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Belper 5th April


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What a thoroughly enjoyable night at Belper. Probably the best night I have had yet.

I decided to go at the last minute having not long finished work, and loaded up the car in a bit of a rush. Set off and got a good six miles down the road and suddenly realised that I had forgot to bring the dew shield for the 10" schmidt newt. I knew that with my dew magnet of a corrector plate I would just be in for a really frustrating night with the hairdrier. So I turned around and went back home for the dew shield. Just about as the sun was setting I had the clubhouse in sight over the fields and was surprised that I could not see any vehicles, or people setting up scopes. Around the corner at the entrance to Sandyford lane on Palerow Lane were EMS's vehicles parked up. Sandyford Lane and the last couple of hundred metres up to the cricket club were at least knee deep in snow and had not been cleared like the other roads. Anyway we all set up in the small amount of remaining space, rather cramped so we were almost in danger of swinging a scope round into someone else or their scope. There was about 10 of us there and it was good to meet Angus Wright, and Mark Harper for the first time along with the rest the Belper regulars.

I knew it was going to be very cold and decided to dress accordingly in order to properly enjoy the night. So I had my new ski pants, balaclava neck warmer and lots of thin layers under my thick jacket, and stayed really warm throughout. Humidity was also reasonably low and I don't think any of us suffered any dewing.

As it got a little darker, Daz, who was set up next to me, was the first to see Panstarrs in the bright twilight just above a low cloud bank, and from the noises he was making, I could tell he was well pleased. I positioned my scope to match the altitude and azimuth of Daz's scope as near as my eye could tell, and soon located it along with M31 which was looking quite similarly dim in the bright sky. As it got darker the view got better and the two were plainly visible in 10x50s and made a spectacular sight together in the 12x80 finder as M31 was only 2.5 degrees from the comet. In the 10" the comet seemed much bigger and brighter than when I saw it a week ago in the 6" frac. With averted vision the tail could be seen across a large part of the 1.4 degree field in the 14mm 100 degree ep at 73x. The fact that Panstarrs is now circumpolar and wouldn't drop below about 5 degrees from the horizon meant that we could keep popping back to it later especially since the sky was remarkably clear and pretty free of light pollution even so low down.

When it got properly dark and my dark adaptation was at its peak, it was plain that this was going to be a very good night. The double cluster at only 25 degrees up was just visible with the naked eye, and the 12x80 finder was even showing some fainter NGC clusters as tiny fuzzy nebulae. Such good transparency makes finding stuff so much easier, if like me, you don't have goto.

I didn't have any sort of plan so was working from memory, apart from a couple of NGC clusters which I struggled to find and had to resort to checking locations with the S&T pocket atlas and a red torch. So here are some of the things that I looked at...

The usual stuff including The Pleiades, The Hyades, M44, M35, Jupiter and later a murky brownish Saturn near the horizon. The Orion nebula was low down but still put on a great show with lots of detail and brightness with nebula pretty much filling a 1.4 degree field at 73x.

The Double cluster was superb as always and Stock 2 next to it filled the view with so many stars. Just generally panning around this area it looked like every move showed yet another star cluster.

A cluster in Cassiopiea which I only remembered very roughly the location of was NGC7789. After looking in the S&T atlas, I was surprised to find the tiniest faintest of fuzzy patches in the 12x80 finder. In the 10" at 73x it was a large patch of quite dim stars with a background fuzz. With the barlow at 145x the eyepiece was filled with a mass of 10th mag and fainter stars too many to count. This really is a spectacular cluster to see. This was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783 and is also known as "Carolines Rose", and although I could not make out the rose petal structure, it was a lovely view.

Another cluster NGC6939 in Cepheus also needed help from the atlas, but again was just on the threshold of the finder once I knew where to look. In the 10" it was quite small but resolved into a group of maybe 20 faint stars at 145x. Just under one degree from this cluster and in the same 73x view is face on spiral NGC6946, Caldwell 12, the Fireworks Galaxy, about 18 million LY away just over the border into Cygnus. Interesting to have these two in the same field but the galaxy was very very dim and could easily be missed. The galaxy is about mag 8.8 but its surface brightness is very low, it was also rather small, round with only a very slight brightening in the middle.

Had a look at Herschels Garnet Star, also in Cepheus, which certainly stood out from the rest of the rich milky way field. This is a red supergiant star which is so big, that if placed where the sun is, would swallow up all the planets out past Jupiter! It is about 6000 light years away and is coming to the end of its life when it will likely become a spectacular supernova and possibly form a black hole.

In Draco is the Cats Eye Nebula NGC6543, Caldwell 6 about 3000 light years away. Being small and bright, 9th mag, this was very easy to find and at 73x looked very different to the other stars in the field. At 145x it was oval in shape with uniform brightness to the very sharply defined edge and had a slightly blue tinge. Very planet like. It is about 22 arcseconds across and is 3 arcminutes away from a 10th mag star.

Surprisingly easy to find in Leo is 9.7 mag NGC2903. Discovered by Herschel in 1874, this is a spiral galaxy that stands out really well as a large elliptical fuzz in the eyepiece, it is about 30 million light years away. This seems much brighter and shows up much better than I expected it would and stands higher magnification well. No spiral structure was visible but it really is nice to look at.

Had a look at M67 cluster in Cancer. I always remembered this as being a bit disappointing, but not tonight. It was an easy little fuzzy patch in the finder but, in the 10" at 145x it resolved into an incredible number of densely packed 9th mag and fainter stars filling the field of view. I had never seen it looking this spectacular before.

Upgren 1 is an asterism in Canes Venatici. It is a half degree wide group of about a dozen stars from 8th to 12th mag which would not have been very noticeable in richer surroundings. It is easily found in binoculars or a finder as being in a rather sparsely populated area of sky it stands out well as a bit of an oddity.

Napoleons Hat or Picot 1 is another easy little asterism just half a degree south of Arcturus. His hat size is about one third of a degree and is instantly recognisable depicted in 10th mag stars.

Globular M13 was just stunning at 145x and it looked huge and resolved into many stars surrounding the fuzzy core.

NGC1528 was a surprisingly rich cluster in Perseus which looked really nice at all powers in the 10".

I packed away just before midnight since the sky had clouded over, and drove home very contented from the session. Loved every minute of it :) .


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