Saturday, November 26, 2011

Herschel 400, the official start

Often when observing at night, I tend to follow a familiar pattern.  I will observe any planets that are in the sky, I make sketches of any available comets, I visit some of my favorite Messier objects, and then I'll pick a constellation and observe some of its deep sky objects until I am ready to head indoors.  Last night was a very dark and clear night at the Lost Pleiad Observatory, and on a lark I said to myself  "self, lets finally, officially, start the Herschell 400."  Now faithful reader, you have been brought in on one of my secrets...I talk to myself.  Why, you ask?  Well, to be honest, I usually agree with myself.

According to Wikipedia, The Herschel 400 are a "subset of William Herschel's original deep sky catalog of 2,500 deep sky objects, selected by Brenda F. Guzman (Branchett), Lydel Guzman, Paul Jones, James Morrison, Peggy Taylor and Sara Saey of the Ancient City Astronomy Club in St. Augustine, Florida, USA circa 1980."  They represent 400 of the brighter deep sky objects cataloged by William Herschel and are all observable from mid-northern latitudes.  I have probably observed well over half of these objects already, but I have done so in a haphazard fashion and being a poor note taker, likely have no record of many of them...and even where records exist in my notes, they are written in a notebook by date of observation and are not collected or organized in any fashion whatsoever.  As a resource, click here for the Herschell 400 catalog arranged by constellation published by the Astronomical League.

Distribution of Herschel 400 objects
Red = Galaxy///Green = Nebula///Yellow = Star Cluster

We just had a fairly wet storm leave the area and temperatures last night were much cooler than they had been over the past few weeks.  I had a feeling that the night could be one of the few at my observatory where dew would actually be a concern.  I pulled the dew shield for my 12 inch SCT out of storage, screwed it on.  After observing Jupiter and taking a look at comet C/2010 G2 (Hill) (ephemerides here), I began to officially observe the Herschel 400.

The darkest and best skies from the Lost Pleiad Observatory are to the North and East and I decided to start my observations in the constellation of Andromeda...that and alphabetically they are first on the list, so it just seemed the right thing to do.  All observations are made at  magnifications of 145X and 234X, with occasional looks at planetary nebula and galaxies at 305X.  While transparency was excellent last night, the seeing 9atmospheric stability) was average to below never really became steady.  Regardless, in order of NGC designation:

NGC 891
Andromeda - The Princess

NGC 205 - Also known as M110 this is a large satellite of the the Great Andromeda Galaxy and at low power shares the view with M31 herself.
NGC 404 - Very close to the orange star Beta Andromeda, commonly called Mirach...sometimes called the Ghost of Mirach.  Moving the star out of the field of view reveals a brighter nucleus and a round galaxy.
NGC 752 - One of only two Herschel 400 objects in Andromeda that I do not recall observing.  An open cluster of stars, pretty, bright and not condensed.  Magnitude 5.7
NGC 7662
NGC 891 - An old favorite.  This is an elusive edge on galaxy that I have observed in almost every telescope of decent aperture I have used.  Dust lane visible with averted vision, quite ethereal.  Sketch above right made with the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter 32 inch Schulman Telescope
NGC 7662 - The Blue Snowball nebula shows a nice blue color and increasing the magnification reveals the incomplete bright inner ring.  Sketch at left also made with the Schulman 32 inch.
NGC 7688 - The other Herschel 400 object in Andromeda not previously observed.  Another bright open cluster...what else is there to say?

Aries (A good second constellation as it is my "sign"):

NGC 772 - A small 8 x 5 arcminute galaxy which is slightly elongated.  No sign of arms, however, the nucleus is somewhat brighter than outer areas.  Also known as Arp 78.

Cassiopeia - The Queen.

NGC 129 - Open cluster, attractive with many bright stars, probably 30-40 overall.
NGC 136 - A very small, faint, condensed patch of light...averted vision reveals a smattering of elusive pinpoints of light.  Apparently an open cluster, but perhaps I am observing something in the background of the cluster?
NGC 185 - Also known as Caldwell 18, this is a small galaxy that seems slightly disturbed using averted vision.  Also, a touch elongated.
NGC 225 - Another open cluster of bright stars...probably better in binoculars.
NGC 278 - A small round galaxy with a brighter nucleus.  Just a couple arcminutes in diameter.
NGC 381 - One of the nicer open clusters so far with 50 - 70 stars, many of them faint giving the cluster a busy appearance.
NGC 436 - Yet another open cluster, containing many brighter stars with a few multiple stars among them.
NGC 457 - One of my favorite open clusters out there...looks best at low power where it looks like a winged creature.  I like to call it the Owl, but at Halloween call it the Bat...some locals call it the Kachina Dancer.  Whatever the name, it appears to have two bright eyes staring back at the observer while spreading it's wings wide.
NGC 559 - Another open cluster, bright stars, not very impressive.
NGC 637 - Duplicate of the above!  Different stars, same impression in the 12 inch scope...yawn...
NGC 654 - OK, a little better in the eye candy department with twice as many stars as the above two objects and a higher level of condensation.
NGC 659 - Back to basics...maybe 10 cluster members well spread apart.  Where are my (goto) binoculars?
NGC 663 - Now we are talking!  Many faint stars, well condensed, at 145 power this cluster should be more famous.  It has a delicate appearance with a dark lane running the length of the cluster.
NGC 1027 - Another open cluster, typical of others in this constellation.  Bumping the telescope I think I can detect a subtle nebulosity enveloping this cluster...averted imagination?  Maybe...Worth returning to at a truly dark site.
NGC 7789 - Wow!  This is a beautiful cluster with well over 100 stars.  As I continue to observe this cluster it started to appear as if it had a spiral shape to it...maybe time to get some rest.  I took a walk around the yard to get the blood flowing, took a drink of water and came back to the scope.  Sure enough, this cluster has a distinct spiral shape to it...once noticed I can not avoid seeing this obvious pattern.  Favorite Herschel 400 object in Cassiopeia!!
NGC 7790 - What else?  Another open cluster...about 30 stars gathered together...a let down after the previous cluster, but typical of these Cassiopeia clusters.

Cepheus - The King.

NGC 40
NGC 40 - This is a favorite planetary nebula that I have observed and sketched a couple times previously (example at left).  The central star is easily visible in a circular shell of nebulosity with a bright "polar caps".  Also known as Caldwell 2.
NGC 6939 - A well populated open cluster with many chains of stars emanating from its central regions.  Probably upwards of 75 stars.  In a lower power telescope one can observe this pretty cluster together with the galaxy below
NGC 6946 - A small low surface brightness galaxy that is very nearby to the cluster above.  No sign of spiral arms, and only a slight brightening toward toward the nucleus.  Also known as Caldwell 12, The Fireworks Galaxy.
NGC 7142 - Run of the mill open cluster- 20+ stars, fairly bright.
NGC 7160 - Barely an open cluster in the 12 inch scope...not many stars at all, although they are relatively bright ones.
NGC 7380 - A bright cluster embedded within some nebulosity.  From a dark site this would likely be striking.
NGC 7510 - Open cluster (too many of these tonight!) with approximately 30 stars in the cluster.  Relatively bright at magnitude 7.9

Perseus - The Hero.

NGC 651 - Planetary nebula widely known as the Little Dumbbell, M76.  Pushing the power up to 305 reveals the bipolar nature of this nebula with brighter regions at the poles.  Hints of the nebulous looping extensions noted when nudging the scope, although these would likely be invisible if I did not know they are there from previous observations.
NGC 869 and NGC 884 - The famous "Double Cluster" is the only object tonight for which I pulled out the 56mm plossl.  At very low power I can almost appreciate the beauty of these two objects, containing several hundred stars, including some colorful stars near the center of each cluster.
NGC 1023
NGC 1023 - This is a bright elongated galaxy nicely offset by a chain of stars south of the galaxy.  A bright nucleus with some faint extensions make for a sight unique so far tonight.  I took a break from simply observing and sketched this galaxy as seen at right.
NGC 1245- An open cluster, containing a fair number of stars, somewhat condensed with stars of similar brightness.
NGC 1342 - Another open cluster, not much to note, maybe 40 stars.
NGC 1444 - Small and faint cluster of stars, Herschel must have been sleepy by this point!
NGC 1513 - This is an interesting cluster in that it is shaped somewhat like a "U" is a bright a large cluster with 30 to 40 stars.
NGC 1528 - This is also an interesting open cluster with dark lanes passing between the lines of stars.
NGC 1545 - Final open cluster of the evening...and not an impressive one by any stretch.  Dominated by two brighter stars.

Well, that is my report on night one of the official Herschel 400 observing run of the Lost Pleiad Observatory.  I may try and get a few more objects in tonight, but am already quite happy with my Thanksgiving weekend start.  40 objects down, 360 to go!  That means that if I average one object per night I should finish in a year...we'll see!

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