So Many Galaxies

Thursday night turned out to be a very special night for me (May 21 2020) the sky was very clear, and fully transparent with average seeing at the remote dark sky location where I planned to go and set up the telescope at sundown. This location is about an hour and a half drive West of Ottawa and a bit south of Renfew. I arrived and drove my car up the hill on the rough path off the road (I really need to consider getting something 4×4 for my next vehicle). I set up the scope. Swarms of black-flies and mosquitoes harassed me the entire time. When I had completed collimation and the scope was ready, I got back in the car and decided to wait out the bugs – sundown is their bedtime, apparently. The other thing that helped was the wind.

I started the night just looking at Arcturus, big and bright and high in the South East. Someone at https://www.cloudynights.com/ made a thread about Picot 1, AKA Napoleon’s Hat. I had never actually heard of it. I looked around and there it was! Very cool!

Before the sky was even fully dark I was able to observe the Leo Triplet. I found M66 first but quickly also spotted M65. I had to wait until a bit later to be able to see NGC 3628, The Hamburger Galaxy. I didn’t spend more time with these, just enough to compare their shapes and brightness, and to almost make out the dust lane in NGC 3628. Next I moved on to the M95 group, including the small trio comprised of M105, NGC 3384 and NGC 3389. I also got to NGC 3412, NGC 3377, NGC 3367 and NGC 3338.

Next I went to the Leo Quartet (NGC 3190 Group) glad I got this one in because in the past I’ve always had trouble from less dark skies. This is one of those galaxy groups that make me want more aperture.

I moved on to the Virgo galaxy cluster itself. I start with the Great Galactic Face portion of Markarian’s Chain as I find it easy to identify. I moved East along the chain past Copeland’s Eyes and to where it curves around north terminating with NGC 4459. Next I went a bit further East to M88 and M91. I returned to Copeland’s Eyes as the jump-off point to M87 and its smaller, fainter companions. I could not make out the jet that is the tell-tale sign of the monstrous black hole there. As I looked at M87, I imagined that I was looking in the direction of “downtown” – M87 is the center of the Virgo supercluster and our local group of galaxies certainly is part of this cluster. It’s like the Milky Way galaxy is a country cousin of these big ellipticals, of which M87 is the most massive. I got in M89, M90, M58, M59 and M60. In every direction were more faint fuzzies that I couldn’t identify, I think it will take me some time to really get to know the Virgo Cluster, but it will be worth it.

I also wanted to get in some globular clusters. I wanted to start with M3, but couldn’t find it or the triangle of stars it sits in. Then I found something, a faint, but relatively large blob which I immediately identified as NGC 5466 – The Snowglobe Cluster. I was quite happy, I think this was only my second time observing it. Now I went after M53, which is easy to find just next to Diadem in Coma Berenices. M53 seems quite compact and glitters beautifully with thousands of stars. I also checked out the less-than-spectacular NGC 5053, which, faint as it is, I was able to resolve into stars. Again I went after M3 and quickly found it.

Back to galaxies. I wanted to compare M64, the Black Eye Galaxy to M104, The Sombrero Galaxy. I enjoy looking for M104 by starting at Algorab in Corvus and moving up ‘The Arrow’ asterism, until I get to The Stargate. A triangle of stars inside a triangle of stars! Very cool. From here I found ‘The Jaws’ and there it was, The Sombrero galaxy. Small, bright, with that unmistakable edge-on shape. I popped in the 10mm Hyperion EP for a closer look and could just make out this galaxy’s prominent dust-lane. Awesome! Moving next to M64, I also went in for a closer look at higher power and could make out the dark patch that gives it its famous name. Seeing wasn’t the best, and thought at times I could see it, other times the famous Black Eye would be lost in a blur. I always note the 11th magnitude star to the side where the dark patch is.

As fun as Black Eyes and Sombreros are, I wanted to go somewhere much, much further. Coma Berenices is home to another well-known galaxy supercluster. At the center of this cluster are two giant elliptical galaxies, NGC 4874, and the formidable Coma B, NGC 4889. This cluster is actually insanely easy to find, thanks to a small asterism of stars formed by HIP 63405, HIP 63407 and HIP 63252. I would say it’s a quarter of the way from the corner of the right angle in the constellation West towards Al Dafirah. The first time I spotted these giant galaxies it struck me the kind of ‘s’ shape they form with the three stars. Under darker skies, both galaxies are bright, and maybe to an untrained eye are almost starlike. But, upon closer inspection, they are clearly galaxies, with bright halos and starlike centers. This time I spent some time here, in this cluster of galaxies. http://www.cleardarksky.com said full transparency this night with good seeing. As I looked back and forth from Coma B and NGC 4874 (by the way, what makes it a radio galaxy?) Many fainter ones started appearing, at times on the border of visibility. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I had actually seen a fuzzy or not, but as I looked around the field of view and then came back the same little dso’s were still there. I guess it’s a bit like observing some of the great open clusters – the more you look at them the more you get to know them and the faint stars there. Each time, if seeing is good, more faint objects appear. And now, here in Coma Berenices, more and more faint distant galaxies began to appear. The cluster is also known as Abell 1656. It’s about 320 million light years away from our Sun. I tried in vain to galaxy-hop East of Coma B in hopes of finding NGC 4921. I could not positively identify it, though finding more little fuzzies. I will have to come back another time to the Coma cluster.

Next I spent some time with M13 and viewed it at different magnifications. I always feel like I can discern ‘The Propeller’ but I’m never quite sure. Then off to M92. Another amazing globular cluster. I tried for NGC 6229, but no dice. Next time.

I stopped by NGC 6811 in Cygnus. It’s a nice open cluster fairly close to center of the galactic disk.

Then I remembered what I had come for. Galaxies. I found myself next going to Canes Venatici, one corner specifically. From past experience I knew that M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, is always quickly and easily found under a dark sky. Of course I cheat and always starhop from 24 CVn – M51 is sort of south-south-east. The galaxy suddenly sprang into the field of view. Immediate, obvious spiral structure. Several faint foreground galactic stars visible against M51’s disk, especially and easily that 13th mag. star opposite the galaxies core from the companion, NGC 5195. As always, the brief glimpses of finer details, in the arms, dust lanes, brighter concentrations. Both spiral arms fairly apparent. Obvious in averted vision. I really love this galaxy. The incredible Hubble images come to mind, and one immediately dreams of what the first M51 images from James Webb will be like. The eye seeks to know finer and finer into the details, and to see what is there. For me, observing M51 is always a reminder of a distant world that is there, very real, and not just a dim patch of light or a splashy Hubble photo.

I got lost looking at galaxies. I dropped by both M94 The Croc’s Eye Galaxy and M63, The Sunflower Galaxy. I jumped to M109, and then some fainter ones south of there. I made sure to drop by M106, big and bright, and with a curious shape. I suspect that in time I will be able to observe spiral arms there. Haven’t yet. I looked at M108, The Surfboard Galaxy. No visit to M108 is complete without a peek at the Owl Nebula, M97. Pretty sure I could make out the owl’s eyes, two circular dark patches against the bright face of this planetary nebula. Like the Ring Nebula or the Dumbbell Nebula, M97 is a star that went nova. This means a star not massive enough to supernova, but dramatic enough in its own right. Also, how is it that these planetary nebula all have ‘7’ in them: M27, M57, M97 … what did Messier know about these objects?

Next stop:

NGC 2768, NGC 2742, NGC 2841 The Tiger’s Eye Galaxy. I always like to check out The Whale Galaxy, NGC 4627, and its smaller fainter irregular companion NGC 4656, The Hockey Stick Galaxy. The Whale is a gorgeous edge-on spiral, and it’s bright. Heading further south I came to The Koi Fish Galaxy, NGC 4559. Then NGC 4725 (seemed brighter than I expected) and finally NGC 4565, The Needle Galaxy. This is truly a spectacular edge-on spiral, and even this time, my second time observing it, I could see the dust-lane. Incredible.

I also got to a small group of galaxies just below the Big Dipper, the two bright ones being NGC 3718 and NGC 3729. I also always check out M81 and M82 when I go stargazing. At higher power they are incredible, and reveal greater detail. I always get in the other two galaxies in this group, NGC 3077 and NGC 2976. I also got to the Phantom Frisbee Galaxy, NGC 3079 this time. Another very nice edge-on galaxy. There were so many. I think that there are a good number of galaxies that I enjoyed observing last Thursday night that I am forgetting about now. Besides, how long can I go on with this astronomy report?

My last and most amazing memory from that night is a super well-known galaxy I haven’t mentioned yet. It is one that is always visible in the northern hemisphere’s night sky. How could I forget M101, the famous Pinwheel Galaxy. Here is another one that is very easy to find because it forms a nearly perfect equilateral triangle with Alkaid and Mizar. I have observed M101 several previous times, and always it has been a bit of a disappointment. But not this night. Big like a full-moon, bright, and somehow the contrast being good enough that made spiral structure visible, with lots of detail to boot. Again, it’s important to remember, that even despite the wind, seeing occasionally got quite good. It was just a matter of waiting calmly while looking in the eyepiece, and there, spiral arms! Irregular globs of brightness, mottling, even within the arms. These beautiful views were fleeting, and in a moment everything was just a blurry blob. That was it. I looked a few more times. I looked around at the whole sky with just my eyes and stood in amazement for quite some time. Suddenly I wished I had a fire, and maybe a bit more energy. I packed up the scope and my gear. I began the long drive home and thought about how in the future, I would come back to M101 again and again.

Cactus

I’ve had this cactus for many years, in fact, I’m not even too sure anymore where I got it except I think it was from a classmate in university, in the early mid 90’s when I was at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. The one I’m currently taking care of was a bud from an older one that was with me for many years, and it finally bloomed, for the first time ever that I’ve seen in 25 years.

I noticed that the flower opened very slowly, and that a couple days later it was still not fully open.

A few days later, it has largely opened and I can see inside. Here is a photo taken yesterday (followed by the closeup)

I will try to post updates in the coming days as the bloom matures and as the other blooms open.

Guerrilla Astronomy

You know you’re supposed to be staying home during these difficult times, social distancing, but it’s been so cloudy for so long, and nights to get out in late Winter/early Spring with the telescope have been ultra-rare. This time of year, the Earth makes it’s way to a side of our solar system where, when facing away from the sun, we look into a region of space away from the Milky Way galaxy, and we gaze on the nearest galaxy super-cluster in the known universe. The Virgo super-cluster. In this area of distant space, we see a cluster of galaxies, and we see the clumping of those galaxies into strands. Perhaps, looking even further past these , we find our way to another even more distant galaxy super-cluster.

By 9:00 PM I had decided that I was going. The clear-sky chart was showing above average transparency with good seeing. I had decided to check out a spot (which I hadn’t been to yet) and if possible set up the scope. Everything was ready and in the car. I took off. After about a half-hour I got to the road where I believed would be a dead-end and a good flat spot to set up the telescope. I got to the road off the highway. CLOSED. Cement blocks have been placed across the road to prevent people from driving to the end. I drove around some more and found a road with a big beautiful field, but a well lit farmhouse on the edge of the field to the north told me this could turn into an uncomfortable encounter.

It was almost midnight. I felt defeated. I prepared for the 45-minute drive back home without having gotten to do any stargazing. I contemplated setting up the scope in the yard. Then, heading back along the highway, I saw another road head south along a huge field. Some trees dotted the road on the corner with the highway and immediately to the right was another little dirt road heading into the field and over behind the trees. This was it. I drove in, cautiously, and saw I was on the edge of a large farm field of many acres. I killed the lights and stopped the car. Stepping out, again cautiously, I looked up. The sky was amazing – and there were Leo, Virgo, Coma Berenices, Canes Venatici and of course, Ursa Major. I looked around some more. The only nuisance turned out to be the line of trees along the south-east blocking upwards of 35 degrees up from the horizon. Not a house visible anywhere nearby. I set up the scope. After a difficult but precise collimation (in the dark!) I was ready. It would still be a good 20 minutes before my primary had finally cooled down and stars were now focused down to sharp points. I started off with the Leo Triplet. Bright! Even the Hamburger, NGC 3628, was clear, its distinct shape clearly visible, even without averted vision. That’s just to give you an idea. Both M65 and M66 also had distinctly different shapes to them, M66 showing almost a bit of spiral structure.

What follows is a rough note I took of observations last night.

April 24 2020 Observations Luskville Quebec.


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

M51 The Whirlpool Galaxy (bright, spiral structure easy)
NGC 5195


M101 The Pinwheel Galaxy (large, faint, hard to see)


NGC 2419 Intergalactic Wanderer (small, but quite bright. just a fuzzy, no resolved stars this in this glob)
(made a point of finding this one, it was my first observation of NGC 2419)


Leo Triplet
M65 Seems almost as bright as M66
M66 (Wow, distinct shapes both galaxies, but M66 almost some spiral structure)
NGC 3628 The Hamburger Galaxy (appears larger than the other two. more flat on south side – dust-lane?)


NGC 2903 (bright, easy to find)


Leo Quartet (only the two brighter ones)


M81 Bodes Galaxy (spiral arms detected?)
M82 Cigar Galaxy (prominent gap near core visible)
NGC 3077 (spotted it first of the M81 group)
NGC 2976


NGC 2841 Tiger’s Eye Galaxy (bright, easy to find)
NGC 2768 (bright, elongated, found it quickly tonight under darker skies just couldn’t find it with the backyard light-pollution)


M13 Hercules (WOW!!!)
NGC 6207 (obligatory when viewing M13 under darker skies)
M3 (bright, nice)
M53 (nice globular)



Markarian’s Chain

Great Galactic Face (this is how I knew I had found Markarian’s chain – made finding M87 easy)

M84 and M86 (easy)
NGC 4388 (easy)
NGC 4387 (easy, starlike)
NGC 4402 (averted vision only)

The Eyes (bright)
NGC 4435
NGC 4438

Then this pair:
NGC 4461
NGC 4458

NGC 4473
NGC 4477
NGC 4459


M87 The Virgo Galaxy (big and bright)
NGC 4216 (bright, easy)
M60 (bright, prominent)


M64 The Black Eye Galaxy (dust lane easy)


NGC 4889 Coma B
NGC 4874
NGC 4921 ??


M104 The Sombrero Galaxy (wow! could see dust lane)
Nearby asterism Jaws

After about an hour and a half of pretty decent observing, humidity started putting a damper on observing conditions. Every time I looked into the eyepiece my glasses would fog up. I observed a bit longer, in awe of the universe. The field felt alive with smells and the sounds of small creatures waking up. I started packing it up.

I had seen the strands of galaxies I came to see. Markarian’s Chain, and the Great Galactic Face. I hopped from galaxy to galaxy, not necessarily always knowing which was which but finding my way around nevertheless. I saw M87, the giant Virgo galaxy, and wondered, as I peered at it with awe, where the black hole was in there. I paid visits to Black Eyes and Sombreros. Deciding to go out even further I swung north into the Coma cluster. Here, the familiar trio of 7th magnitude stars just west of β Com mark the spot where are visible incredibly distant, and bright pair of galaxies. Stellarium says Coma B is 391 million light-years away. That means you’re looking back in time to before the time of the dinosaurs.

Perhaps my favorite deep sky object of the night was earlier on in my observing session. I had been trying to spot NGC 2419 from my suburban yard for a while now, and never with much success. This time, I bagged the Intergalactic Wanderer. As always, I wondered if someone is there, looking back at us.

Balcony Astronomy Covid19 Edition

So I am back and set up on the balcony. Sophia is sleeping soundly, and my 10″ Meade Lightbridge Plus dobsonian telescope is outside cooling off. It shouldn’t take much more than 20 minutes or so for the primary to be cooled down enough that stars start to focus into sharp points, given my careful collimation. I didn’t want to take the chance and go out during the quarantine, and have the authorities embarrass me in front of my daughter. All day I debated on taking her out for a night of stargazing, but it is still too cold at night for my 7 year-old. So here we are.

Astroknip is not too far from here, and the sky here is Bortle 6/7 – yet tonight the sky seems darker, almost, like I am seeing more stars than usual. Perhaps it really is all the Covid19 hysteria keeping less lights on than usual out there.

Now, what to see? Well, given I’m on my balcony that faces due north, I’m limited, at the moment, to Auriga, Perseus, Cassiopeia (low to the horizon in the north) Cepheus, Ursa Minor, some Ursa Major poking past the roof right overhead … yeah.

Alright, 11:36 PM. I can confirm I just spotted NGC 6543, the Cat’s Eye Nebula. It’s small, but pretty bright. Definitely a fuzzy blob compared to the nearby star that forms the closest in a chain of five 10th magnitude stars southwest of the object. Time to get the 5mm Hyperion out. With the 5mm Hyperion, the nebula is quite distinctly oval shaped, but I cannot see its outer shell. I tried for nearby galaxy NGC 6503, the Lost in Space Galaxy, which I’ve observed before, but I couldn’t make it out with these light-polluted skies.

Other objects observed on this night were: M81 and M82 in Ursa Major, along with NGC 3077. I also paid a visit to another favorite of mine, NGC 2841, the Tiger’s Eye Galaxy, which is always easy to find. I think I also saw NGC 2403 in Camelopardalis, but I wasn’t 100% sure.

Towards the end of the night I paid a visit to M57, The Ring Nebula. Transparency was good so the view was excellent, though even with the 5mm EP I still cannot make out the central star, but could easily resolve the 13th magnitude star northeast of the ring. The good transparency also gave me a good reason to visit the Double Double which I was able to split both doubles. Exciting stuff!

Well, it was a good night of observing from the balcony. Again, the sky seemed a bit darker than usual, and maybe there is a bit less pollution due to the pandemic. I was glad I brought the scope out onto the balcony.

More Balcony Astronomy

It’s been a cloudy winter. And cold. I was aching to get out under the stars with my scope, on a clear night with no moon. Sunday, March 15 2020 turned out to be the night. I took the chance and brought the scope out onto the balcony. My daughter, being home with me, was sleeping in her bed, and so I couldn’t head out to darker skies.

I started in Cassiopeia and checked out NGC 663 again, the Lawonmower Cluster. For some time I gazed at it, gradually seeing more and more stars. The more I looked at it the more I realized I wanted to sketch it. Truly a beautiful open cluster. Next I went west onto the Double Cluster in Perseus. NGC 884 and NGC 869 (my favorite of the two). NGC 869 amazes me with its richness of faint stars. Also many colourful stars between the two, orange and blue stars. I would find myself coming back to the Double Cluster a number of times during the night, and comparing it with the Lawnmower Cluster. Next, I followed the chain of stars from NGC 869 to Stock 2, a less concentrated open cluster in Cassiopeia. I also paid visits to M103, NGC 659 (Ying Yang Cluster) and also the Fuzzy Butterfly Cluster, NGC 654. Also dropped by NGC 457, the Dragonfly Cluster (also Owl Cluster or E.T. Cluster ???)

Had a quick look at the Andromeda Galaxy and its companion, Le Gentil, M32. I didn’t spend much time on these as they were getting low in the west and couldn’t get good views. Tried but failed to really see M110, even though I was looking at precisely the right spot. Bortle 6 light pollution.

Did have a decent view of other galaxies though, M81 and M82. The Garland Galaxy, NGC 3077, was also easy to observe. I was getting cold, and after pondering these three distant island universes, I decided to pack it in.

I should also mention that earlier on in my session I observed brilliant Venus in the west. at 127X, I could quite clearly make out its gibbous phase. Finally, a gratifying night of (balcony) astronomy!

M42 Orion Nebula

After we got home from watching Frozen 2 at the theatre, we saw the sky was clear so out came the scope. Fortunately, very few neighbours with their porch lights on. A very quick tour of the sky (given the cold) the Pleiades, then Double Cluster, M31, and then the Orion Nebula. My photo simply doesn’t do it justice to viewing at the eyepiece.

Bear in mind this is taken with a Samsung phone camera, looking through the 26mm ep on my 10″ Meade Lightbridge plus. In very bad light pollution, to top it all off.

Afterwards I hunted around in Taurus for the Crab Nebula but couldn’t find it, thanks to the light pollution of my urban sky.

Here is a gallery of Orion Nebula photos I’ve taken so far.

DIY Light Shroud

This weekend I decided to revisit Fabricland for some  material to make a light shroud.

I settled for some black fabric called ‘Sleek Suede’ that cost me under 10 bucks. Strong, heavy and stretchy, this material immediately jumped out at me as the ideal stuff for the light shroud on a dobsonian telescope.

First I cut the material I had purchased to a 27″ by 38″ rectancle. Along one long edge (the side that would be sewn to the other to make the open tube shape of the light shroud) I pinned a hem with safety pins. Once this was done I got busy with the sewing. I used white thread for the contrast with the black fabric. (just kidding, I used white thread because that’s all I really have)

See the pictures in this gallery to get an idea of the light shroud I made for my scope.

Also pictured is the cover for my secondary mirror I made out of a cleaned, empty plastic jar of Resolve. Made some carefully drawn lines to saw down on the container and now it fits over the spider veins of the secondary mirror quite nicely, and screwing the cap back on secures the whole thing nicely.

Clear Skies!

[foogallery id=”399″]

Homegrown caviar

We have a group of corydoras in our aquarium and lately they have started spawning. Typically, there is frenetic activity in the tank with one of the smaller males constantly following and bothering the big female. She’s about 2 inches long, maybe a bit more and fat – so full of eggs you can see them.

When they spawn, the female puts her eggs around the tank, a little bit all over.

I separated the eggs out and into a little aquarium with no other fish.

After a few days the eggs started hatching.

Notice that bulge around them, that is their yolk sacs. That is what they feed off of for the first 1 – 3 days. After that, they need to start being introduced to fish food.

A couple closeups:

More pics of these baby corydoras coming soon.

The Baby Catfish

A few weeks ago we noticed that our corydoras had spawned a bunch of eggs all over the aquarium. Over a few days all the eggs went away and we never saw any baby fish.

We had more or less forgotten that the fish had laid eggs. Yeserday, as she observed into the aquarium, Sophia let out a shout, “a baby!” she exclaimed. I had a look and sure enough, this little guy was swimming around in there looking for food.

This tiny baby corydora is just 1 cm long. We haven’t spotted any others, so we think it’s the sole survivor of all the eggs we saw a few weeks ago.

The crazy part is, that today, the big fat mamma corydora started spawning again. Here are a few.