From the largest to the smallest

May 11

Written by:
5/11/2012 7:07 AM  RssIcon

I'm really starting to appreciate having my backyard from which to observe.  Certainly, the tall trees to the south and west, house to the east, and another good sized evergreen to the north mostly restricts views to overhead, somewhat east-ish, a tiny slice to the northeast, and... well that's about it.  But where is the best place to view objects anyway?  Overhead!  So what's the problem... oh yeah, there isn't one!

Alright not exactly.  I can't see much lower than 30 or 40 degrees north declination from there, and below 60 degrees up from the horizon east or west.  So I lose a lot of potential targets.  But now that my neighbor parks his trailer in his driveway, blocking their "always on" post lamp, I gain something far better:

DARKNESS.

No, not complete darkness.  I'm all of 100 feet (at most) from a street - but it has some protection from their hedges, and it isn't like it gets traveled very much.  And I'm fortunate in that my house and garage form sort of a 90 degree barricade from lights to the east and south.  My neighbor to the west leaves her lights off, thanks to seeing a presentation I did at our local library (she was so apologetic for leaving her lights on before!  I told her not to worry about it, but her lights are almost always off now.)  But what had been my "best viewing conditions" from the front yard of 4.5 magnitude on most nights, and 5.0 magnitude on the VERY best clear, transparent nights - just became 5.0 magnitude on an average night in the back yard.  I could see ALL FOUR stars in the bowl of the Little Dipper.  Yes, I had to really look for that dimmest, 4.95 star.  But it was there - and not averted vision, either.

Naturally, I did some observing.  Quickly catching Saturn before it rotated behind the trees, I pushed the magnification to absolutely ridiculous amounts: At 300x, the planet was already stunning; the Cassini division was clearly apparent in the moments of steadiness.  But I pushed it more in the 6" f/5 reflector - just for the heck of it.  I put a barlow in with a 3mm eyepiece, to push it to 480x.  Saturn was HUGE now.  Not quite clear, but there were flashes of what "could be" on the very best of nights.  I then went to 600x - in a 6" scope mind you!  Again... there's possibility there.  We'll see when the atmosphere is more cooperative.

But on to more targets: This time, DSO's.  I caught quick glimpses of some doubles: Nu Draconis, Polaris, and Cor Caroli.  Then I realized: I've never looked for the secondary of Izar in Bootes.  Swung the scope around; yeah, those are TIGHT.  I had the scope at very high magnification, and thought I wasn't going to be able to see them... but then, in the diffraction rings of the primary, was the dimmer companion.  Success!  Pretty cool.

I decided to take a look in Canes Venatici.  M51 was not nearly as good as when I went to the MUCH darker skies of Stelle, IL.  But the core and companion were both visible - though no other details.  I decided to head for the other galaxies in this constellation.  First up: M94.  This galaxy has a very bright core, and was simple to spot in the 6".  I thought, "Wait a minute... if I can see this galaxy this well in this scope, I should be able to see it in the 76mm Funscope."

I grabbed the little reflector and took it out.  Pointing it at the right section of sky, the galaxy was small, but clearly visible.  WOW!  What a night so far - of course, M94 is only 16 or 17 million light years away, a relatively close galaxy, so it's brightness shows up fairly well.  But what about the dimmer one nearby, M63?  This one was a little tougher in the 6", so I did not attempt with the Funscope.  But it wasn't a terribly difficult find either.   I also took at look at M13 in the Funscope, and tried for M5, but didn't have the right charts with me.  I probably should have taken a look at M101, and tried for M97 and M108, but I was getting tired and had a lot I had to haul back in now, as I'd kept bringing more and more equipment out of the course of a couple hours.

So I had gone from getting my largest ever views of Saturn, to seeing a distant galaxy with one of my very smallest telescopes.  That's quite a night, and one I won't soon forget either.  There's a lot to see when you are restricted in your view; it forces you to look for what you can see - not necessarily what is bright or easy.  Definitely looking forward to more scope time in the backyard.  Yes, I think it will be a good spring and summer for observing.

I hope you have clear and dark skies too.

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.