Blog Thursday 25th Feb 2011


At the moment I’m under a bit of pressure, work is busy so I’m spending extended hours there which I don’t like to do and in addition to this I have two deadlines looming, I have to have  some work done for astronomy submissions. The earlier deadline of the two is a Deep Sky article due on the 28th (Monday) for the Norwich Astronomy Society (NAS) March -April magazine, Cygnus. I have started to pen a rather more specialist piece for this society detailing elusive targets for the more advanced and better equipped observer, in short big scope owning nuts like me!

The other deadline is to prepare a selection of posters and get them produced for display at the big SPA biennial open meeting at the Cambridge University Institute of Astronomy on Sat March 5th, this is a new challenge to me and I have only just started to dabble in building these posters up with member’s images.

So back to the former I’m going to use this blog and the observing session detailed in it to make up at least the frame work of the Cygnus Deep Sky article.

The NAS is a great society and one I’m proud to be a member of, within its ranks are a relatively large group for the UK anyway,  of experienced and dedicated large telescope owning visual  observers, it is this group of friends that I primarily write for, although anyone else is most welcome to read too.

Telescopes belonging  to these members are includes three 24” monster Dobsonians, twice that number of 20” scopes not to mention a good number of ‘small’ scopes in the 14”-18” class. I know of no other society in the UK that can match these astronomers for combined aperture, dark rural skies and knowledge. Therefore writing to entertain let alone inform this group is a challenge!

The editor had told me “don’t do anything on Leo, as Sue” another regular contributor “has that covered” Hmmmm I have quite a lot of sketches of lesser know Leo galaxies but they will have to wait now!

Circumstances were to give me a hand here, after returning from work around 6.30pm rushing dinner and getting out for my harmonica tuition (Hi Keith 😉 I returned home to a clear moonless sky. Well I haven’t had too many of those lately as this blog so sadly reflects!

I got out into the observatory under a clear but hazy sky by 9pm local time. M44 the Beehive cluster was just visible to the naked eye. I had already made my mind up I would go for galaxies in the rarely mentioned constellation of Leo Minor the little Lion.

I got the roof open the cameras on and aligned firstly on Sirius, then Procyon, hoping and syncing on bright stars until I got to 46 Leo minoris the brightest star at mag 3.8 by my reckoning in this constellation. From here it was a short hop to some rather lovely looking galaxies; that was according to the bible Night Sky Observers guide anyhow. There were a large number of sketches made through a fast 20” under dark skies, a good number of the sketches showed pairs and trios in the same fov, this was just the kind of observing I enjoyed and many of my NAS friends do too.

My first stop was a pair of interacting galaxies NGC 3395 & 3396 looking great in the book, the view on my monitor wasn’t so good! I fiddled with camera and monitor settings but failed to get much more than a grey outline, disappointing. According to Sky Map Pro 10 there was a promising alternative very close, NGC 3430 is a very nice face on spiral, the scope stopped with it at the top edge of the field  of view, as I centred  the galaxy a bright star entered the field, it was slightly out of focus. I tweaked the remote focuser and sharpened the star; the effect on the galaxy was dramatic going from an grey splodge lacking detail and interest to a beautifully detailed structure with spiralling arms an elongated central core and a wonderful fainter edge on companion in the same field of view. Together they made a striking and contrasting pair worthy of any spring observing list! At mag 11.5 & 12.4 respectively they aren’t exactly dim but neither are they Messier or Caldwell candidates added to the fact that they are in an unremarkable constellation competing for attention with the main Lion it is no wonder they are frequently over looked, I invite readers to change that this spring!

OK with the ‘not very good image’ issue resolved (excuse the pun 🙂 I moved back to the interacting pair NGC 3395 & 3396. Wow….. Would you look at this! Absolutely delightful, to me they appeared as a pair of circling, wheeling white seagulls, playing in turbulent thermals above storm lashed rocky cliffs. Again I was amazed that these two weren’t more familiar, subsequent research has revealed these are ARP catalogue listed as ARP 246 at similar magnitudes of 12.3 & 12.4 they are amongst the brightest on the list. Hopefully they are now also firmly on your list too?

My camera that shows a large part of the night sky on a third monitor, revealed haze was now forming into cloud and the south and west were pretty much obscured although working overhead I was clear apart from haze for a while longer. My last observation was of an interesting, slightly curved edge on galaxy again very close to the earlier observations.

Right on the border with Ursa Major NGC 3432 is a thin mag 11.1 galaxy offers considerable detail for the larger scope owner, enhanced by a number of relatively bright stars close by and others touching the galaxy, the elongated structure shows a granular blotchy appearance along the lines of that noted in the Whale galaxy and to an even greater extent in the famous cigar galaxy M82. The planetarium software showed a large over lapping UGC galaxy of mag 15.3 covering the southern quarter of NGC 3432 the camera revealed just a hint of a hazy circular patch just to the lower right of the edge on above a mag 10 star. This was clearly the galaxy in question but looked very unremarkable and even my set up couldn’t detect its outer reaches. Subsequent comparisons of all 3 sketches the next day with images from the Palomar Survey showed strikingly similar matches including just a faint round smudge for the UGC companion. I was once again amazed at what my garden observatory had shown me of the distant universe.

That aside I had enjoyed observations of 3 or more depending how you count, new and stunningly beautiful objects that should certainly be on the spring observing list of every deep sky observer working with a 6” scope or larger!

Enjoy, Dale