Visual Observations - Page 1

From time to time I will add visual observations here that I did not make a sketch of but may still be of interest to observers.

Click here to see page 2 of Visual Observations


1) Report on the 2001 and 2002 Leonid Meteor Shower

2) Observations of Barnard's Loop, March 2002

3) Deep-Sky Observations, June 2002

4) Moon and Saturn Observations, January 2003

5) Total Lunar Eclipse, November 8th/9th 2003

6) Venus transit across the Sun, June 8th, 2004


1) Report on the 2001 Leonid Meteor Shower

I began my observations at 8:30 UT. While it was mostly clear, there was some haze, and the transparency was only around 4.8. On the best nights the transparency can be almost a full magnitude fainter. The temperature was 29 degrees, but now and then there was a breeze that made it feel colder with the wind chill. Between 8:30 and 9:00 UT I counted 40 meteors. They all left trains, most of the trains green in color, and some of the meteors were bright. There were some times when there would be a minute or two between meteors.

Between 9:00 and 9:30 UT, the intensity picked up, and I counted another 71, for a total of 111. There were several notable meteors during this time. Two bright meteors flashed near Sirius, one above, that had an estimated magnitude of -2, while a couple minutes later the second one flashed below Sirius with an estimated magnitude of -1. A few minutes later four meteors flashed in opposite directions between the legs of the Ursa Major, reminding me of a fireworks starburst display.

Between 9:30 and 10:00 UT the intensity continued to pick up, and I counted another 124, bringing the total to 235. One of the brightest meteors I saw during the display occurred during this time, between -4 and -5, in the eastern sky to the northeast of Arcturus. It was orange and left an orange train. By now the transparency had increased to 5.0. A number of meteors cast shadows.

There were two times between 9:00 and 10:00 UT that I saw something unusual. While scanning my eyes through Leo I saw what appeared to be point meteors near his head: they appeared, briefly brightened, and then disappeared without leaving a train. These did not appear to be satellites.

Even with the start of astronomical twilight after 10:00 UT, the intensity of the meteors continued to increase. Many meteors were visible per minute, often three or four at the same time. A number of bright green meteors were seen that appeared to break into two and leave long trains. Even by 10:45 UT, less then a hour before sunrise, with many of the fainter stars fading away as morning twilight grew, a number of meteors were still visible. Between 10:00 and 10:45 UT and 307 meteors were counted. This brought the total number of meteors observed to 542, after 2 hours and 15 minutes of observation. According to the November issue of S&T, it is likely that what I was observing was the 1766 dust trail of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. It was a great display to watch and one I will always remember.

As an update, according to preliminary meteor rates from the International Meteor Organization for the 2001 Leonid Meteor Shower, there appear to have been two peaks: one was at 10:45 UT, with the meteors per hour or ZHR of 1000, and the second one at 18:45 UT, with the meteors per hour or ZHR of 3000. The chart can be seen at: SpaceWeather.com .

Report on the 2002 Leonid Meteor Shower

The weather forecast for the Leonids did not look promising. High clouds were predicted to move in, but I decided to check the conditions around 8:00 UT anyway. There were indeed high clouds around, and with the light from the almost full moon I could only see a few of the brighter stars. I figured that I wasn't going to be able to see any meteors, but decided to check again at 9:00 UT.

When I checked again at 9:00 UT to my surprise there were still a lot of high clouds, in particular to the south and north, but there was an opening to the east, overhead, and west. So I got dressed in my heavy winter clothing and headed outside. It was cold, in the lower 20's, but there was no wind so it didn't feel too cold. One of the first things I noticed was how quiet it was. Once in a while I heard an owl, and later a couple of roosters, but little else.

Overhead I noted that the limiting magnitude wasn't very good, between 2-3. Still, I began to see Leonids. As with last year, there were a number of faint ones, a few brighter ones that were green in color, and some brighter ones that were orange-green. Many meteors left trains. One I estimated to be between -4.5 and 5.0. A couple of other ones were as bright as Jupiter, around -2.2. Just by chance a pair went past Jupiter on either side at the same time. I saw also what appeared to be point meteors. In the eastern sky I noted that Venus, Mars, and Spica formed a triangle.

With the high clouds however I did not see as many as last year. After 10:00 UT the high clouds began to fill in the opening to the east, west and overhead, even though the intensity picked up. So between 9:20 UT - 10:20 UT I counted 91, and another 36 by 10:40 UT, for a total of 127. By comparison last year I saw 542 in a little over two hours. Still, considering the weather conditions I felt fortunate to see any.


2) Observations of Barnard's Loop, March 2002

In early March 2002 I decided to try to visually track down the illusive Barnard's Loop (Sh2-276), which have photographed before but have never seen. Barnard's Loop is a very large dim arc of faint nebulosity that is believed to be, like the Veil Nebula in Cygnus, a supernova remnant, only much larger than the Veil. Edward E. Barnard was not the first person to photograph and describe this nebula. It was Harvard astronomer William H. Pickering, brother of Edward C. Pickering who was the fourth director of the Harvard College Observatory, who first discovered it on photographs made at Mount Wilson in 1889. William H. Pickering wrote about the arc, and after Edward E. Barnard found it on photographs he took in 1894 he recalled reading Pickering's comments about it. Why this nebula became associated with Barnard rather than Pickering isn't clear, in particular since Barnard quoted Pickering's original description of this nebula extensively.

The first time I photographed Barnard's Loop was back in early November 1980. Even with a guided exposure of 20 minutes using the modest speed film Kodachrome 64 in my Olympus OM-1, and a 50mm f/1.8 lens at roughly f/2.4, Barnard's Loop was easily recorded. The nebula extended from across Orion's chest, off to the left of Alnitak (Zeta Orionis), and looped around over towards Rigel. Other nebula that showed up well in the photograph included the nebula around Orion's head, the Rosette Nebula, IC 434 and NGC 2024 near Alnitak, and of course M42/M43. I wondered how difficult Barnard's Loop would be to see it visually, even the brighter section of it which extends from off to the left of Alnitak then up and across Orion's chest.

So on a clear night I took my 90mm f/5 refractor out to see if I could find it. To help locate it I printed out a map from SkyMap Pro. One of the features I like about this software is the fact that you can add eyepiece field of view circles. This makes it easier to locate faint objects. For example with the 90mm the 56mm Meade gives 8x and over 6 degree field of view, while the 35mm Panoptic gives 13x and about 5 degree field of view, and the 31mm Nagler gives 15x and a little over a 5 degree field of view. I noted that positioning Alnitak in the lower corner of the field of view of the 56mm Meade the brighter portion of Barnard's Loop off to the left of Alnitak would near the other edge of the eyepiece field of view.

As I set up the scope I noted that the transparency was around 5.0, not as good as we sometimes get when it is closer to 5.5 ~5.6. To help improve dark adaptation as much as possible I kept my observing eye closed while consulting the map with a dim red flashlight, pulled my winter hat down as low as I could without obstructing my vision, and pulled my hood up around the side of my face to further block any light.

I inserted the diagonal with the 56mm Meade and H-Beta attached and got myself oriented to look in the right area. But with the 56mm I was not able to see any portion of the nebula. I then inserted the 35mm Panoptic and was able to pick up portions of it, both with averted and direct vision. Finally I inserted the 31mm Nagler and was able to follow it mostly with direct vision as the nebula ran from the star TYC 4777-1761-1 magnitude 6.57 (if you run an imaginary line through the three bright stars in Orion's belt it intersects with star TYC 4777-1761-1) up towards the star TYC 4786-2368-1 magnitude 4.53, before it made a right hand turn and headed up across Orion's chest. I think one reason it was easier to see the nebula in the 31mm Nagler is because it seems to have better contrast and image brightness than the 35mm Panoptic, with a slightly higher magnification and field of view as well. I think also though that my dark adaptation was slowly getting better as I observed and it became easier to see it.

Barnard's Loop reminded me of a faint river of light that gently meandered through the darkened landscape of the night sky.

Although I have photographed Barnard's Loop in the past, somehow seeing it through the telescope seemed more real to me, was more satisfying, and more memorable.


3) Deep-Sky Observations, June 2002

In early June 2002 we had some clear skies with good transparency so I decided to get some deep-sky observing in. I was using the AP 180mm f/9 EDT refractor on its home made Dobsonian-style mount.

On the first night the temperature was in the mid-40ís, the LM 5.3, and the seeing fair to good. On the second night the temperature was in the upper 30ís, the LM 5.6, with good seeing. On both nights the Milky Way was visible from Sagittarius to Cassiopeia. Also on both nights I spent most of the time observing and making sketches of two galaxies: M101 on the first night, and M51 on the second night. After making these sketches of these objects I observed a number of summer and fall deep-sky objects.

Before observing M 101 I decided to take a look at Comet Ikeya-Zhang. I first observed this comet back in early March, and it has faded quite a bit and gotten smaller since then. A faint outer coma and brighter inner coma was visible and had a blue-green color to them. A faint somewhat skewed tail was noted with a tail length of approximately 1-degree.

M 101 (NGC 5457) is a spiral galaxy located in Ursa Major. I used a magnification of 29x - 101x while observing and sketching this object. Through the eyepiece the M101 has a relatively large, and faint, with an irregular shape to it. At low power (29x and 53x) it almost appeared to have a light green color to it, while M51 has more of a white or light blue color to it. Although M51 was a more complex object to draw, M101 was in some ways more challenging in terms of trying to see and record its faint spiral arms.

When I first began observing it all I could make out was a fainter outer area and a brighter inner area. When trying to bring out the faintest detail I sometimes will use an eyepiece with few elements (4) that has better light transmission and contrast than wide-angle eyepieces with many elements. To help bring out the detail I used a technique mentioned by Stephen James OíMeara in his book on the Messier objects that George Phillips Bond employed: move the object outside of the field of view and let it drift back in. When he suspected seeing a change in sky background he made a note.

Slowly, by using this technique combined with other techniques, including rocking the telescope back and forth, using averted vision, and moving my eye back and forth, helped to detect several spiral arms. The most prominent was located at the bottom, and at the end of this arm the HII region NGC 5462 was visible (Sue French was kind enough to send me information to help identify the HII region that I saw). The second most prominent arm was to the upper left, while the arm to the upper right was least prominent. In between these two arms a lighter area was noted.

Click here to see the sketch of M 101.

M 51 (NGC 5194) is a spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Canes Venatici. NGC 5195 is located at the end of one of its spiral arms. Through the eyepiece the connecting arm between M51 and NGC 5195 was visible. I used a magnification of 29x - 162x while observing and making a sketch of this object. The core of the satellite galaxy NGC 5195 appeared brighter than the core of M51, and somewhat more star like. The central region of M51 is larger than that of NGC 5195, and appeared mottled. I was able to see two dust lanes, one to the north and the second to the southwest of the central region of M51. Several spiral arms were visible, one to the outside of each dust lane, and one on the inside of a dust lane to the right of the central region of M51. A brighter area was noted in this spiral arm.

Click here to see the sketch of M 51.

After finishing the sketches I decided to observe some old deep-sky favorites and jotted down some eyepiece impressions. For most of them I used a 22mm eyepiece that offered a magnification of 74x, and a field of view of a little over 1degree. Unless otherwise noted no filters were used.

M22 (NGC 6656) - A globular cluster in Sagittarius. M22 looked gorgeous, well resolved across the core, and appeared to be floating in a sea of black.

M 8 (NGC 6523) - The Lagoon Nebula, a nebula and cluster located in Sagittarius. The dark channel or lane that runs through the nebula was readily visible, and brighter portions of nebula appeared to be striated. A UHC filter helped to bring out some of the fainter portions of the nebula.

M 20 (NGC 6514) - The Trifid Nebula, a nebula and cluster located in Sagittarius. Both portions of this nebula were visible. This included the three dark lanes that bisect of the southern portion of the nebula around the double star, and the fainter reflection nebula surrounding the northern star.

M 17 (NGC 6618) - The Swan Nebula, composed of an emission nebula and open cluster located in Sagittarius. Last year I observed and made a sketch of this nebula using a 90mm telescope. When I went back to observe it the other night with the 7.1" I found it easy to see the same detail I had recorded in my sketch, as well as much fainter detail. For me one of the advantages of making a sketch is that it helps to train my eye, so when I go back to observe the object again, I automatically know what to look for and can look for more detail.

M 16 (NGC 6611) - The Eagle Nebula, an open cluster and emission nebula located in Serpens. With the UHC filter it lived up to its name, with the nebula that forms the wings and tail feathers visible.

M 6 (NGC 6405) - Open cluster in Scorpius. This cluster appeared large, loosely compressed, and had an irregular shape.

M 4 (NGC 6121) - A very pretty globular cluster in Scorpius, it has a line of about dozen 10th to 12th magnitude stars running north to south that give the center of the cluster a linear appearance to it.

Antares - Double star, Alpha Scorpii, located in Scorpius. The seeing wasnít very steady when I tried to split this star, but with the OIII filter in place there were times when the companion star seemed to wink in and out.

M 13 (NGC 6205) - The Great Cluster of Hercules. Absolutely gorgeous as always, easily resolved across its core. Moderately condensed at the center, with many stars chains visible emanating from the core. There was a recent on-line discussion regarding the colors visible in globular clusters. To my eye M13 appeared almost blue in color.

NGC 6207 - This faint galaxy located to the north-northeast of M13 appeared as a fine sliver of light at medium magnification.

M 57 (NGC 6720) - The Ring Nebula, a planetary nebula located in Lyra. Bright, elongated at both ends, with the interior of the ring appeared slightly lighter than outside of the ring.

M 27 (6853) - The Dumbbell Nebula, a planetary nebula located in Vulpecula. Appeared very large with a light green color to it. The hourglass-shape of the nebula appeared mottled, and several stars were embedded in it. The fainter ears were visible on both sides of the nebula.

Alberio - Double star, Beta Cygni, located in Cygnus. Itsí golden-yellow and blue stars beautiful as always to observe.

Even though it is June, and summer had not officially started yet, around midnight I noticed that Pegasus was already rising in the eastern sky, so I swung the telescope over to observe M15, and later as Andromeda got higher, M31, M32, and M110.

M 15 (NGC 7078) - A globular cluster located in Pegasus. Very pretty, it is fainter and more compact then M13.

M 31 (NGC 224) - Spiral galaxy located in Andromeda. Although still low in the sky, M31 showed portions of a dust lane, with the brighter central region showing a star like center. Both M32 (NGC 221) and M110 (NGC 205) were visible nearby.

Often during the summer months hazy skies reduce the splendor of these deep-sky objects, so it was a pleasure to be able to observe them under clear transparent skies. Also, since the time between the end of astronomical twilight after sunset, and the beginning of astronomical twilight before sunrise, the nights are shorter now. Still, with fall constellations rising in the east around midnight it is a reminder that the nights will soon be getting longer again.

As I began to take down the telescope to bring it inside I thought about the comet, clusters, nebula, and stars that I had observed, and that all of these objects were in our galaxy. In the other galaxies I observed there are no doubt comets, clusters, nebula, and stars, and if life exists in these other galaxies there may be sentient beings that observe the heavens and give names to these objects that make sense to them. So in a way life in our galaxy and life in other galaxies may all be connected by the shared common interest in the heavens.

In addition to being an enjoyable hobby, astronomy can be also a very mind expanding experience.


4) Moon and Saturn Observations, January 2003

On January 13th 2003 I spent some time observing the Moon and Saturn using the AP 130mm f/8.35 EDF refractor on its homemade Dobsonian-style mount.

While observing the Moon I decided to look for features named for William Cranch Bond and his son George Phillips Bond whom I had done research on last year. I noted also that near the feature named for George Phillips Bond there was one named for Asaph Hall. Asaph Hall is remembered for his discovery of the two Martian moons in 1877 while he worked at the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC, but his observing career actually started at the Harvard College Observatory. With the coming close opposition of Mars later this year observers will no doubt attempt to catch a glimpse of these moons he discovered.

Asaph Hall was a school teacher in northern Ohio in 1856-1857 when he decided to take up the study of astronomy. He corresponded with William Bond, first director of the Harvard College Observatory, who offered him a position as an assistant at the observatory with a small salary. Hall and his wife arrived in Cambridge in August 1857, where they had a kind reception from William Bond. At the time George Phillips Bond was away on a trip in New Hampshire. Hall began his work under the guidance of William Bond and made good progress, as William Bond was very kind and pleasant to work for. He worked hard, and after five or six weeks George Bond returned and was a little surprised to find an assistant doing so much work. When George Bond talked to Asaph Hall he found out that he had a wife, twenty-five dollars in cash, and a salary of three dollars a week. George Bond suggested that he leave astronomy, as he felt they would starve, but Hall laughed and said he and his wife had made their minds and that they were sure they would make it. George Bond was satisfied with this.

During his career at the Harvard College Observatory Asaph Hall worked with George Bond a great deal as an assistant for recording and reducing his observations. This included George Bond's work in observing and photographing the stars, photometric observations, Donati's Comet, and his work on the Orion Nebula, besides pursuing his own studies. He had strong memories of how cold his feet were when he was assisting George Bond with his winter observations of the Orion Nebula. He would sit in a small alcove of the dome behind a black curtain, and note on the chronometer the transits time of the stars when George Bond called them out, and write down also the declination readings. Sometimes George Bond would call Hall to examine a very faint star or some portion of the nebula. Hall felt that George Bond had one of the keenest eyes he had ever seen, and that George Bond's work on the Orion Nebula formed an epoch in its history.

A large walled plain (158 km in size) is named after William Cranch Bond which is located near Mare Frigoris (Rukl map #4). With the lighting I had the night I observed this plain was easy to see and showed good detail. George Phillips Bond actually has two features named in his honor: one a crater, and the second cleft 150 km in length next to it. Nearby is a flooded crater named in honor of Asaph Hall (Rukl map #15). The lighting wasn't quite as good to see these features but I was able to find them.

In addition to the features named after George Phillips Bond on the Moon there is a crater named after him on Mars.

After finishing observing the Moon I swung the scope over to observe Saturn. One of the moons of Saturn, Hyperion, was independently discovered by William Cranch Bond and George Phillips Bond, as well as William Lassell, in September 1848.

Click here to see the sketch of Saturn made January 13, 2003.


5) Total Lunar Eclipse, November 8th/9th 2003

We were fortunate to have clear skies for the total lunar eclipse that occurred on the night of November 8th/9th 2003. I went out to observe the eclipse using a pair of 22x100mm binoculars mounted on a sturdy tripod and an AP 7.1" f/9 refractor. The eclipse got off to a good start as the Moon entered the penumbra at 22:15 UT and the shading was very noticeable to the unaided eye by 23:05 UT. The partial eclipse began at 23:32 UT and when I observed the Moon at 23:55 UT through the binoculars the partially eclipsed Moon already showed a light orange color to it so I knew it would be a relatively bright eclipse.

The 22x100mm's binoculars provided some nice views of the eclipse because using two eyes gave almost a 3-D effect where the Moon appeared to be floating against a backdrop of stars. For a while the Moon was located below several stars that formed a triangle that reminded me of the shape of a roof of a house, and it was as if the eclipsed Moon was moving through a house of stars.

With the 7.1" refractor I alternated between viewing the eclipse and doing astrophotography of the eclipsed Moon. Lower magnifications helped to bring out the colors on the Moon, which were visible also in the binoculars. The colors ranged from red/deep coppery orange along the northern portion of the Moon, coppery orange along the middle, orange yellow near the middle bottom, and white near the southern portion of the Moon.

Totality began at 1:06 UT on November 9th, and lasted until 1:31 UT. I noted that the Milky Way was now visible from Cygnus through Cassiopeia and Perseus and down to near Auriga, and the Andromeda Galaxy was visible to the unaided eye. My wife and daughter joined me and enjoyed the view. However the temperature was in the mid-20's so they didn't stay out too long.

Watching the Moon as it moved from its partial phases to full eclipse and hanging in the sky as an orange colored ball with a white rim along the bottom of it made it understandable why some ancient people may have felt that eclipses were a bad omen. During the partial phases a coyote howled as if he knew something was happening to the Moon. A flock of geese flew over as well, honking at first but then growing quiet so I could only hear them pass overhead by the sounds of their flapping wings.

So it was a nice lunar eclipse to observe. It may not have been as long as some other lunar eclipses I have been fortunate to observe, as in July 1982 where totality lasted almost two hours (unfortunately I forgot my bug juice and ended up donating a large amount of plasma to the local mosquito population). Nor was the color a pronounced red as eclipses I had seen in the 1960's and 1970's. On the other hand it was not as dark as the eclipse in December 1982 when the Moon all but disappeared during totality due to amount of dust and ash thrown into the atmosphere by the volcanic eruption of El Chichon in Mexico. All and all this eclipse was pleasant to observe and very pretty.


6) Venus transit across the Sun, June 8th, 2004

Venus transited the Sun on June 8th 2004 for the first time since December 6th, 1882 so I was looking forward to observing it. Unfortunately we did not have the best weather to see the transit but I still enjoyed watching it.

I had set up my 90mm f/5 refractor with a Baader solar filter early and waited for sunrise. The sky was partly cloudy but I was hoping it would stay clear enough to watch the transit until Venus reached 3rd contact at the edge of the Sun's disk.

As the Sun cleared the horizon and some nearby tress Venus was visible as a sharp black disk, and I was surprised how large it appeared. There were times when Venus looked 3-D against the Sun, with what appeared a thin atmospheric halo surrounding Venus. I learned when Venus transited the Sun in 2012 that this halo, or faint ring, or arc of brightness is known as the "aureole" and is due to sunlight refracting through the planet's upper atmosphere. Russian scientist Mikhail V. Lomonosov during the 1761 transit first saw this phenomenon. He observed the transit at the St. Petersburg observatory, and from these observations he inferred that Venus had an atmosphere.

During my 2004 observation of the transit some clouds began to pass in front of the Sun, and the clouds reminded me of belts and zones on Jupiter, with the shadow of Venus reminding me of a shadow transit of a Jovian moon.

The clouds grew thicker and occasionally blocked the Sun completely, which made it difficult to make a sketch of Venus as it crossed the Sun, or to take any photographs. My family joined me to observe the transit when the clouds parted, and were very impressed.

All in all I would have preferred the skies to have been clear longer so I could have watched more of the transit, but I enjoyed watching it anyway knowing that this was a rare event that had not taken place in over 122 years. Observing it provided a very strong sense of realism, and of watching celestial mechanics in action as a planet in our solar system revolved around and in front of our Sun.


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