Wading into a Cold Spring

In temperatures down to 23°F of my April 5, 2016 observing session at the Blue Mountain Vista Observation Field (BMVO) with my 18” f/4.3 reflector my new Cabela's Heavyweight Mens Long Underwear with proper outer layering gave me a very comfortable night of observing.

On the field with me were buddies from the Bucks-Mont Astronomical Association and  the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers.

My NexusDSC (review on the DAS website) worked flawlessly. Quick 2 star alignment and I was punching in objects with ease until I began packing it in at 1AM. Looked like a good choice, too, as thin southerly clouds moved  in at about 1:15AM.

Thor's Helmet through a Lumicon OIII filter and Hubble's Variable Nebula kicked things off just before 9PM with a 10mm (226X) and 8mm (283x) 72° eyepieces. Both objects are among my current favorites as they show good detail and fascinating structures in their varied appearances. The Helmet’s horns cleanly thrust forward, one brighter than the other and Hubble's "fan" spread wide like a comet encountering the Solar wind.  Then it was on to the Rosette with a 25mm 100° ocular and a DGM NPB nebula filter. Some scanning was needed to take in the whole nebula but it was easily seen with slight averted vision.

A new one for me was Sharpless 2-206 (aka NGC 1491). This delicate looking emission nebula in Perseus has a brighter region that is noticeably offset from center. It was quite appealing in the 10mm ep (226x) with the DGM filter.

The Gemini Nebula, one that a bud brought to my attention a few weeks ago after my neglect of far too long, is small and closely packed together. It brightly outshines the star field where it sits within the field of view of a 13mm 100° ep.

I tried superhero power stunts with the Ghost of Jupiter but the seeing just wouldn't give it a "ghost" of a chance, try as I may. The central star disappeared when I got to 1222x and the inner shell was not markedly defined.

But the transparency was doing real well. There was no Milky Way in the way for all the galaxies I was about to embark upon. Stars were brilliantly gleaming against the rich black of the upper atmosphere overhead, so I engaged the NGC catalog in the NexusDSC and stepped onto my Starmaster Star Chair to gaze into the universe above me for ... a long look at NGC 2403, a wonderful start to a galaxy role call. It’s a repeat favorite and was surprisingly bright in a 20mm 100° eyepiece. It was as if my visual memory had lost its impression and then found it anew. Although NGC 2683 was dimmer it actually struck me as the more thrilling view in my 13mm and 8mm eyepieces forcing me to call my companions over to the scope for a look-see.

An exciting view of a galaxy I hadn’t seen before was NGC 2964 through my 13mm. Turned out to be a two-for-one bargain with NGC 2968 close by.  I have to make a point to get back to it because there’s another galaxy, NGC 2970 (14.4 visual magnitude) near the pair, that I wasn't aware of until I got home and found it in my Skytools3 chart. This is a good reason to have a tablet or good chart handy. It was too cold for me to fiddle with more equipment, so I didn't bother booting up my 10.6" tablet. The temps were dropping below freezing which requires a heater slapped behind the tablet to keep it from shutting down. I was having too much fun to make more work for myself, so I left the tablet in the car with my Interstellarum Deep SkyAtlas.

NGC 3003 is an eye catching edge-on whose morphology escaped my eye for some time before I confirmed it. Bright enough for sure at 12+ visual mag but its outer portions suffer from much extinction. The 10mm worked best on this.

NGC 3115, the Spindle, riveted my head for a time and when I put the 8mm in the focuser it got an audible "Yes" out of me.

It was around 11PM now and my bud offered views through his 22" Obsession UC of NGC 2169, a nice asterism in Orion, that looked like a V formation of stars chasing a wing formation of stellar points. This was another first for me.

Arp 316 in 17.3mm, 10mm and 8mm eyepieces appeared as a pair of patches, one edge-on and the other face-on. Again, there were surprises for me when I got home. I found that 2 more galaxies were nearby but at a magnitude or two less than the Arp pair of NGC 3190 and 3193. Gotta get back to that, too.

Staying with the Arp catalog, Arp 94 is a close pair of a clearly interacting spiral and an irregularly shaped "stretchy." Classic appearance of what one should expect from the Arp list of Peculiar Galaxies.

NGC 4535, a face-on spiral, reeealllly took my eye a good while to pull out the spirality which only made me long for M51. So, off I went to the Whirlpool for easy, pleasy, eye candy, then The Whale (NGC 4631) and M104, the Sombrero (the Hubble picture at the top of this article), which had a startling amount of contrast between its dark lane and the extended glow of its core. Those latter three were responsible for the "Regret of the Night." I forgot to go to NGC 4565, a favorite glorious edge-on for many observers. Come to think of it, now, I also missed checking out 2 comets, C/2013 US 10 Catalina and C/2014 S2 PANSTARRS, both of which were on my printed observing list.

I took a Sky Quality Meter reading at 12AM and the average of 3 readings was 6.1 NELM.  Drove off the field at 2AM. The night was enjoyably clear with good companions. Not a bad end for the first dark window of what, so far, has been a cold Spring. 

Clear, dark and steady skies to all.

Fred De Lucia

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