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The fall is one of my favorite times of the year to observe as the nights are growing longer and it is possible to observe deep-sky objects (DSO's) from the spring, summer, fall and winter sky. As the Moon was due to rise only about an hour after the onset of astronomical twilight I decided to set up the TMB 175mm f/8 apo refractor on it's homemade Dobsonian-style mount. The sky was clear and the limiting magnitude was around 5.3 - 5.4.
I initially thought I would observe Jupiter and Vesta, then spend an hour or so observing DSO's, and then observe the Moon before calling it a night after observing for a couple of hours. However as it turned out I ended up observing for six hours.
First up was Jupiter and the asteroid Vesta, which fit into the same field of view of the telescope at 35x and 70x. Jupiter was low in the sky so the seeing wasn't very good. However at I was able to make out a few of its main cloud belts as well as its four moons nearby. Vesta was visible above Jupiter, appeared to have a yellowish color to it and did not look like a star.
Next I observed a number of DSO's. Usually when I observe them I will spend time on each one using different magnifications and filters (depending upon the object) to help bring out the faintest detail. However as I had less than an hour to observe before the Moon rose I decided to observe them relatively quickly using magnifications of 35x and 70x.
M 31 (NGC 224), the Andromeda Galaxy appeared large and elongated that extended over a couple of degrees. It had a bright central region with star-like nucleus to it. There appeared to be hints of two dust lanes.
M 32 (NGC 221) - somewhat oval in shape and showed a fainter outer region, brighter inner region, and a star-like nucleus to it.
M 110 (NGC 205) - appeared elongated and longer than M 32.
The Double Cluster (NGC 869 & NGC 884) are open clusters located in the constellation of Perseus and were very pretty as always. NGC 869 appears more condensed with more stars than NGC 884, while NGC 884 was larger and has a number of red stars in it.
M 51 (NGC 5194) & NGC 5195 - Ursa Major was getting low towards the horizon as I observed M 51 and M 101 (both were around 30 degrees in elevation), so I did not expect to see much detail. However at 35x I was able to see M 51 and NGC 5195 with a hint of the connecting spiral arm between them. At 70x the spiral arm was easier to see and M 51 showed some mottling around the central region. Here is a sketch I made of M 51 when it was better placed in the sky.
M 101 (NGC 5457) - appeared large and faint with a hint of spiral arms and had a slight green tint to it. Here is a sketch I made of M 101 when it was better placed in the sky.
M 27 (NGC 6853) - appeared large and bright at 35x with a distinct green color to it. The apple core shape to the central region was prominent as are the fainter extensions on each side that give the nebula more of a football shape to it. At 70x the central portion shows some mottling with stars embedded in them, and the extensions on both sides show so variations in tone or somewhat feathered.
M 71 (NGC 6838) - at 35x this cluster appears small and condensed with a few stars resolved. At 70x the irregular shape of the cluster was better defined and more of its stars are resolved.
M 56 (NGC 6779) - this small cluster was somewhat resolved around the edges at 35x, while more stars are resolved at 70x.
M 57 (NGC 6720) - the Ring Nebula at 35x shows it characteristic shape and the darker inner portion was prominent. At 70x the ring shape appears more elongated with a star visible near the top. Off to the lower left of the nebula there was a quadruple star, with the one star having a white color while the other star had a pronounced blue color.
M 13 (NGC 6205) - the Great Hercules Cluster at 35x was somewhat resolved around the edges as well as across the front. I noticed a pronounced orange colored star (TYC 2588-2833-1) off to the top of the cluster. In contrast to the orange star the cluster appears somewhat blue. At 70x the cluster was well resolved around its edges as well as across its core with many star chains visible. I inserted a Baader binocular viewer and at 99x the cluster appeared larger with better resolution.
After observing the DSO's I got up from the observing chair and walk around for a bit to stretch my legs. Two bats swooped low over me a couple of times as they searched for mosquitoes to eat. However after the second pass they evidently decided I wasn't a mosquito and flew away.
Uranus - the Moon was getting higher in sky at this point but still behind some trees so I decided to observe Uranus, which was located in Aquarius near phi Aqr which is a bright (magnitude 4.22) orange colored star. At 35x and 70x the planet was resolved as a disk with a bluish color. I inserted the binoviewer again and gradually increased magnification to 264x. The seeing was variable but there were times when one of the polar regions appeared darker than the other polar region, and there appeared to be a lighter zone or belt near the equator on the following limb. It was more detail than I recall seeing on Uranus before. I plan to observe the planet again when the seeing is better.
While taking notes at the eyepiece I dropped my pen on the ground. I shown my red flashlight down to locate the pen and to my surprise saw a large insect walking under my seat that reminded me of a praying mantis. He stopped walking, and we regarded each other for a moment or two before he started walking again, this time under the telescope tripod. Perhaps he was off to a friends place for a midnight snack.
Moon and M 45 - as the Moon cleared the trees I noted it was near the Pleiades. I inserted low power eyepieces into the binocular viewer so that I could see the Moon and part of the Pleiades at the same time. It was a pretty sight and even with variable seeing the Moon showed a wealth of fine detail from 58x to 156x. For example the slopes along the Montes Apenninus had the appearance that debris had flowed downhill from the tops of these mountains. Also detail in lunar features including Alphonsus, Aristillus, Arzachel, Autolycus, Clavius, Mosting A, Ptolemaeus, Rima Ariadaeus, Rupes Recta (the Straight Wall) was striking. Observing the Moon using two eyes with the binocular viewer gives a pronounced 3-D effect to lunar features. Also this telescope provides a subtleness to the view including variations in tone, color, and fine detail that made it seem more real than when looking at lunar photographs. I found myself transfixed at the view as time passed unnoticed.
I spent over an hour observing the Moon and watched as some stars drifted by the limb of the Moon, and other stars as they got close to the Moon before being occulted. Watching the Moon pass by and in front of some of the Pleiades really provided a sense of scale. I was reminded of a similar occultation that I observed of the Pleiades by the last quarter Moon on September 2nd 1988. That September was memorable also because of a very favorable opposition of Mars where it attained a size of 23.81". While this was smaller than the diameter Mars attained during the 2003 opposition when it reached 25.11", the 1988 opposition was actually better for northern hemisphere observers as it was higher in the sky so the seeing was better. Because of this I had many more observing sessions where I was able to see and record detail in my sketches in 1988 than in 2003.
Mars - after finishing observing the Moon I swung the telescope over to Mars. It showed a gibbous phase and the surface features appeared subdued due to the dust that is still in the Martian atmosphere from recent large dust storms. Some of the features that were visible on Mars included Hellas and possibly Mare Tyrrhenum and Syrtis Major. When I observed Mars on August 21st of this year it was located near the head of Taurus and across from Aldebaran seemingly giving the bull the appearance of two orange/red eyes instead of one.
Often when I am observing I will hear owls in the distance as they call out to each other. One owl will hoot a few times, and then from a different direction its mate will respond. Once they determine where the other one is and they meet the night grows quiet again. However on this night the owl that was calling out to its mate was in a nearby tree so its hoot was quite loud and it startled me. The owl called out more times and showed some variation in tone, but there was no response from the other owl. Eventually it left. Later I heard a coyote howl in the distance, and it was answered by another coyote from a different direction.
Orion and M 42 (NGC 1976) - Orion was rising in the eastern sky as I was getting ready to end the observing session. A quick look at M 42 revealed some nebulosity and three of the four stars visible in the Trapezium.
As I was getting ready to take my telescope equipment down I looked to the northern sky and noted that during the time I was observing Ursa Major, the Great Bear, had swung from the north western sky, to setting in the northern sky, and beginning to rise in the north eastern sky. I was reminded of how some Native American tribes explained the fall colors. They thought the celestial hunter caused the change in color by killing the Great Bear, and the red leaf color came from the bear's blood while the orange and yellow colors came from the fat from the campfire of the celestial hunter who was cooking the bear's meat. Even though today we have a better scientific explanation of why the leaves change colors it doesn't take away from our enjoyment of the fall colors.
I recently had the opportunity to get in a couple of early morning observing sessions, one with the TMB 130mm f/9.25 and the other with the TMB 105mm f/6.2.
During the first session with the TMB 130mm I observed Mars, Venus, and the Moon. There were some high clouds that obscured the view from time to time, and the seeing was variable, ranging from fair to good. First up was Mars, which was at magnitude -0.1 and had a diameter of 9.65". Through the binocular viewer at 292x it showed a gibbous phase, and some surface and atmospheric features. This included the North Polar Hood clouds, which appeared gray-blue in color. In the southern portion of the globe Mare Erythraeum, Protei Regio, and Solis Lacus were visible.
At 40x Venus was well resolved and was quite bright with a magnitude of -4.5. Its diameter was 34.52". There appeared to be some dusky markings along the terminator. The 33% crescent phase of Venus reminded me of an eclipse of the Sun. Through the binocular viewer at 85x the dusky markings along the terminator were more pronounced.
The Moon was a few days past full and the terminator was near Palus Somni, and there was some interesting detail visible. This included the crater walls of Hercules, which appeared to be higher than the nearby mare. The fine detail in craters including Longomontaus and Tycho was also impressive. The craters and mountains near the limb of the Moon appeared higher in elevation than the mare as well. The TMB apo refractors that I own provide high contrast views, and shows subtle differences in color, contrast, and tone. For lack of a better word, the view seems more "real" or "natural" to me. This in combination with the binocular viewer gave a pronounced 3-D look to the lunar features. The result was a feeling that I was looking at these lunar features from above the Moon rather than through a telescope. Although I had this impression before when using other telescopes since 1972, and have seen more lunar detail in larger aperture telescopes, the view does not have quite the same "natural" view to it so the feeling of looking at the Moon from orbit is not as strong or pronounced as in the TMB refractors.
For the second observing session I set up the TMB 105mm f/6.2. It was a clear night with the crescent Moon in the eastern sky. The seeing varied from fair to good.
I began by observing M 42, and at 47x the four stars in the Trapezium were resolved. The central portion of the nebula had showed some variation in tone or mottling and had a slight green-blue color to it. Some nebulosity was visible extending up from the bat wings along the bottom of the nebula.
Saturn was very pretty to see again as always. One of the first things that struck me about Saturn was how much narrower the rings were than the last time I observed the planet, so it did not seem as bright. Through the binocular viewer at 158x shadow of the rings on the globe was pronounced and the Equatorial Zone was visible. On one side of the planet Titan was visible while on the other side Rhea was visible.
At 22x the crescent Moon and M 44 the Beehive Cluster looked very pretty near each other. I inserted the binocular viewer and with steady seeing conditions slowly increased the magnification to 277x. As with the TMB 130mm, I was impressed by the natural view of the lunar features and the pronounced 3-D look to them.
While observing I thought about my friend Thomas Back and how I appreciated the fine telescopes and eyepieces that he designed. The last email I received from him was about a week before he passed away. He had been ill for a while but during our last email exchange there was no indication that his condition had worsened. It is a reminder that we should appreciate the people in our lives, such as friends, family, and loved ones, for we never know what the future holds.
Still there is a perspective that astronomy can provide to our lives, even during sad times. I was driving past a farmland one morning and the gibbous Moon was setting behind a hill. On the hill there were some trees that had just started to show some fall color, a farm house, and in the foreground some cows were gazing on the grass. The scene showed the connection between the Earth and the nourishment it provides for physical and spiritual life, the Moon, and the larger universe to which we all belong.
I noticed a few weeks ago before dawn that the shape of the constellation Leo had changed with the addition of Venus and Saturn nearby. Recently these planets were within a few degrees of each other and with five to six degrees of Regulus so I set up the TMB 105mm f/6.2 to observe them. Also I set up the TMB 130mm f/9.25 to observe Mars.
It was a mostly clear sky with a limiting magnitude around 5.0 but high clouds drifted in from time to time. The seeing for Mars was quite variable, ranging from poor to fair to good. I spent some time studying Mars and during brief periods when the seeing settled down I made a rough sketch of the features that were visible. This included in the Southern Hemisphere Syrtis Major, Mare Serpentis, Mare Tyrrhenum, and Hellas which appeared bright. In the Northern Hemisphere the North Polar Hood clouds appeared gray in color. While observing the Red planet I used a Baader binocular viewer with TMB Super Monocentric eyepieces and the Baader Moon and Skyglow filter which enhances both surface and atmospheric detail.
I observed M 42 with the TMB 105mm f/6.2 at 22x. The central region appeared mottled with a pronounced blue color to it, and the four stars of the Trapezium were visible. Also the nebula extended up from the bat wings and on past the central region and the detail reminded me of some photographs I have seen of M 42. M 45 looked pretty also at 22x.
By far the prettiest view of the night was of Venus and Saturn, which were nicely resolved and easily fit into the same field of the TMB 105mm f/6.2 at 16x and 22x. Venus was strikingly white with a magnitude -4.5, almost 43% full, and a diameter of 28.16". Saturn's color was more subdued and much dimmer at magnitude 0.8 and had an equatorial diameter of 16.71". Nearby Titan and Rhea were visible. I last viewed these two planets through the same telescope last June when they were also within a few degrees of each other in the western sky after sunset. However back then my main concern was trying to avoid swarms of mosquitoes. This time my main concern was staying warm.
I have observed the comet several times since last Thursday night October 25th but this is the first opportunity I have had to write up and post my observations. During my observations on October 25th there were a number of clouds around as well as the light from the full Moon but I was able to get a good view of the comet using the TMB 175mm f/8 apo refractor on it's homemade Dobsonian-style mount. Through the telescope at 47x and 70x the pseudo-nucleus was visible with fan-shaped material coming off from it. An inner coma and larger but fainter outer coma was visible as well. The outer coma had a gauze-like appearance to it. Both the inner and outer coma was light yellow in color. There were times where there appeared to be a fainter envelope or halo around the outer coma. To help enhance the detail I tried some different filters that I use when observing deep-sky objects including a Lumicon OIII filter and Baader UHC-S filter. During my two hour observing session I made a couple of sketches of the comet.
On Saturday night October 27th I observed the comet again before the clouds rolled in this time with a TMB 105mm f/6.2. Even with the smaller aperture the comet appeared larger and the inner coma, pseudo-nucleus, and outer coma appeared light yellow.
The sky was clear Sunday night/Monday morning October 28th-29th so I observed the comet with the TMB 175mm for several hours and made a couple of sketches. The comet appeared noticeably larger through this telescope than when I observed it last Thursday. Also, while the color of the pseudo-nucleus and inner coma still appeared light yellow, the outer coma appeared green at low power and blue-green at higher power. In addition at low power the outside edge of the outer coma did appear to have somewhat of an annular look to it but this was not as noticeable at higher power. The outer coma showed some variation in tone. There were two stars visible in the outer coma. By comparison the pseudo-nucleus appeared more diffuse.
I was curious if I could see more clearly the fainter envelope or halo around the outer coma that I noticed last Thursday night. The envelope or halo on the right hand side of the coma had a smooth round appearance to it and reminded me of a parabolic hood. I was able to trace it as it arced around the top and bottom of the comet. However as I studied the halo as it came around the bottom of the coma and up towards the left-hand side it no longer appeared smooth and round. Rather my eye kept detecting what looked like striations of lighter material coming off of the outer coma.
To make sure this wasn't an optical illusion I spent a long period of time trying magnifications from 87x to 156x using the TMB Super Monocentric eyepieces, different filters, as well as techniques I use to enhance subtle detail in deep-sky objects. This included taking long deep, slow breaths to increase the oxygen level to the brain, gently tapping the telescope tube, and moving the comet outside of the field of view and letting in drift back in while determining when there was a change in the sky background. To help reduce stray light when looking for fine detail I pulled the jacket hood up over the top and side of my head and cupped my hand around my observing eye and eyepiece.
After a while I was able to determine that some of these striations of lighter material were coming off of the bottom left hand side of the outer coma at an angle, as well as straight back from the coma. There were some of these striations of lighter material coming off on the upper right hand side but they were not at the same angle or as prominent. It appears this lighter striations were the beginning of a tail. Around the same time I was detecting these lighter striations that appeared to be beginning of a tail two other observers obtained photographs of the tail showing similar detail. I would urge all observers to look for the tail(s) as it grows more pronounced.
I haven't had much luck with the weather for observing so when we had a brief break in the clouds recently I set up the TMB 105mm f/6.2 to observe Comet 8P Tuttle. The comet was suppose to be around magnitude 5.8 but with high clouds drifting through and some haze it took me a while to find it in the constellation of Cetus. The limiting magnitude was around 3.0.
Through the telescope with magnifications between 16x - 54x it appeared light blue in color, and circular in shape. There were times when there appeared to be a faint inner coma which had wedge shaped material coming off from it. I hoped to make a sketch of it but haze moved in and obscured the comet. I briefly attempted to observe Mars but the seeing was not good enough to make out fine detail.
I recently observed Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon in the morning sky before sunrise. Both Venus and Jupiter were within a degree of each other, and they formed a pretty and striking pair in the southeastern sky. Through the TMB 105mm f/6.2 apo refractor they fit into the same field of view in a Baader binocular viewer with a pair of 24mm TV Panoptics at 46x. Venus appeared gibbous in shape and was much larger and brighter at magnitude -4.0 than Jupiter that was at magnitude -1.9. On Jupiter the North and South Equatorial Belts were visible as was the Equatorial Zone and faint North and South Polar Regions. In addition Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto were visible nearby. In comparing the colors of the planets Venus appeared white-yellow while Jupiter appeared more creamy-white in color.
I then swung the telescope over to observe the Moon, which was past last quarter and at 39% phase. The seeing was better for the Moon so I could use higher magnification. The view was striking. This included detail visible on the Earthlit portion of the Moon, as well as the sunlit portion of the Moon, including Copernicus (Rukl map #31) and the Carpathian Mountains (Rukl map #20), which stood out in high contrast. Seeing the Moon in the morning sky before sunrise is common. We sometimes forget how impressive it can appear through a telescope.
I was running late the night of the eclipse so was only able to catch portions of it. This included the partial phases with the unaided eye. However later I was able to get a better look at the total phase with the unaided eye and a pair of Oberwerk 11x70mm Binoculars. The Moon appeared orange in color except near the limb where it was more yellow. Through the binoculars the Moon appeared to be floating in a sea of stars. With the unaided eye the Moon formed a pretty triangle with Regulus and Saturn. I noticed that with the spring and summer constellations of Bootes and Herculis rising in the eastern sky, and the fall and winter constellations of Andromeda and Orion setting in the western sky, it felt like the sky was reflecting the change of seasons here on the Earth.
I did not get the opportunity to photograph it but here is how the total lunar eclipse appeared back on November 8th, 2003.
I recently observed deep-sky objects (DSO's) and Jupiter using the TMB 105mm f/6.2 apo refractor on an alt-az mount.
During the first early morning observing session before astronomical twilight set in I used the TMB 105mm with the TMB 30mm Paragon eyepiece which provides a magnification of 22x to observe a variety of DSO's. I normally use different magnifications when observing but got set up late so decided to just use one eyepiece for a quick tour of some old favorite DSO's. It was a clear night with some haze and a limiting magnitude around 5.0 No filters were used.
First up was M31, M32, and M110. All three objects easily fit into the same field of view (FOV), with M31 taking up the entire FOV. M31 appeared elongated with a brighter central region and a stellar nucleus. Both M32 and M110 were visible nearby.
Next up was M33, which appeared large and faint with a gray color to it.
Jupiter was low in the sky and already in the trees to the southwest. Io, Ganymede, and Europa were visible nearby. On Jupiter the North and South Equatorial Belts were visible. It was pretty with the leaves on the tree limbs above and below it providing an interesting perspective of life here on Earth as well as Jupiter in the same FOV.
M13 appeared small with a noticeable concentration of stars in the center. Some stars were resolved around the edges. There was an orange star visible above M13.
M57 was resolved as a small smoke ring with the central area appearing darker.
M11 showed its distinctive shape which often reminds me of the MTV logo.
The Double Cluster was pretty with a few red stars mixed in.
The sky was clear and the seeing varied from fair to good when I observed Jupiter with the TMB 105mm a couple of weeks later when it was better placed in the sky. I used with a Baader binocular viewer with and 8mm, 7mm, and 6mm (81x - 109x) TMB Super Monocentric eyepieces and a Baader Moon and Skyglow filter which enhances atmospheric detail on Jupiter and helps to bring out fine detail.
On Jupiter The North Equatorial Belt (NEB) and South Equatorial Belt (SEB) were visible as was the Equatorial Zone and the North Polar Region (NPR) and South Polar Region (SPR). The SPR appeared medium gray in color, and the South Temperate Zone appeared white in color. The SEB was bisected in the middle by a rift and appeared gray in color. The Equatorial Zone appeared white in color.
The NEB appeared uneven and reddish brown in color, as did the North Temperate Belt. The North Tropical Zone and North Temperate Zone appeared white in color. The NPR appeared bluish-gray in color. Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto were visible nearby.
With Mars and Saturn favorably placed in the morning sky before sunrise I set up the TMB 130mm f/9.25 apo refractor on an alt-az mount to observe them. I used a Baader binocular viewer with TV 24mm Panoptics and TMB Super Monocentric eyepieces. Magnifications ranged between 85x - 204x.
It was a clear and cold with the limiting magnitude around 5.2. It was a nice morning to observe the constellations with Bootes, Ursa Major, Leo and Virgo were rising in the eastern sky, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco and Ursa Minor were visible in the north, Orion, Canis Major, Taurus and Gemini were visible in the south, and Perseus and Andromeda were visible in the west.
I swung the scope over to observe M42 first. It appeared quite large with the "bat wings" along the bottom of the nebula visible, as well as the fan shaped nebulosity that extended from the bat wings up towards the top. In the central portion of M42 the color of the nebulosity was light blue, and six stars were visible in the Trapezium.
Mars, with a diameter of only 9.01", appeared small through the telescope. However its gibbous phase was well defined, and the North Polar Cap was bright. The seeing was only fair so while it was possible to see some dark surface markings visible near the terminator it was not possible to identify the features.
The seeing was similar for Saturn but with a diameter of 16.56" it was easier to see the detail. Also it appeared surprisingly large compared to Mars. However Saturn, at magnitude 1.0, appeared dimmer than Mars at magnitude 0.2.
The rings of Saturn were inclined approximately 4 degrees and cast a pronounced shadow on the southern portion of the globe. It was as striking view. The North Equatorial Zone appeared light yellow in color, while the Northern Hemisphere appeared greenish tan in color. The Southern Hemisphere appeared tan in color. Four moons were visible nearby including Tethys, Rhea, Dione, and Titan.
One of the most memorable observations I ever had was when Mars occulted Epsilon Geminorum on April 8th, 1976. At the time Mars was located in the constellation of Gemini. Both Mars and Epsilon Geminorum were well placed in the sky with an altitude of almost 52°. Mars had a diameter of 6.33", a 90% phase, and a magnitude of 1.0. Epsilon Geminorum was dimmer with a magnitude of 3.06.
I observed the occultation with my Criterion RV-6 reflector at 220x. As the star approached the gibbous-shaped planet it appeared as if one of the Martian moons had suddenly grown much brighter, or that Mars and the star formed a very odd looking binary star system. I watched carefully as the star approached the limb of Mars, winked out behind it, and then reappeared from behind the other limb. It was a remarkable sight.
On March 20th, the first day of spring, the Moon passed just to the southwest of the Pleiades from my observing location. I observed them using the TMB 130mm f/9.25 apo refractor on an alt-az mount. The skies were partly cloudy and the seeing generally fair.
At low power using a 56mm 2" Meade Super Plossl the Moon and the cluster easily fit into the same field of view. It was a very pretty sight. Using TMB 40mm and 30mm 2" Paragons more detail was visible and the contrast was higher, but I could no longer see the entire cluster.
Using the TMB 16mm and 9mm 100° eyepieces there was nice detail visible in the craters Theophilus and neighboring crater Cyrillus (Rukl map #46) near Mare Tranquillitatis. For example in Theophilus the walls had a terraced appearance, and in the interior two elongated peaks were visible near the center as well as two smaller peaks that looked like a double star. Cyrillus showed also two elongated peaks. I then swung the telescope over to observe Mars, however the high clouds and fair seeing reduced the finer detail.
Observing the Moon pass near the Pleiades and then Mars reminded me of an occultation of the Pleiades by the Moon I observed back on September 2, 1988. I was using a different telescope at the time with eyepieces including the 56mm Meade and a 35mm 2" Clave Plossl. During that occultation it was interesting to watch as a star approached the sunlit portion of the Moon and then disappear behind it. Later it would pop back into view from behind the dark limb. Then, like now, Mars was visible in the night sky. However it was a much more favorable opposition then as it reached a diameter of 23.81". Even though Mars reached a diameter of 25.11" in 2003 it was much lower in the sky, so the seeing was much better during the 1988 opposition.
In early August I observed Saturn, Mars, and Venus low in the western sky after sunset both with the unaided eye and through a pair of Oberwerk 11x70mm Binoculars. The planets formed a pretty triangle with Mars on the left, Saturn at the top, and Venus on the right. At magnitude -4.2 Venus was noticeably brighter than Mars at magnitude 1.5 and Saturn at magnitude 1.0. A few nights later I observed them again when they were joined by the crescent Moon.
As the sky grew darker I set up the TMB 175mm f/8 apo refractor on it's homemade Dobsonian-style mount to observe deep-sky objects and Jupiter. It was a clear and cool night with the limiting magnitude around 4.9. The Milky Way was visible from Sagittarius through Cygnus, Cassiopeia, and Perseus, but on nights of better transparency it is more prominent. The lower transparency on this night reduced the amount of detail I could see in the deep-sky objects. The seeing conditions were fair.
I observed for about four hours from shortly after astronomical twilight ended until shortly before it began the following morning. I enjoy late night and early morning observing sessions as I have found that there is generally less light pollution so the limiting magnitude can be better. Also with less traffic it easier to listen the sounds of nature and get in touch with the serenity and peacefulness of nature and the night sky.
It has been a while since I last had the opportunity to observe, so I decided to just relax and visit some deep-sky objects I have seen over the years. When I observe I will often spend 15 - 30 minutes or longer on each object using different magnifications and filters to see if I can see some detail I have not noticed before. It helps me to learn also how transparency and seeing impacts observing conditions for different objects. I usually take notes and make sketches at the eyepiece in a logbook.
The magnifications I used during this observing session included 25x (56mm Meade), 35x (TMB 40mm Paragon), 47x (TMB 30mm Paragon), 70x (Nagler 20mm), 88x (TMB 16mm 100°) and 156x (TMB 9mm 100°). I used a Baader OIII filter to bring out detail in nebula.
First up was M 8, the Lagoon Nebula. At 35x and 47x the nebula showed the cluster and nebula well including variations in tone. The dark lagoon portion bisected the nebula. At 47x M 8 was impressively large and took up most of the central portion of the field of view (FOV). The OIII helped to enhance the fainter portions of the nebula.
M 20 - the Trifid Nebula. At 47x the larger portion of the nebula is bisected by dark lanes and has a double stars near its center, and the smaller portion has an orange colored star near its center. The larger portion had a slight bluish color to it.
M 22 - at 47x cluster reminded me of powdery sugar, while at 70x the stars were resolved across the core. I tried using 156x but it seemed like too much magnification giving the seeing conditions.
At one point I noted a bright (around second magnitude) satellite moving towards the southwest. It seemed too dim to be the ISS, so later I checked Spaceweather.com satellite tracker and found that it was a SL-16 R/B rocket body of the Soviet Zenit (Zenith) family.
M 17 - at 35x it appeared as a delicate Swan traveling serenely across the sky. It had a light green color to it. The body showed some variations in tone, and it appeared featured at the end. The OIII filter helped to bring out some fainter detail but I preferred the unfiltered view as the nebula appeared more delicate. It was very pretty.
M 11 - the Wild Duck cluster appeared quite large and very pretty at 47x. In the past it has sometimes reminded me of the MTV symbol but not on this night.
From time to time I would sit back in the chair and observe the night sky with unaided eyes, and caught a few meteors that appeared to be early Persied meteors. I observed also some sporadic meteors as well as faint satellites.
M27 - the Dumbbell Nebula, appeared large and bright at 35x, with a light green color to it. It has a pronounced football shape to it and the ends of the nebula are lighter than the center.
Alberio - at 35x it was beautiful as always with its blue and gold colored stars.
M 13 - the Great Hercules Cluster appears large and bright at 35x and somewhat resolved around the edges. At 70x - 88x it is well resolved across its core. Beautiful object.
M 92 - At 35x the stars in this globular cluster begin to be resolved. Also it appears much smaller and less bright than its better known neighbor M 13. Nevertheless it shows a bright central area that fades out to a larger and fainter outer region. At 70x the stars are better resolved.
Veil Nebula - NGC 6960. Even without the OIII filter I could begin to see the nebula near star 52 Cygni at 35x. At 47x the nebula has somewhat of a striated appearance to it. The view is very impressive. Walter Scott Houston noted that "It is an excellent nebula for training the eye, perhaps the most important observing "accessory", to help us get the most out of the telescope we are using."
While observing deep-sky objects I noted that Jupiter was slowing getting higher in the sky. However I did not want to observe it until finishing my deep-sky observing as it would blow out my night vision. However with high clouds drifting in from the south I swung the scope over to observe it. I inserted the Baader binocular viewer with TMB Monocentric eyepieces and had one of the most impressive views I have ever had of it. This is in part because of its size this year. when Jupiter is at opposition this year it will be at its closet approach in its 11.86 year orbit, so it will reach 49.86". The last time it exceeded this was in 1951 when it was 49.93".
Some of the features I noted included a shadow transit by Io, and the other moons appearing as disks with slight differences in size and color when the seeing settled down. Also portions of the faded South Equatorial Belt (SEB) were visible along its northern edge. The North Equatorial Belt (NEB) appeared red-brown in color, and had a rift in it. There appeared to be some bays along the NEB south.
After observing Jupiter for a while I got up to stretch my legs and noticed the Pleiades, Taurus, and Orion rising in the eastern sky. It reminded me of an earlier observing session I had thirty years ago back in August of 1980. At the time I had just received my new C8 and was waiting for a clear night to try it out.
To help pay for the scope I worked two jobs. One was during the week at a local super market where I was fortunate to met Clarence "The Big Man" Clemons who plays the saxophone for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. The other job was as a busboy for a local restaurant on the weekends.
One night the weather looked promising with clear skies and cool temperatures. I got home from the restaurant around 1:00 AM one Sunday morning and set the C8 up for first light. I observed many of the same objects I observed with the TMB 175mm thirty years later, including M 13, M 42 Venus, and the Pleiades, until astronomical twilight set in. It was from that first late night and early morning observing session that I came to appreciate its advantages, and something I still do to this day.
In the life span of humans 30 years can see like a long time, yet by the time scale of the universe it is less than a blink of an eye. Knowing this can sometimes help to put our problems into a different perspective, one that can gained by being simply being out under a starlit sky.
I woke up early before dawn and looking out the back window noted it was clear. Winter constellations including Orion and Gemini were rising in the east as was the crescent Moon. So I decided to set up the TMB 105mm f/6.2 on an alt-az mount for a quick observing session. The limiting magnitude was around 5.2 and the seeing was fair to good.
I noted that M 42 was prominent while setting the telescope up. So I inserted the Baader binocular viewer in with the 1.7x corrector and pair of 24mm Panoptics which gave a magnification of 46x. The nebula was pretty as always with the four stars of the Trapezium visible. The central portion of the nebula showed some mottling and had a light blue color to it. The "bat wings" were visible along the bottom portion of the nebula and extended upwards (later during the day while looking at some clouds one of them had a similar shape as the central region of M 42, as if nature was repeating itself in Earth's atmosphere).
I swung the telescope over to observe the crescent Moon which was just a few days from new and its illuminated phase was 14%. The earthlit portion of the Moon was pronounced and I was able to make out craters and mare, which showed differences in color from gray to white. The seeing was good so I used up to 9mm TMB mono's at 123x. On the sunlit portion of the Moon near the terminator the mare Ocean Procellarum was visible as were craters Seleusus, Kraftt, and Carrdanus, and Eddington (Rukl maps #17 and 28). Bright rays extended across the lunar mare.
For some reason the detail in this area stayed with me the rest of the day, although I am not sure why. Part of it could be that I am not usually observing this portion of the Moon when it is this close to new phase. It could be also the combination of the fine optics, use of the binocular viewer that enhances the 3D effect, steady seeing, sharp lunar detail, and lack of scatter near the lunar limb, all of which produced a feeling of "realness" for lack of a better term. Whatever the factors involved it was an impressive view.
As night approached and the sky was clear I saw that Jupiter was rising so set up the TMB 130mm f/9.25 on an alt-az mount to observe it. The seeing conditions weren't that good when I first set up so I observed some deep-sky objects first. The limiting magnitude was about the same as it had been during the early morning observing session.
First up was M 31, M 32, and M 110. They fit easily into the field of view (FOV) of the TMB 40mm Paragon. M 31 extended about three quarters of the way across the FOV. It showed a bright central region which faded to a less bright outer region and fainter arms. In the 30mm Paragon dark dust lanes started to become noticeable in front of the central region, as well as off to each side where they had a "race track" appearance. M 110 had an elongated appearance to it, while M 32 showed a bright center, less bight outer core and fainter outer region.
The Double Cluster in Perseus was beautiful as always, as was M 103 in Cassiopeia. I noted a pretty a double star in Cassiopeia which had yellow and gold components.
By this time the seeing for Jupiter was much better, so I was able to use up to 9mm TMB mono's at 288x. I used a Baader Moon & Skyglow filter to help enhance detail in Jupiter's atmosphere. Some of the features I recorded in a rough sketch included the North Polar Region which had a gray/blue color to it, the North Temperate Zone, and the North Temperate Belt which had an irregular appearance to it. The North Equatorial Belt was brownish red in color, was bisected by a rift, and had bays along its southern edge.
The Equatorial Zone (EZ) appeared white while the outline of the South Equatorial Belt was visible and had an uneven appearance to it, particularly along the EZ. Part of the South Temperate Zone was visible near the following limb, and there appeared to be a dark spot or condensation near the following limb. The South Temperate Belt was visible, as was the South Tropical Zone. The South Polar Region appeared tan/brown in color, and had somewhat of a mottled appearance to it.
Three of Jupiter's moons were visible, and based on their size and color I was able to identify them. For example, Ganymede was the largest and had a slight yellow color to it. Callisto was smaller and had a slight gray color to it, while Io had a slight orange color to it.
I don't always have the time to observe, let alone twice on the same day, but it was nice to be to able to do it.
I set the TMB 105mm f/6.2 on an alt-az mount up to observe Comet 103P Hartley 2, which was near the Double Cluster, NGC 884 and NGC 869. It was not the best night for observing as there were some clouds around and the limiting magnitude was around 4.9. Last night I observed the comet with a pair of 11x70mm binoculars and it appeared as a large faint deep-sky object.
In the TMB 105mm with magnifications of 16x, 22x, and 33x the comet appears quite large, and I get the feeling that if it was passing between the Double Cluster it would take up most of the space between them. The low power view of the comet and Double Cluster are very pretty. I do not note a strong color to the comet - perhaps a slight green color but that is about it.
The comet has a faint outer coma that shows some mottling or variations in tone. There are times I get the impression of an elongation to the center of it, but I cannot confirm this. I inserted that Baader Planetarium's UHC-S Filter that I have found can help to enhance the detail in comets. For example I found this filter worked well when I observed Comet Holmes. For Comet 103P Hartley 2 it helped to enhance the detail in central area better, as the preceding or left hand side of the comet appears to be brighter than the following or right hand side of the comet. The comet has an overall circular shape to it, but I still cannot shake the impression of an elongation near the center of it. At 41x the central portion of the comet is more pronounced.
On the following two nights I set the TMB 130mm f/9.25 on an alt-az mount up to observe the comet again and make sketches of it. Through the TMB 130mm at 60x with the UHC-S Filter I was able to confirm the elongated portion near the center of the comet, which may be an inner coma. It appears as a small brighter circular feature near the preceding or left hand side of the comet, which fades as it nears the right hand side of the outer coma. Here is the sketch I made of Comet 103P Hartley 2 on October 11th. The inner coma appeared to be offset from the outer coma more than it had been the previous night October 10th.