Solar Observation and Sketch February 21st, 2016

     Well, with my schedule and the weather, I had an hour or so today and I took out my Lunt LS-35 Hydrogen Alpha (Solar) Scope for a view of Sol, our nearest star of course. First, I haven't solar sketched in some time and I am happy with all the details save the prominence at 3:00 on the sketch. Oh well, live and learn.  Prominences were big today and seemed to be in clusters of two or three.  The one between 12:00 o'clock and 1:00 o'clock was fading during my observation but it almost looked like it had looped.  So here is the sketch.

Again, very happy with the details minus the one just above 3:00 o'clock. I should have refined it but overall, I left it as this is what I saw in the Lunt LS35 with a 10mm Pentax XW.  Conditions were clear, mild at 55 degrees F and time was 4:00pm MST.  I look forward to doing more solar sketches and improving on them. They are fun to  do!


Review of Planetary Nebula and How to Observe Them

     When I first started observing, the very first object I was able to star hop to and hunt down were the galaxies Messier 81 and Messier 82.  I can remember using a 8 inch dob and finally figuring out that my star hop was not working because I need to invert my map to what I was seeing. Once I got that down, the orientation came into being and I successfully star hoped to the pair of galaxies.  My next star hop was to Messier 108. This took some time but I was able to secure it. From here I decided to hop over to Messier 97 and take a look at what a planetary nebula looked like. I found Messier 97, and I became hooked. Galaxies I loved, a planetary nebula I fell in love with.  This night began a long, observing love affair with Planetary Nebula.  I love galaxies, I enjoy nebula, I like open clusters but I really enjoy chasing down and observing Planetary Nebula.  I find these objects fascinating as they show what the future destiny is for our Sun as it grows into a Red Giant as the hydrogen in it runs out, then the luminosity increases as helium is burned up resulting in a helium flash where the outward envelope enlarges again. This leads to the separation of outer envelope which is separated from an estimated four thermal pulses. The mass of the Sun will be half of what it currently is, condensed into an object the size of the Earth.

These objects can vary from being very easy to observe, to small and complex and hard to identify the details and shapes in these wonderful objects.  There are a wide variety of these objects to observe and larger aperture can truly help on some, while smaller aperture can be very effective for others of these objects. There use to be a wonderful site called Seasonal Planetary Nebula that had Planetary Nebula or PN by season. Unfortunately that site is no longer available though I do have that list saved in four Excel sheets for which I am grateful.

So when I discovered that Martin Griffiths in 2012 had published a book called Planetary Nebulae and How to Observe them, I had to purchase the book.  The book arrived from Amazon and I have had the opportunity to go through the book.  The book begins by giving a quick history of PN's and their observational history and why we observe them as we do.  This is followed by a section on how to observe PN's and what equipment is best, including telescopes, filters, observing techniques etc.  Following this comes a quick chapter on photographing PN's that is quick and resourceful, though not too in depth. The various PN catalogs is next as the author goes through the various catalogs that have PN's in them.  Of all the chapters in these sections I enjoyed the quick history of PN's and then the catalog of PN's was very helpful.

The next section is PN's by constellation. This section provides some of the major PN's by each constellation, with specifics and a finderchart, both a general and a more detail one. This is probably the most useful section of the book as it provides the observer actual PN's to go after.  Some are easy, some are moderately hard and a few are more challenging.  My only criticism of the book are two. One, the section of equipment is needing some updating and more detail on how higher magnification can and should be used to get details out of objects and what eyepieces can be used to do this.  My other criticism is that I would want more information on more PN's and perhaps list which season each constellation is best to observe in. This would be more helpful for beginners to intermediate amateurs.

So if your looking for a general book on observing PN's with some basic and good targets to go after, I do recommend this book.  Cost is about $40 with shipping.


Observing and Sketches from February 4th, 2016; Nebula and Galaxies in Messier 44

     This winter has been a disappointment to me in terms of astronomy. I've done the best I can and I have taken up a new winter hobby that I am thoroughly enjoying, snowshoeing!  I enjoy the solitude, the quiet and exercise that snowshoeing provides.


Okay, a little diversion that is not astronomy related, but does show that this winter has been filled with snow and clouds, limiting observing time. Winter is one of, if not my favorite observing season because of the diversity of objects in the sky.  Alas, unless the next two months show improvement in the weather, winter observing will be something where I have gotten out the least in my career (minus when I was doing my advance degrees).

I was able to get out on the night of February 4th, 2016.  The sky had been clear and so I got home and loaded up the Outback. I then drove out to Forest Road 006 and since the temperature was still below freezing, the snow on the road was mainly frozen. It took an extra thirty-five minutes for me to get out to the observing spot, as I was careful, more careful then when the road is only wet or dry, getting out there. On that drive there is a spot on the main gravel road where you dip down right after a cattle guard. It has gotten really rocky there and I have complained about that in the past. Not this night.  The snow was deeper here as there had been no melting, or little melting and the rocks provided traction for the Outback to maneuver through this low area.  The only other area that was concerning was the drive up to FR006 Site 1 where FR006 was snow covered and a little muddy. Apply steady speed, and speeding up in a few spots ensured that despite the rear of the Outback sliding slightly, I had no problem reaching the site.

At the site there was about six inches of snow, and I had anticipated this and had brought a snow shovel to clear out a space to set up in. It took me an additional thirty minutes to clear out my area, lay out my ground cover and set up the 17.5" dob, my observing chair, my table and other equipment.  By now twilight had fallen quickly and darkness was setting in. I eat my soup and salad, and got the hot chocolate thermos out for later with my water and pulled out my observing list.

I was planning on a night of observing and sketching nebula, both emission, reflection and combination, galaxies in Cancer and ending with sketching the Rosette Nebula complex. I want to state on several of these they are in a way, a compilation of  two or sometimes three sketches as I did one part, rested, then did the next segment in the complex as these nebula are often rather large and complex, or complex.  I am happy with what I did.

1. NGC 2461 Emission and Relection Nebula in Puppis. February 4th, 2016; 07:20pm MST; FR006 Site 1; Antoniadi II, clear, cold, 26 degrees F; 17.5" Dob; 10mm, 14mm, 20mm Pentax XW; 24mm ES 82 degree; 27mm Panoptic; Type II Paracorr; OIII Filter.

This is a very bright structure and the nebulosity really is bright around the magnitude 8 star.  Dark lanes runs east to west near the center above the bright magnitude 8 star HD 64315.  The southern edge of the nebula is the brightest while the area north of HD 64315 is fainter which is probably due to the dust.  The OIII filter enhances the nebula and its brightness.  Removing the OIII filter revealed many more fainter stars.  Mushroom like shape on the nebula also.  Fun item to sketch and low power and higher power can reveal a lot of the structure and details found in it.  I have observed this with a ten inch dob and a fourteen inch dob (both Orion's) and did not get as much detail as the 17.5" shows. Aperture here really does help.

2. NGC 1931 Reflection/Emission Nebula in Auriga (Mini M42), or Sharpless Sh 2-237;  February 4th, 2016; 8:30pm MST; FR006 Site 1; Antoniadi I, clear, cold 22 degrees F; 17.5" Dob with 7mm, 10mm, 14mm, 20mm Pentax XW; 30mm ES 82 degrees; Type II Paracorr; OIII Filter and UHC NB Filter.

This is an item I observe every winter to see what I can tease out of it. It is a miniature M42 with a its own trapezium (at the top nebula) in it.  Five major stars of 11.5, 12 and three at 13 magnitude are easily seen in this small nebulosity item that has a high surface brightness. The OIII and NB filters dim parts of the nebula in some parts, enhancing the brighter parts.  Fun object to observe and happy with my observation and getting the detail out of it I did this night.

3. NGC 2359 Thor's Helmet, Emission Nebula in Canis Major; February 4th, 2016, 9:10pm MST; FR006 Site 1; Antoniadi I, clear, cold, 17 degrees F; 17.5" Dob; 5mm, 7mm, 10mm, 14mm 20mm Pentax XW; 24mm Explore Scientific 82 degrees, 27mm Panoptic; Type II Paracorr; OIII Filter.  

WR-7 is a Wolf Rayet star that is interacting with the large molecular cloud, lighting it up and combines with nuclear fusion material that is being cast out by the star to form the structure.  This is a large emission nebula.  I actually did two sketches of this object. One with using the OIII and UHC filters, and no filter, the other with no filter at all (no filter used at all is on the bottom). The light at the top of sketches is from me taking the image and is natural light from sun as it enters the area where I take my pictures of my sketches. I hope you can look beyond them. There is a large bubble with a bright rim around the bubble.  The rim is brighter on the west side that forms a C like appearance.  There are filamentary wisps of nebulosity in the center region of the bubble.  Stars are evident in the interior section of the bubble and on the rim and I tried to capture them.  On the southern end is a bright extension, that elongates to the west and thins out into a long streamer forming the southern horn.  A second long and thicker streamer is attached at the north end of the central bubble. This extends to the NW and is IC 468.  Another fainter streamer begins on the north end and extends 10' due east.  The last one is weak in nebulosity and is also east of the central bubble on the south side.  Again, all this is being illuminated by the Wolf-Rayet Star WR 7 or HD 56925.  Wonderful object, and this is by far, the best sketch I have made of this object. Very happy with it. 

4.  The Rosette Nebula Complex made up of NGC 2244 (Open Cluster), NGC 2237, 2238, 2239, 2246.  Feb. 4th, 2016, 10:50pm MST; Antoniadi I, clear, cold 14 degrees F; 17.5" dob, 35mm Panoptic, 30mm Explore Scientific 82 degree; 27mm Panoptic; 20mm Pentax XW; 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr; OIII and UHC filters. SQM 21.9

This by far was the most challenging object to sketch for the night. Observing the open cluster NGC 2244 was not hard at all, I can do that at my home in the backyard.  The nebulosity showed itself with averted vision at this dark site location. The OIII and UHC added structure to the nebulosity which the dark site I was observing from enhanced.  First time I have attempted to sketch the Rosette Complex and I am happy with the result.  HD 46223 and HD 46150, the two stars off center and diagonal from each other light up this complex. The nebula does require a dark site and low magnification, thus the eyepieces I used. The 10mm Pentax was used for stars.  The nebula appears round and circular but in truth, the edges are not well defined or sharp.  The nebula also has brighter regions in embedded in it and areas that are not as bright.  The OIII filter brought out structure and the UHC NB filter brought out additional structure.  Averted vision helps to enhance the view and capture more detail.  Aperture helps with this one. I had a blast sketching this one. 

6.  NGC 2625 (right side) & NGC 2624 (left side), galaxies in Cancer in Messier 44.  February 5th, 2016, 12:20am MST; Antoniadi I, clear, cold 12 degrees F; 17.5" dob; 14mm, 10mm 7mm Pentax XW's; Type II Paracorr. 

After finishing with the nebula, I had decided to end this session by going after some of the galaxies in Messier 44, the Beehive Cluster.  NGC 2624 is a very faint, small galaxy that is like all these galaxies, roundish in shape.  It has a bright inner core, with no nucleus observed.  NGC 2625 (one on the right) is about three to three and a half degress ESE of NGC 2624, and is very faint.  It also is roundish in nature though much fainter than NGC 2624.  

7. NGC 2647 galaxy in Cancer in Messier 44, The Beehive Cluster; February 5th, 2016 @ 12:40a.m.; Antoniadi I, clear, cold 11 degrees F; SQM 21.9; FR006 Site 1; 17.5" Dob; 14mm, 10mm, 7mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr. 

NGC 2647 in the sketch above is in the center and is a faint smudge.  This is an extremely faint, roundish galaxy that is small in overall size. Averted vision helps to observe it.  The surface brightness is even across it (like most of these galaxies in M44). 

8. NGC 2643 galaxy in Cancer in Messier 44, the Beehive Cluster; February 5th, 2016, 1:10a.m. MST; Antoniadi I, clear, cold, 11 degrees F; 17.5" Dob, 7mm, 10mm, 14mm & 20mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr.  

NGC 2643 is another faint, roundish galaxy that is again, small in size.  It is on the western side of Messier 44 and about one to one and a half degrees NW of a magnitude 11.5 star.  Other brighter field stars are observable as the sketch shows.  

9. NGC 2637 galaxy in Cancer in Messier 44, the Beehive Cluster; February 5th, 2016, 1:30am MST; Antoniadi I, clear, cold, 9 degrees F; 17.5" dob, 7mm, 10mm, 14mm & 20mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr.  

NGC 2637 is a very faint, VERY FAINT, small, roundish galaxy in Messier 44.  I had to use averted vision after identify it to confirm the observation of this galaxy.  Just a small smudge in the middle of the sketch that captures this faint object.  My 14" may pick this up with the Zambuto mirror, a 12" or 10", I doubt it.  This is an aperture object but then again, I am not one to tell anyone what they can see in their scope and you won't know until you try it. 

For those want to go after some of these faint, small, roundish galaxies (I call this the Hobbit Challenge since their size and descriptions tend to match that of a Hobbit from Tolkien's Middle Earth) the Adirondack Astronomical Society has a map that shows these wonderfully at this LINK. I have downloaded the map also and will show it below. These are a fun challenge, something I have waned to do for some time. 

It was 2:00a.m. by the time I finished at the site and about 2:30a.m. when I drove out. I had started my engine twice at the site, just to ensure since I was by myself that the battery was good to go. No problem.  The roads were really frozen when I drove out and I had no problem being constant and getting out.  I do NOT recommend if your local going out to FR006 when it is snow covered unless you have a AWD or 4WD car and know what your doing in driving it in those conditions.  I had a blast this night and I think it shows in my sketches. 

I have more to post and will do that over the next week as my schedule allows.  Tuesday's are not open to me anymore for observing unless I plan them out due to a personal commitment that I am doing on Tuesday evening but that is fine. Anyway, please continue to be amazed at the wonders of our universe by looking up into it. It truly will amaze you what you'll both see and find!