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Thread: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

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    Default Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site



    Date/time: Saturday, February 16, 2012 (about 2100 – 0100)

    Conditions: At Cleveland National Forest, Fire Dept. Road, Trailhead Parking, Descanso, California (elevation about 3600 feet). The skies there are Bortle Dark-Sky Scale class 4 (green). Transparency was 3-4/5, seeing was 3-4/5, temperature was 40 dropping to about 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind was clam. It was my first time at this location; I was going to my normal Cleveland National Forest spot, which is nearby, and decided to see what was up the road to the north. I found this National Forest trailhead parking area to observe from and decided to stay since while driving through I found a spot where there weren’t too many trees, but there was one tall pine in the perfect spot to block the moon until it set. During the observing session I had a little trouble with my eyepieces fogging due to my breath and the cold, but applying a little warmth with my dew heater straps took care of it. It was almost first quarter moon. My goal for the night was to get some practice in finding Messier galaxies, in preparation for a possible Messier Marathon in March.

    Observations: I started out with M42 since I like something about this brightness to align my finders (without blowing my dark adaptation). It had been a while since I had seen it from a dark sky site and it was truly beautiful. I tried out my OIII and UHC filters on it and various magnifications. I didn’t intend to spend so much time on it, but it was such a joy to explore that I had trouble stopping. I also came back to check it again later after the moon had set. While there, I also checked M43, the Running Man Nebula and M78.

    M81 and M82 were others that saw and then came back to after the moon had set. Before it set, I could just detect some details, but after the moon set, I was able to see clear dust lanes in M82 (some thick dust lanes cross almost perpendicular to the length of the galaxy and some thinner ones travel along it) and I even saw a little detail in M81 in the form of a dark swath followed again by another faint band of light when going out from the bright core. I used my 20mm, 14mm, and 9mm (magnifications of 86, 123, and 192 with my Paracorr Type 2 inline) to see as much as possible.

    I checked out M104 (Sombrero Galaxy) next since I was in the mood for dust lanes. That is one cool galaxy with its pencil-thin dust lane running the length of it. I could clearly see that the glow of the core was brighter on one side of the dust lane than the other. Again I used all 3 of my 100* EPs to see as much as possible.

    Since I was in the mode of looking at edge-on galaxies, I went ahead and checked out the Needle Galaxy (NGC 4565) in Coma Berenices. It is very cool too. Its dust lanes almost look like prickles, fine lines crisscrossing and going out in all directions from the dust lane that runs along the center of the length of it. NGC 4565 is so long and thin that it is very unique.

    While in the area, I thought might as well see globular M53 and the Blackeye Galaxy (M64). On M64, I noted that the dark part of the black-eye was on the side of the galaxy that has a star close to it. I used the 20mm and 14mm EPs on it.

    I spent a good while looking for M95, M96, & M105 before realizing that because the constellation Leo was stretched across 2 pages of the Pocket Sky Atlas, and they have an area close to the spiral where they cover it on both pages, I was miss-judging the distance from Theta Leonis (Chertan) that it was to the group of galaxies. There are so many galaxies in that area that you have to check the pattern of the galaxies to make sure which galaxies you are seeing.

    Then I went for the Leo Triplet, (M65, M66, and NGC 3628). They make such a distinguishable pattern (like a smiley face—3628 being a straight line mouth) that they are an easy bunch to identify.

    I noticed that the big bear had finally moved into a position where I could easily see some of my other intended (easier to identify) targets, so I checked out M108, M97 (Owl Nebula), M109, M51 (nice spirals!), M63 (Sunflower Galaxy), and M94. M101 was still behind the tree, so I didn’t bother with it.

    It was getting really cold and my feet were starting to feel like bricks at the bottom of my legs, so instead of attempting to go through the galaxies at the center of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, I just did some looking around. M84 and M86 are easy for me because they are dead center between Vindemiatrix and Denebola and are a nice bright pair that are very similar to each other. When looking in that area I easily saw 6 galaxies in the FOV at the same time. That is enough to get anyone excited! I also noted M87, and didn’t try to identify any of the others.

    As I packed up to go home, I noted that the top of the car and my telescope cover, which was on top of the car, had a white powdery frost covering them and my glass of water in the center console of the car had frozen over the top, so I had to break through the ice to have a drink. It was a fun night, but I was definitely cold and ready to go home!
    Name: Sam
    Equipment: SkyWatcher 12” Collapsible Dob w/Telrad, Explore Scientific 30mm 82*, and 20mm, 14mm, & 9mm 100* EPs, Tele Vue 4X Powermate & Paracorr T2, 2" Lumicon UHC and ND13 (moon) Filters, 2" Astronomik OIII filter, dew heater system, and Nikon Action 7x50 EX Extreme ATB 6.4* binoculars & Celestron 15x70 binoculars.

    I'm enjoying learning the sky by star hopping; just charts, my binoculars, and my Dob!

  2. The Following 4 Users Say Thank You to samgray1 For This Useful Post:

    helicon64 (02-18-2013),j.gardavsky (02-18-2013),kingclinton (02-22-2013),light bucket (02-22-2013)

  3. #2
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    Default Re: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

    I love the report and I'm a little jealous ! I can only dream of seeing dust lanes in M82. Great report. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.
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    Default Re: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

    Thanks for the great report! Sounds like you have a fantastic observing location there, Sam. The Virgo cluster and Leo are quickly becoming my favorite observing targets - I guess I'm getting the galaxy bug that will eventually call for more aperture. I feel really lucky to be in California where usually we don't have to worry about ice unless we're up in the mountains - so far only two nights where my bird bath has frozen up this winter. Congrats on seeing so much detail in M82! I'm definitely looking forward to hunting down the Sombrero, too.
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    Default Re: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

    Great report. Thanks. I was out last night and I didn't notice that I was freezing up until I came in and then things started to ache a little.
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    Default Re: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

    Wow - great report. I must find me some dark skies to play with... need to work a way to find some....
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    Default Re: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

    Quote Originally Posted by flytyer View Post
    Wow - great report. I must find me some dark skies to play with... need to work a way to find some....
    Thanks. Yep, I'm totally addicted to dark skies. I can see so much more there than here at home that I have almost stopped using my telescope at home and instead just try to learn the constellations better and check out the brighter objects with my binoculars. I live in a Bortle class 7 or 8 area (red bordering on white).

    It's hard to beat the combination of nice dark transparent skies and a large aperture telescope.
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    Name: Sam
    Equipment: SkyWatcher 12” Collapsible Dob w/Telrad, Explore Scientific 30mm 82*, and 20mm, 14mm, & 9mm 100* EPs, Tele Vue 4X Powermate & Paracorr T2, 2" Lumicon UHC and ND13 (moon) Filters, 2" Astronomik OIII filter, dew heater system, and Nikon Action 7x50 EX Extreme ATB 6.4* binoculars & Celestron 15x70 binoculars.

    I'm enjoying learning the sky by star hopping; just charts, my binoculars, and my Dob!

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    Default Re: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

    Thanks for the thoughts on M84/86 as a starting point for the Virgo Cluster. Will give it a try after our weather clears up.
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    Default Re: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

    Great detailed report. Which filter did you feel gave the best detail in the galaxies.
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    Default Re: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

    Quote Originally Posted by mlk1950 View Post
    Great detailed report. Which filter did you feel gave the best detail in the galaxies.
    Thanks. There is a saying: For galaxies the best filter is the gasoline filter; you put gasoline in your car and drive out to a dark-sky site!

    Honestly, since the light from a galaxy has all of the colors in it, you are better off not using a filter. Nebulae only glow in a few of the colors (mostly blue-green), so a filter can really help with them by blocking all the colors that are not coming from the nebula (light pollution) while passing virtually all the light that comes from the nebula. That is the basic concept behind the OIII and UHC filters that I use. They work great on nebulae, but that's about all.

    For galaxies, since most of them are so faint, in order to see them really well (out to the faintest edges, dust lanes, etc.), you have to go to an area where the level of light pollution is lower than the faint light that you want to see. Hope this helps.

    Clear, dark, transparent skies to you, and keep looking up!
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    I'm enjoying learning the sky by star hopping; just charts, my binoculars, and my Dob!

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    Default Re: Galaxy Fun at a Newly Found Dark-Sky Observing Site

    Hello Sam. An understandable even better report from you than the last light pollution report. Although cold, it seems that you were able to pick up several new Messier objects from this location. I'm always glad when somebody gets a good break on viewing. Thanks for your fun read report, and keep us posted on your next visit to this dark sky spot.
    - Marshall

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