Quick Observing Session April 30th, 2011

Well, the skies were clear and I wanted to go to a dark site but decided that the backyard was better. It has been a long time since I seriously went after any of the H400 from my backyard using the 14" but I decided to try it. Not to be this night. Too much light pollution and I was tired so I didn't stay up after 12:00a.m. when the skies and light pollution fade off. For that matter my SQM was 20.2 for most of the session. After tearing down, and putting up the equipment it was at 20.5, improving. Oh well. One other curse. The weather is clearing and tomorrow I go back to work! Go figure.

So after trying for some Herschel galaxies and just basically striking out, I decided to get going on a project I have had in mind for some time. I noticed that in checking the alignment of my intelliscope that the Messier galaxies were viewable. So I decided to sketch these galaxies using the new technique that I am working to develop some skill on, to capture what these galaxies look like under light pollution. Next dark sky trip next weekend, I will sketch them under some of the darkest skies in the United States. Then people who are in light pollution observing can examine the sketches, my notes and determine why observing from a dark site is so helpful. I tend to do this with three to five objects from each season. There won't be a ton of information on these objects like when I post up my Herschel 400 objects. One item though, NGC 5195, the companion to NGC 5194/Messier 51 is an Herschel object so I did technically get that object down.

Messier 65 & 66 in Leo.

Messier 65 was rather bright, bright inner core region though no nucleus was visible. Messier 66 was fainter and is just discernible in the sketch.

Messier 84 & 86

Messier 84 (I believe on the left) is brighter and has a brighter inner core area. Messier 86 was smaller and it also had a brighter inner core region, but not as stellar as Messier 84.

NGC 5194/Messier 51 & NGC 5195 (the companion).

Messier 51 had a bright core region but no stellar nucleus. A fainter halo was barely detectable. Someone who has experience looking at faint galaxies would notice the faint halo, while a newbie may not. No spiral structure was evident.

NGC 5195 was much smaller, also had some faint halo/diffusion with a stellar nucleus. No hint of the bridge could be seen and again, no other details.

My point is not that one should not observe in light polluted areas. For many, there is no option. I did that for the first two years of getting into this hobby and I believe, that it made me a better observer when I started going to dark sites. By learning to sketch and look for details in a LP zone, I gleaned skills that helped me to pull out whatever detail is there. Now at a dark site, these same skills serve me extremely well. So, when I sketch this anew at a dark site, it will be to show how location can really improve the amount of details one sees. I'll talk in detail then about some of these skills. Hope this helps or interests others. If you want to have your sketches included on these objects from similar SQM sites, please contact me and send me a link to your sketch and I'll upload for others to see what these objects look like for others in LP areas, and at a dark site. I really believe that this would be helpful for both newbies in the hobby, and those who may not be able to get to a dark site all that often. Best.