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)
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)
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 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)
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)
Then this pair:
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 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.