Observing from the Cook Islands - Nov. 2003

by Bob Czerwinski


In my opinion, those folk with full Southern Hemisphere views truly have it over those of us who can, at best, watch Canopus just graze the southern horizon.

Traveling on business, I recently spent some time on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. If you ever head to the Southern Hemisphere, even if it's just a very short trip, by all means take binoculars with you. With me this trip were my Orion 8x42's and my Celestron 9x63's. I also brought along a tripod ... which made all the difference in the world. The one thing I'd forgotten to toss into my suitcase was a red observing light. A borrowed white-light flashlight, even when stopped-down, resulted in the usual dark adaptation problems.

Although rain tends to follow me everywhere I travel, I was actually able to spend a couple of bino-only nights under relatively clear skies. A few months back, observing from Bolivia, Bob Jardine noted the fun he had running through the Astronomical League's Southern Skies Binocular Club list. I spent two good nights (and a portion of a third) on Rarotonga running through this list, eventually hitting 54 of the AL's 73 objects. While the AL folk note that only 7x50 binos are needed to observe all of the listed items, there were several objects near the SW and SE horizons where I definitely needed the 9x63 binos for a positive identification. Had the objects been higher up, yes, 7x50's would certainly have done the trick.

You'll find my bino observations at the *bottom* of this OR.

Telescopic Observations

The evening of Friday, 11/21/03, presented a great observing opportunity when I was introduced to another amateur astronomer, Gregory, a gent with an 8-inch Newtonian ... and a red LED light as well. Gregory moves (back) to New Zealand around Christmastime, so my Clear Skies/No Moon timing couldn't have been better.

ObserverBob Czerwinski
DateNovember 21, 2003
Observing Time8:30pm to 4:30am Local Time (UT -10, or 0630-1430 22 Nov 2003 UT)
LocationRarotonga, The Cook Islands: 21S 159W, El. ~50-feet
MoonNone. Approaching New Moon (11/23) -- Phase ~5%
Equipment8" f/6 Newtonian (FL 1220mm) on a Dobsonian mount; Telrad
Eyepieces1.25" Plossl: 25mm (49x), 10mm (122x), 6.5mm (188x); 2x Barlow
FiltersA 1.25" no-name nebula filter. I started calling the-filter-with-no-name the Clint Eastwood filter, or just the Clint filter for short.
Sky ConditionsZenith LM not recorded; average transparency 8~9/10; average seeing 9/10.
Temp/R.H.Estimated 70~72F all night. R.H. not measured/recorded.
CommentsMy first telescopic observations from the Cook Islands.

I was invited by Gregory and his wife to spend a few hours "enjoying the southern sky," and did just that -- for eight glorious hours. Gregory's 'scope was an 8-inch f/6 homebrew sonotube Newt, with both primary and secondary recovered from a damaged Discovery telescope. Gregory, who has a 22-inch in storage in New Zealand, was very familiar with the southern hemisphere showcase items, so we really made quite a night of it.

This also was the night of the Super Bowl of Rugby - The Rugby World Cup 2003, with Australia and England playing the final match for the championship. The match started at 11:00pm local time, so while the rest of the island whooped it up (England eventually won the match, 20-17, in the final minute of extra time), we had the skies to ourselves.

My first view of the evening was actually Orion's Trapezium, just to check the seeing. The E & F stars were easy and steady at 188x; the seeing was very good. The optics on the 'scope were excellent, collimation right on the money. Clouds would pass through various areas of the sky from time to time, but we experienced no rain at all and nothing interfered with the observing. Looking to the north, however, everything just seemed so ... wrong! I always have a difficult time watching Orion stand on his head.

SSOs...

Gregory had a thing for comets, so off we went to find a couple of them...

C/2003 T3 (Tabur)I had a hard time believing we were beginning a night of southern sky observing with a shallow-sky object, but that's what we did. T3 was somewhat tough to spot, just inside Microscopium on the border of Telescopium, Indus and Sagittarius. 3-deg. from 3rd mag Alpha Indi, but only 15-arcmins from 5th mag Nu Microscopi. A 12th magnitude object; barely there. Never revisited, so I don't know how fast it was moving.
C/2001 Q4 (NEAT)In the southern portion of Hydrus, Q4 was virtually due south, about 30-degrees above the southern horizon, just under a degree from 5th mag Mu Hydri. Brighter than C/2003 T3, maybe 11th mag. Small core, no tail. The coolest thing about this comet (to me) was its position in declination: About -80-deg. As with T3, never revisited, so I don't know how fast it was traversing Hydrus.
C/2002 T7 (LINEAR)I wasn't going to list this comet, but Gregory was really interested in trying to spot this item. We located T7 twice (first me, then Gregory) in Perseus without any difficulty, the two sitings about an hour and a half apart. Probably somewhere between 9th and 10th magnitude, moving at about 2-arcmins/hour.

On to the Very Good Stuff: DSOs...

When Gregory asked me what I wanted to see, I basically said I wanted to bag as many southern-sky objects as I could in the time allotted. Gregory just laughed, said he understood, but still mentioned something about quality versus quantity. Still, he was obviously in a position to let me have a go at it. Gregory had some great southern sky lists, finder charts, Uranometria, etc., so I knew I was in good shape.

Listed below are most of my telescopic observations, probably 80-percent of them. Yes, I still have some notes to clean up. Be warned: Most of these observations were just of the "slam, bam..." variety, and my notes reflect such. But with limited time available, well, you just have to do what you just have to do. Although the listing below doesn't reflect the observing order, looking to the south, I primarily worked from west to east.

*Dorado*

Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) / NGC 1903This dwarf galaxy in Dorado is absolutely magnificent in in binos, but a wonder to cruise with a nice 'scope. So much to see! The LMC contains bright HII regions and other diffuse nebula, planetary nebula, open clusters, globs, etc., and I logged quite a number of NGC items here. N*ked-eye, both the LMC and SMC look like portions of the Milky Way that have somehow drifted away.
30 Dor / NGC 2070 (The Tarantula Nebula)M42, move over! This is a gigantic H-II region in Dor, easily visible to the n*ked-eye. Incredible dark lanes swirl through the nebula, with a rich cluster of stars in the center. Magnificent to behold.
NGC 2074, 2085-2086, 2078Three small side-by-side swaths of nebula in Dorado, definitely helped by the Clint filter, associated with an OC.
NGC 1966A fairly bright patch of nebulosity in Dorado associated with an OC.
NGC 1929Another Dorado cluster/nebula combo.
NGC 1763A large, bright nebulous/OC region in Dorado. Depending on whom you believe, there were either two or three separate nebulous patches to be seen. (I suspected a divide between two of them, but Gregory didn't see it that way.)
NGC 154910th mag galaxy in Dorado. Small and round.
NGC 155311th mag galaxy in Dorado. Slight oval shape.
NGC 15669.5 mag galaxy in Dorado. Staring at the galaxy, slight extensions were barely detectable. Gregory said these were spiral arms, quite distinctive in his 22".
NGC 161710.5 mag galaxy in Dorado. Small and oval.
NGC 167210th mag galaxy in Dorado. Relatively bright, ovalish, distinct core.
NGC 1763A large swath of nebulosity in Dorado. At least three separate patches of nebula here, perhaps a fourth (as suggested by Gregory), in an open cluster.
NGC 1783Listed as an 11th mag OC in Dorado, but this sure looks like a glob to me. Must be a very young cluster.
NGC 1818I'd have sworn this was a Dorado glob, not an OC! Well, then it must just be a very, very young OC, one that hasn't spread yet. Guess I'd need to know the age of the stars. Still...
NGC 1866Another Dorado OC masquerading as a glob. Very tightly concentrated.
NGC 2214An 11th mag Dorado OC, again very concentrated, resembling a glob.

*Tucana*

Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) / NGC 292In Tuc, a magnificent object for bino observing. Cool to cruise! Open clusters, diffuse nebula, supernova remnants, planetary nebula ... and an associated NGC globular cluster, NGC 121. As with the LMC, quite a few NGC items logged in and around this irregular dwarf.
47 Tucanae / NGC 104Woohoo!! A very conspicuous n*ked-eye Tuc globular. Absolutely spectacular! Makes M13 look like a globular wannabe!
NGC 121A small 11th mag. Tuc globular, which I was told was actually associated with the SMC. (Is there any other NGC globular so associated?) I couldn't resolve any of the stars, but it was easy to find.
Kron 3No, not a television station designation, but an SMC globular. This glob was about the same size as NGC 121, and I would have missed it if Gregory hadn't mentioned it and produced a finder chart. (I also tried for nearby Kron 7, but I couldn't locate it.) Like NGC 121, Gregory thought this item was actually associated with the SMC, not with the Milky Way. As with NGC 121, I couldn't resolve any of the stars.
Lindsay 1This SMC glob wasn't as tough to spot in the 8" as I though it might be, although I required a detailed finder chart to locate it. Slightly larger than NGC 121, but with no significant brightening as I looked toward the center. Just a uniform patch of light.
NGC 152This small Tuc glob was similar to Kron 3. No central brightening that I could detect.
NGC 346A relatively bright nebulous region in Tuc with what appears to be an open cluster. First noted in the binos.
NGC 371A bright nebulous region in the SMC. Like NGC 346, first noted in the binos.
NGC 362A nice bright Tuc globular, definitely a showcase item.
NGC 248All I could detect (at approx. RA 0h 45m, Dec -73d) was what appeared to be the core of a possible Tuc OC. When I put the Clint filter on this item, I detected a slight haze, so there's definitely a nebula component here.
NGC 176A small, compact open cluster in Tuc.
NGC 220/222/231Three small Tuc OC's in the same field of view. 220 is the easiest to see, 222 more difficult and 231, well, if the finder chart hadn't identified it, and if I hadn't spent a few minutes convincing myself it was there, I'd have gone my merry way.
NGC 242Another small Tuc OC in the same field as 220/222/231, but with more of a "central core" component.
NGC 265A small Tuc glob ... and a nice change from the OC's I'd been chasing.
NGC 269A small Tuc glob, right at the edge of detection. Without a finder chart, I'd have missed it.
NGC 256A small, compact Tuc OC with a "V" shape to it. A slight shimmering, but still best at 288x.
NGC 267I couldn't truly distinguish this Tuc OC from the SMC background, and finally gave up. If it's there, I couldn't confirm it in the 8", not even with averted imagination. (Gregory said it was very distinctive in his 22".) *However*, with the Clint filter in place, there was definitely some nebulosity present, so I knew I was in the right place. Gregory confirmed.
NGC 456/460/465A group of Tuc open clusters with 460 in the middle. (I was pretty OC'd out at this point in time, ready to head from the SMC to the LMC, or just hunt some southern galaxies, so I didn't pop in the Clint filter to see if anything else might show up.)

*Horologium*

NGC 12618th mag. glob in Horologium. Easy to spot.
NGC 151211th mag galaxy in Horologium. Very faint and very small. Slight elongation ... I think.

*Eridanus*

NGC 143310th mag galaxy in Eridanus. Elongated, bright core.
NGC 12918.5 mag galaxy in Eridanus. Round with a bright core.

*Musca*

NGC 4372A large'ish glob in Musca. Relatively easy to resolve in the 8".
NGC 4833A 7th mag small glob in Musca, very compact, pretty bright. Some resolution of stars in the 8", but with difficulty.
NGC 5189A 10th mag planetary in Musca. Curved appearance. Stare long enough, and it looks like an "S." The Clint filter really helped.

*Crux*

NGC 4755 (Jewell Box Cluster)This beautiful Crux cluster is densely packed with stars of varying colors. One slow look around and you definitely see where the name comes from.

*Pavo*

NGC 6744A 9th mag. galaxy in Pav. Tough to spot as it was only about 15-deg. above the SW horizon. All I could tell was that it was fairly large, round'ish, with a distinctive core.
NGC 6752Although I had it on my observing list, I accidentally came across this nice Pav glob when looking for 6744; I'd put the Telrad on the "wrong side" of 4th mag. Lambda Pavonis. As with 6744, only about 15-deg. above the SSW horizon. Would have been a very nice sight higher up!

*Reticulum*

NGC 13138th mag galaxy in Reticulum. Easy to locate; looked "lumpy."

*Carina*

NGC 2808A bright, compact glob in Carina. Spotted in the binos. Definite resolution of stars with the 8".
Mel 105Another OC in Carina trying to mimic a glob.
NGC 3372 (Eta Carinae/Keyhole Nebula)Wow! Even in an 8" 'scope, there's a lot in this area of Carina to explore. Light and dark areas abound. Wish I'd had more time... and more aperture.
IC 2602The Southern Pleiades, quite beautiful, in Carina. Easy in binos, but also an averted vision n*ked-eye object.
Mel 101A Carina OC, in the same field as IC 2602, but much smaller and fainter. Spotted in binos.
NGC 3114An OC in Carina. Okay in binos, but very nice with the 8" with a low, wide-field view.
NGC 3532A very rich OC in Carina. Very nice. Also a n*ked-eye object. Spotted in binos, too. A dark'ish lane cuts into the northern part of the cluster.

*Vela*

NGC 2972A 10th mag OC in Vela. Small, not many stars.
Eight-Burst Nebula / NGC 3132A nice bright Vel planetary, sort of egg shaped.

*Centaurus*

NGC 3960A relatively bright 9th mag Centaurus OC.
NGC 3766An OC in Centaurus, first spotted with binos. Bright and compact. Enjoyable to observe.
NGC 5662An OC in Centaurus, spotted in binos.
NGC 4945A 9th mag edge-on galaxy in Centaurus. Very cool. 11th mag
NGC 4976very small and round, just off to the side. Gregory suspected mag 13.0 NGC 4945A in the field, but I couldn't see it.
NGC 4976Spotted this Centaurus galaxy in the same field as 4945. Small and round, 11th mag.
NGC 5286A small but nice glob in Centaurus. Relatively bright, pretty condensed. Some stars resolved in the 8".
NGC 5617An OC in Centaurus. Pretty large, pretty rich, but scattered.

My last two showcase items for the night were two items many of us have picked up from Lake San Antonio, NGC 5128 and 5139:

Centarus A / NGC 5128A Centaurus galaxy, round'ish in appearance, with the dark lane fairly obvious. Needed more aperture.
Omega Centauri / NGC 5139(What a way to end the observing session!) In Centaurus, the Grandpappy of all globs. Although only 20-deg. or so above the horizon, this immense globular cluster was still an incredible sight to behold!

I certainly wish this night could have gone on, but I needed a few hours of sleep before heading back to the job front. This certainly was a night I'll never forget!

Binocular Observations

Mounted on a tripod, most of my "focused" binocular observing was conducted with my Celestron 9x63 Ultima. I often used the 8x42 for sweeping, and then turned to the 9x63 for the detailed observations. Never before have I done as much bino observing as I did during this trip. For OC's Harvard 5 & 6, I first identified them in Gregory's 8" 'scope ... or I'd have missed them. I couldn't spot either during my two bino-only nights.

For reference, before leaving California, I'd printed out a number of charts. Most were from MegaStar, but I also pulled down a number of charts from the web. Don't leave home without 'em!

Pulled from the AL's Southern Skies Binocular Club Object List (Object, Type, Constellation), here are the AL items I logged from Rarotonga:

NGC 6352GbClAraIn a pretty rich area. Low to the SW, it took a couple of minutes to single out this item.
NGC 6362GbClAraRelatively easy to find. The AL listing has it at mag 10.7; this has got to be wrong. It's probably no dimmer than mag 8 .. and I know I had the right object.
NGC 6397GbClAraNice in binos. Forms a nice triangle with two bright stars.
NGC 6541GbClCrASmall, but relatively bright.
NGC 6584GbClTelA small round glow.
NGC 6752GbClPavVery large; wonderful in binos.
NGC 104 GbClTucVery bright. Extended glow.
SMC GlxyTucWow! Even in binos, this is an amazing object to scan, especially with the 9x63's.
NGC 362 GbClTucBright and fuzzy. SMC in the background.
NGC 1261GbClHorSmall glob, pretty bright, near a 9th mag star.
NGC 1851GbClColPretty far north (-40d ). Small but relatively bright.
LMC GlxyDorAwesome!! Truly amazing! So much to see here!
NGC 2070BNebDorHuge! Pretty nice in binos -- considering it's 200kly away!
NGC 2451OpClPupBroad OC. I thought this was better in binos than with the 8" 'scope. Bright white stars in cluster contrast with a bright red foreground star. Same field with 2477.
NGC 2477OpClPupWith zeta Puppis. Condensed and bright.
NGC 2516OpClCarNice OC, easily resolved. Easy n*ked-eye, too.
NGC 2547OpClVelAnother n*ked-eye object. Large and unconcentrated.
NGC 2546OpClPupNice in binos. Large, not too many stars. Dimmer than 2547 (seen first).
NGC 2627OpClPyxSmall and dim.
IC 2391 OpClVelN*ked-eye OC. Loose group, not many stars.
IC 2395 OpClVelSmall OC. Maybe 15~20 stars. Not bad for a small cluster.
NGC 2659OpClVelVery small OC.
NGC 2670OpClVelNice, small patch of light. 30'ish stars or so.
NGC 2808GbClCarSeen n*ked-eye. Nice in binos. Pretty bright, extended.
IC 2488 OpClVelDifficult to resolve, more of a grainy patch of light.
NGC 2910OpClVelSmall bright group.
NGC 2925OpClVelIrregular patch of light with a double-star barely visible.
NGC 3114OpClCarLarge and scattered. Fairly bright stars, rich background.
NGC 3201GbClVelA nice glob, unresolved in the binos. Bright core.
NGC 3228OpClVelPretty small, relatively bright. Nice in binos.
NGC 3293OpClCarBright, compact, no resolution of stars.
Mel 101 OpClCarFaint, maybe 30'ish stars.
IC 2602 OpClCarTheta Car, the Southern Pleiades. Very nice, but doesn't compare with the Northern hemisphere's version. Detected n*ked-eye.
NGC 3372BNebCarN*ked-eye. Pretty large in the binos (a degree or more), brighter in the middle. A dozen or so stars in the nebula, and a dark "V" lane. This object screams for aperture.
NGC 3532OpClCarRelatively bright, large and dense. One of the better OC's.
IC 2714 OpClCarFairly large. Not a bad bino object.
Mel 105 OpClCarSmall compact group. OK for binos.
NGC 3766OpClCenBright and compact, but only a few stars resolved in the binos. Much nicer in the 8".
NGC 4052OpClCruSmall, fairly dense.
NGC 4103OpClCruSmall, 25'ish stars or so.
NGC 4337OpClCruPretty small; tough to actually call this one cluster.
NGC 4349OpClCruVery diffuse, tough to see. Couldn't resolve any of the stars.
H 5OpClCruI first had to locate Harvard 5 in the 8". Not impressive. Only a few stars here. Would have missed it without the 8" first pointing the way.
NGC 4463OpClMusVery small OC, right on the Musca-Crux border, in an area of dark nebula.
H 6OpClMusVery tough to spot. As with Harvard 5, I had to use the 8" to first locate this OC. How this ever made the list is beyond me.
NGC 4609OpClCruThe Coal Sack (or is that Coalsack?) Cluster. Pretty easy to find. 30~40 stars.
Coal SackDkNbCruTough to spot n*ked-eye, but it's there. A dark item in the milky Way, somewhat oval'ish (I thought) in shape. Nice in the 9x63s.
NGC 4755OpClCruThe Jewel Box. A n*ked-eye object. Much better in the 8"!!
NGC 4815OpClMusA hazy pinpoint. Looks more like a glob.
NGC 4833GbClMusSmall and compact.
NGC 4852OpClCenA mottled patch of light, relatively bright.
NGC 5128GlxyCenCentaurus A. A fuzzy blob in the binos; I couldn't detect the dark lane.
NGC 5139GbClCenAbsolutely spectacular in binos!
NGC 5286GbClCenResembles a hazy star.

Well, I just hope all my scratch-sheet observing notes matched up with the right objects! I logged another dozen or so non-Club items, but nothing spectacular.

In addition...

CruxThe Southern Cross is always magical to view. Just something about it... Wonderful to scan with binos!

The "False Cross": A n*ked-eye asterism on the border of Vela and Carina. All 2nd mag stars. Mimics Crux.

Whew!!!