:05pm CDT
RA: 11h 00m 18sDec: +13° 54'Mag: 11.1

This galaxy showed a fairly bright, stellar core which could be seen with direct vision. The outer halo was faint, and appeared spherical. The best view was at 81x.

NGC 3810LeoSpiral Galaxy11:15pm CDT
RA: 11h 40m 59sDec: +11° 28'Mag: 11.4

This galaxy was real faint. It showed up best at 81x, appearing slightly elongated. With averted vision, the core almost became stellar, but not quite; rather it just brightened significantly.

NGC 3640LeoElliptical Galaxy11:20pm CDT
RA: 11h 21m 07sDec: +03° 14'Mag: 11.4

This galaxy was small and fairly faint. At 81x, it appeared almost spherical, with a stellar core. It reminded me more of a faint globular cluster than a galaxy.

I had recently acquired one of the new Orion Expanse 6mm eyepieces, and I was anxious to try it out. I had hoped that the wide field and moderately high magnification would offer good views of nebulae and globular clusters. M13 was climbing higher, so I aimed the telescope. At low power (49x), several stars were resolved. I switched to the Expanse (203x) and ... WOW! The view was incredible.

I already had a 6.5mm eyepiece, but it had little eye relief and a small field, and I had to adjust the telescope every few seconds to keep objects in sight. Now, the high-power view of M13 just seemed to hang there, allowing me to soak it in completely. It gave my eyes enough time to concentrate on details before having to move the telescope, just as I had hoped. The eyepiece wasn't perfect; it did show some field curvature at the outer edges, but at first light, I'd say it was definitely worth the money.