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.