|Viewing log: Friday 23rd December 2011 at East Kennet 8pm to 10pm
Equipment: 10X50 Binoculars
Hello again my friends. It has been too long since I have managed to go out observing so I was delighted to manage to make the best of this opportunity. Normally I would have gone out with my own telescope but events conspired to make it a choice between arriving in time or packing the Car with the scope and other paraphernalia, so I opted to go only with binoculars that were already available. My hope that others would have been more organised was well founded. Mike of Swindon Stargazers had emailed this short notice viewing just the day before and at 6pm I was sure we would be scuppered as the rain was torrential. The skies cleared however and his prediction that it would clear proved correct.
I arrived last at the site to find 4 other there and already setting up, sorry about the car lights guys. There was Mike and Hilary already viewing, Pete Chappell was setting up and another gent called Don I think (apologies if I have this wrong) set up with a large dobsonian. I grabbed my trusty binoculars and wrapped up against the cold.
It was a beautifully clear night with no moon, just perfect and I did spend a few minutes cursing not having my own telescope. However for those of you new to this mad idea of viewing the night sky in the middle of winter, let me just say that a pair of binoculars can afford a pleasant evening of night sky wonders. I started off focussing on Jupiter, not ideal as I can never get a clear view in binoculars of this planet. Pete had lined up on Neptune so we all had a look at this distant object. I then turned my attention to an old favourite M45 the Pleiades which are spectacular through binoculars and clearly visible with the naked eye. Hilary and Pete were chasing down Uranus at this point. Hilary is nearly obsessed by this planet and has been chasing it across the night sky for over a year, so she was delighted to successfully locate it again and get a closer look with Pete’s Goto telescope, as we all were.
My next target was Orion and the M42 Nebula with M43, again visible with the naked eye but beautiful through the binoculars. Don’t forget that Betelgeuse makes for a fine object with its luscious red colouring as does the crystal blue Rigel diagonally opposite.
We also had an opportunity that night to see M78 through Pete’s Goto scope. It was faint but visible with the 2 stars within it and a diffuse nebula also visible as a foggy patch. M78 is the brightest diffuse reflection nebula of a group of nebulae that include NGC 2064, NGC 2067 and NGC 2071.
I next sought out the Hyades also known as Melotte 25 or Collinder 50 or Caldwell 41, an open cluster that is the nearest to our solar system. This object can be found in Taurus near the red giant Aldebaran.
I next turned my attention to the constellation of Auriga and the open clusters within it which could be seen with the naked eye as foggy patches. These are M36, M37 and M38. Again Pete Chappell was accommodating and chased them down for a closer look and followed this with a view of M1 the Crab nebula or NGC 1952 in Taurus through Pete’s Goto scope.
Meanwhile our friend with the dobsonian had located M81 also known as NGC 3031 or Bode's Galaxy and M82 also known as NGC 3034, Cigar Galaxy near the Plough. Both were visible in the same view.
I was left to go looking for M44 also known as Praesepe (Latin for "manger") NGC 2632, Cr 189 or the beehive cluster in Cancer, whilst Pete went after even more obscure objects.
A view of M79 or NGC 1904 a globular cluster in the Lepus constellation through Pete’s scope was followed up with The Owl nebula or NGC 3587 a planetary nebula in the Plough, faint but visible; the Little Dumbbell nebula, also known as Messier 76, NGC 650/651, the Barbell nebula, or the Cork nebula, a planetary nebula in the constellation Perseus, was clearer; NGC 631 a faint Lenticular galaxy; M29 or NGC 6913 an open cluster in the Cygnus constellation; NGC 1535 (Cleopatra's Eye) a planetary nebula in the constellation of Eridanus. Finally Sirius had risen enough to go after M46 or NGC 2437 an open cluster in the constellation of Puppis.
We ended the night with a fine view of Jupiter and its four moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
My thanks to Pete Chappell for sharing his telescope to view these deep sky objects and to all the others who were there for a very pleasant evenings viewing.
I hope this will inspire some of you to join us at a public event at Lacock during the BBC’s Astronomy Live broadcasts on January 18th2012. The Wiltshire Societies are attending and there will hopefully be an opportunity to view deep sky objects through some larger telescopes in the evening.. Solar viewing commences in the afternoon as well as speakers giving presentations.
Images courtesy of Wikipedia