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Springtime Observing with Celestron's C14

Posted by Ralph Aguirre   03/19/2007 12:00AM

Springtime Observing with Celestron's C14
Friday night, myself and other members of the Sacramento Valleys Active Astronomers did nearly an all night viewing session in what turned out to be one of the nicest viewing conditions we’ve been exposed to in close to a year. Warm calm springtime conditions were comfortable that night in Northern California. The reports were predicting 5 out of 5 for transparency, and 4 out of 5 for seeing, so I couldn’t wait to get my C14 out under these conditions to kick off the 2007 year with some deep space viewing with my largest scope. We were all set up before dark, and went until about 3am, before we started packing it in for the night.

There was so much to see for the five of us that were viewing, that it was difficult to keep track of everything we saw. Since I had the largest scope in the group that night, I stuck to the deeper space objects, and let the smaller refractors do what they do best, viewing the larger open clusters and wider field views, as well as producing some spectacular views of Saturn.

Many reports have been written on the C14. This article is strictly written about a spectacular night of observing with my C14. I’m focusing on what I was able to view successfully with the return of dark moonless nights of excellent viewing conditions with a scope I’ve owned for nearly 4 years. The darkness of the skies I viewed in this night were moderately dark, since our observing site is only about 15 miles from downtown Sacramento, Calif. Nevertheless, on a moonless night, the Milky Way is easily visible, just as the Trifid and Lagoon Nebula are, along with the Andromeda galaxy naked eye.

Eskimo Nebula:
The Eskimo was nearly straight up as soon as it got dark. The blue glow from the parka shaped nebula with its companion star beside it was very bright and blue and easy to see even in a wide field eyepiece. The more power I gave it, the brighter it seemed to get and the more details I was able to see. At about 200x, I was able to see the nebula shape inside the fuzzy parka giving it its name the Eskimo Nebula. This Friday night was one of the most vivid views Id seen to date on this nebula. The beautiful blue glow was intense and very well defined, nearly filling the eyepiece with its blue rich colors.

Objects in Orion:
I moved over to Orion, and took a quick peek at the trapezium. The excellent seeing conditions made the E and F stars nearly as apparent as the A through D stars. The wide field view of the nebula with the 41 Panoptic made the nebula look like a 3 dimensional bat flying in the night sky. The depth was obvious in the wide field view, and the many colors of the nebula looked unlike anything seen in astrophotography. I glanced over at the running man, and was able to see the stars around the body of the running man, but it still wasn’t as dark as it could have been, so the dark nebula of the running man did not jump out at me. I planned to come back to this object later, but there was so much to see this night, and because Orion was slipping to the west, I never revisited it again that night. There were no visible signs of the horsehead or flame nebula, but I always have to look at the area where they are, just because I know where they are and know where to look.

Crab Nebula:
I moved the scope over to the Crab nebula and the claws of the crab were easy to pick out. Tonight this object was easy to see, the extra clarity in transparency made this one a big beautiful object to view, taking up the entire eyepiece in one field of view. The unusual claws seemed to extend out further than what I have seen in the past.

The Leo Triplets:
I move the scope over to Leo and found the Leo Triplets. M65 and M66 filling the eyepiece in a spectacular display of two side-by-side galaxies. NGC3628 was more difficult to see, but once it was centered in the eyepiece, the wide flat shape of the galaxy was obvious, like a wide old fashion moustache. Slight traces of its dark dust lane were visible also.

The Draco Triplets:
Snaking between the Big and Little Dipper, the constellation Draco was easy to spot. I moved my scope over to where the Draco triplets were located, and spotted the center of the three galaxies first, NGC 5982. It was relatively bright and resembled a fuzzy bright star with some glow around its perimeter. The longer it was observed, the more obvious it was to identify it as a galaxy. To the left of that galaxy, I spotted the face on spiral of NGC 5985. This one was easier to see. Although the direction of the spiral structure could not be detected, it was obvious as a face on galaxy. The edge on galaxy NGC 5981 was nearly impossible to see. Only after sitting comfortable at the eyepiece for a few minutes, the thin needle shape could be seen using advert vision. All three of these galaxies can be seen side by side using the 41 panoptic, unlike the Leo Triplets, which require either the focal reducer to get a wider field of view, or requires moving the scope to see the third galaxy. Under darker skies, I have easily seen all three of these objects very easily in the eyepiece of my C14.

The Virgo Galaxies:
I found M87 inside the Virgo Cluster, and from there, walked myself around the spectacular display of galaxies making the Markarians chain. Beside Markarians chain, many many other galaxies were visible, but I didn’t take the time to identify each one of them individually, because I was more interested this night in looking through my eyepiece, than looking at star charts. Since one person in our group was identifying what he could with his star chart, at times I would just locate the same object he would, for a larger view of the same galaxy, since I had more than twice his aperture. Objects like the Pin Wheel galaxy and Black Eye Galaxy come to mind. Together, our combination worked out pretty well in seeing the many galaxies of the Virgo galaxy group and identifying many of them.

Near the Big Dipper:
Near the Big Dipper, the Owl Nebula was giving off an excellent display, and when using an OIII filter, the shape of the dark eyes was clearly visible. Beside it, M108, was also displaying a nice edge on galaxy. At higher power, the edge on view of M108 was as pleasing to view and study, as most edge on galaxies. I had enough aperture to fill M108 in the eyepiece, and not loose its edge on shape.

M51 was also spectacular. Once the Big Dipper got high enough in the sky so the handle was nearly straight up, the spiral structure of the arms became evident in these double whirlpool galaxies. The shape and direction of the spirals were obvious, showing much more than the warm fuzzy glow around a central core in other nearby scopes. The individual spirals and dark areas between the arms became more and more obvious the longer they were observed.
Outside the Big Dipper, M81 and M82 were putting on the best show ever, of what two nearby galaxies could do side by side. High power viewing of each galaxy individually brought out the dark gap in M82, Bode’s Galaxy, and the round spiral structure of M81 beside it. The views I was getting of each galaxy individually, along with the double galaxy view in a nearby 6” APO refractor, made this combination wonderful to view in both wide field and close up views.

Although Saturn isn’t a deep space object, it was the dominant planet of the night once bright Venus disappeared in the West. After several hrs of equalization to the outside conditions, I pointed my scope at Saturn and was pleased to see a very detailed, well-defined planet and ring structure. The body of the planet had obvious darker and lighter bands, and the colors were very vivid and bright. The ring structure was very well defined, showing various shaded of color throughout the entire ring structure. The Cassini division was so black and deep, that it looked more like a gap than a black ring. The planet was very bright, so I toned down the brightness with a 0.3 neutral density filter, making the contras even more spectacular. Despite such a beautiful display in my large Schmidt, the nearby 6” TMB APO was displaying sharper lines around the body of the planet. Everyone agreed that the sharper crisper lines of the body, made the planet more pleasing to observe. However the colors were different in both scopes. In the C14, the darker areas displayed more contras, and the lighter areas were almost white and gray in appearance. The colors were more vivid in the C14, but the crisp optics of the triplet was producing sharper lines. In the big refractor, the bright colors almost took on a lighter brown/yellow appearance on the body. The lighter colors in the ring weren’t quite as bright. My summary was the ring appeared more vivid in the C14 and just as sharp, but the body of the planet was definitely showing a crisper perimeter in the refractor, despite having less contras. Both took magnification well at 240x and 300x, but at both magnifications, the overall crispness of the APO was winning for is crisp defined perimeter. The intense brightness of Saturn in the C14, made the neutral density a necessity, and brought out a higher level of contras than without using the filter.

Around Corvus:
The big show stopper Friday night was the Sombrero Galaxy. The wide flat brim of the circular sombrero disc with the dark full perimeter dust lane became more and more obvious as the night went on. The central core of the center of the galaxy was as prominent as the wide flat brim. At 200x, the galaxy filled the view in my 20mm Nagler, and was as spectacular to view as high quality astrophotography. I kept coming back to this object, because it got better and better as the night went on. Beside the Sombrero, I was able to see the asterism Jaws, as well as the Stargate asterism. Both beautiful too see, and all 3 visible in my excellent wide field finder/piggy back refractor.

Just outside of Corvus, I was able to see the Ring Tail Galaxies. These colliding galaxies were dim, but easy to find in the sky. The two individual shapes were easy to see, and the nearby stars on either side made this an easy one to locate. The space between the two centers of these colliding galaxies was obvious, and together they looked like a wide gray U shape object.

In Hercules:
M13 was a pleasant surprise to see again, signaling the true beginning of the summer skies. It came up early in the morning, and the higher it got, the easier it was able to display the thousands of visible individual stars. This is the object that got me hooked on deep space viewing with large aperture, over a dozen years ago. This is still one of my most spectacular objects to view in the night sky, and a nice one to show to others, especially those looking at deep space for the first time. M13 completely filled the eyepiece at 150x with a 26mm Nagler eyepiece, and will surely make even the most discriminating observer coming back to see again and again. This globular cluster is fully resolved in the C14, down to the center stars in the center of the cluster. No astrophotography image I have ever seen by NASA or any prominent astrophotographer, can display this galaxy the way it looks in the C14 with the 26mm Nagler. The light from astrophotograhy washes out the beauty of this cluster, and only through the eyepiece or a large instrument like the C14 or larger instrument, can this globular be appreciated for the million stars it claims to have within it.

The Ring Nebula:
The Ring Nebula was the last object I was able to view which came up above the eastern sky, before we called it a night. It never got too high up, but it was plenty high for us to see its eerie round shape and dark central core. It was almost transparent when I first spotted it, very low in the east, but as it moved upward, it began to glow brightly like a ring of fire.

Ghost of Jupiter and Thor’s Helmet:
Having remembered I’d forgotten to find these two, first I searched and spotted the Ghost of Jupiter. This is an amazingly bright night object, and as big and blue as you want it to be, taking power well in a large aperture scope. Even in my finder scope it was clearly visible.
Afterwards I tried to locate Thor’s helmet, but was unable to spot it, since it was moving into the west now, and competing with some low lying western smoke from a 2 day fire in the west.

In Summary:
Overall, Friday nights viewing session was one of the most productive and pleasing I’ve seen in a while, especially being so close to home. The excellent information we have available to us about seeing conditions and transparency from the web, makes it easy to prepare for a very productive rewarding night of viewing. This very calm windless, warm comfortable night of viewing signals the start of the observing season for all of us astronomers, which in my case, would be in the western states.

With springtime just around the corner, hopefully we can all have more nights of spectacular viewing, wherever we may be viewing from. I’m hoping 2007 can be another great year of Astronomical viewing for all astronomers worldwide, not just for us veterans, but for the many new excited people and friends, we can bring into this peaceful relaxing exciting hobby we call astronomy.

Ralph Aguirre
Founder of The Sacramento Valleys Active Astronomers