April 30, 2011 Viewing Session – M92 and M57

After having clouds for what seems like an eternity, they have finally broke! Checking all my astronomy weather forecasting sites making sure it was supposed to be a good night. Oh what a beautiful and clear night it turned out to be. I had two objects that I had my mind set on finding. M101 and M51. Although my night of viewing started off with something that isn’t a planet, galaxy, nebula, or some sort of star cluster. After which I hunted for M101, M51, M92, and M57 the Ring Nebula.

The night started around 9:25pm when I looked at my clock and remembered that there was supposed to be an extremely bright pass of the ISS. I rushed to put my camera on a tripod, and adjusted the camera settings, ran outside I found the big dipper which led me to Polaris which told me which direction north was. From there I used it to find WNW which is where the ISS was rising from. I stood there waiting for it, feeling like it was taking forever! Around 9:30pm I started to see this, what appeared to be, a reddish light smoothly gliding across the sky. I’ve seen satellites numerous times when looking up, but nothing compares to the brightness of the ISS! At first I thought it was a plane until I came to my senses and realized there weren’t any blinking lights. So I got a few 15 second long exposures of it as it made it’s way across the sky. I got it from the point I could see it, and took as many pictures as I could until it disappeared behind some trees.

ISS coming up to the constellation Auriga to the left.
ISS Next to the constellation Auriga star Capella to the left.

ISS making it’s way to the constellation Ursa Major

ISS passing through Ursa Major/Big Dipper starting at the star Alioth. Just below you can see the double star Alcor and Mizar. One of the only double stars I know of that you can see with the naked eye.
ISS going down into the trees. Arcturus is to the right (the orange star).

After I came inside to view those photos and let the excitement of capturing it calm down. I decided to watch an episode of Oddities. Yeah I know, not very astronomy-like but it’s a good show. So I watched an episode then 10:30pm came along and I started gathering my camera, the mount to put my camera to the eyepiece, and my headlamp. Made my way out to the back deck to begin my night of viewing. I only expected to really be out there until 1:30 or 2 at the latest. It was a Saturday night so I decided I’d stay out as long as I could stay awake.

The hunt for M101. I don’t know if you have ever watched an episode of Survivorman where Les Stroud patiently waits for food to end up in a dead fall, but never ends up catching anything. Well that was how my hunt for M101 went. I didn’t really pay much attention to the time while I was out there but I spent a really long time searching for this spiral galaxy. I figured it would be easy enough to spot as a magnitude 7.86 and the face that it’s a face on spiral galaxy meaning I’d be viewing it from above, not from it’s side where it would be a thin flat line. I searched and searched and searched right where it should be. I don’t know if I just couldn’t see it due to light pollution or what but I had absolutely no luck. I was slightly disappointed by my lack of finding it. I came inside and viewed Stellarium to see if I was close, and it seemed I had it but never actually saw it. I attempted to take pictures but nothing captured it. I am not giving up on this galaxy! I will be back out to search for it time and time again until I finally see it!
After having no luck with M101 I figured I’d hop on over to M51, a whirlpool galaxy, close by to M101. M51 is a magnitude 8.4 and is an interesting site because it’s a large whirlpool eating another galaxy, or colliding with, I like to think of it as a hungry whirlpool devouring a smaller galaxy. I should have been able to see this one also since it can be seen in binoculars. I didn’t quite know where to look for it but I didn’t have much luck. I figure this one’s like M101 and it’s up all year round, I’m not going to spend all night searching for this. It was clear out and I wanted to see something!

I found Lyra and decided I should use my RA and DEC setting on my equatorial mount. Not quite sure why I didn’t think of this off the start. So I re-polar aligned my telescope to make sure it was correct, then I swung it towards the bright star Vega in Lyra and set the setting circle to it’s coordinates; RA 18h37m DEC +38. I decided since there was a globular cluster near Hercules and Lyra that I haven’t looked at yet I’d make my way to it tonight. M92 is at a distance of about 26700 light-years away from Earth, and through my scope looks less magnificent than The Great Cluster In Hercules M13. It may have been smaller and harder to see but it was still a beautiful site. I gazed at it and tracked it through the sky for quite a while, and attempted to take some pictures of it. Although they aren’t the greatest pictures they still work great as a visual example of what I saw and for documentation of what I’ve seen. These pictures were taken through my 32mm eyepiece, which is a magnification of about 31.25. Looking back I should have attempted with the 12.5mm eyepiece which would have given me a magnification of 80.

Click to Glubulate

Next on my list was an object I didn’t even expect to be able to see, M57, a ring nebula located in the constellation of Lyra. M57 is a magnitude 8.8 and using the setting circles on my mount I was able to easily get in the vicinity of it and could just barely make out the faintest gray fuzzy circular object through the 32mm. So I centered it in my eyepiece and started tracking it with my motor drive and switched out to my 12.5mm eyepiece. There it was a bit larger of a view. Still a faint gray object but I knew what I had in my view. It seemed like such a perfect round circle in my eyepiece; there was no confusing it with anything else. I didn’t think it was possible for me to get a picture of it, or anything really, through my smaller eyepiece (any of them that aren’t the 32mm have given me lots of trouble in taking pictures in the past). Lo and behold I got the object on film, albeit a digital camera and an sd card, not really film, but you know what I mean. Once I saw the very first picture of it that I took I was so amazed by the color that showed!! I had so much excitement running through me after this that I decided to pack it up and call it a night. Although being late at night, or early in the morning, I decided to just quickly scan around the constellation Cygnus just to see all the pretty stars inside of the constellation. Then I finally gathered up the will to bring my cold frozen self back inside and put my telescope, eyepieces, headlamp, camera, and camera mount away.

Click to nebulate

It was a great night of viewing aside from the slight disappointments with the two galaxies I went for, but there’s always next time! It’s one of the reasons I love this hobby. I also didn’t want to get too into Cygnus quite yet since it doesn’t come up into my view until around 2am at the moment, I’ll wait until it’s up a bit earlier and I have more time to search through it and it’s many objects available to view. Looks like Cygnus, Ophiuchus, Scutum, and Sagittarius are going to be fun constellations to surf around in the next month or two as there are a ton of nebula and clusters coming up with them. Looking at the weather forecast I’m glad I made the best of it when I did because more clouds and rain is on the way. Not like the flooded Adirondacks need it.