M51 -- Whirlpool Galaxy

by Chuck May 7, 2013

When I was out gathering first light with my Zhumell Z10 I managed to find M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. At least I'm pretty sure that I found it -- there weren't any field stars so it was difficult to get a good view.

I could definitely see two linked patches of light, and from time to time I thought I could see a suggestion of spiral arms with averted vision. It's definitely a DSO that I'm going to go back to.


Backyard Astronomy

M42 - The Great Orion Nebula

by Chuck September 2, 2010

OK, this is an easy one to find, but for completeness I feel like I need to put it in here. Tonight the air was clear and cold, and after taking a look at Mars hanging bright in the sky I decided to train the binoculars on Orion’s sword to see the Orion Nebula. Here’s the Wikipedia entry.

The naked eye shows the nebula as a bright smudge that makes up the tip of Orion’s sword. Through my 7x50 binoculars the gas clouds are evident, but the most visible thing is the blue glow of the young stars lighting up the nebula. If we get a chance to get the big scope out on a clear night while Orion is still in the sky it should make a fairly easy target.

In fact, I can’t imagine why I haven’t tried for it before…

This is one of the earliest Messier objects that I learned how to find, since it’s right there in one of the most recognizable constellations.

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Backyard Astronomy

M31 - Andromeda Galaxy

by Chuck August 13, 2010

The Persied meteor shower was supposed to be visible tonight (supposed to be, but Astronomy magazine says the best viewing time is around 2:00 a.m. We didn't stay up that late) so Katie and I sat outside in the dark for a while watching for the bright streaks of meteors across the night sky.

We were disappointed by the meteors, in an hour of watching we only saw one large, bright meteor. Not exactly the 60 per hour that the magazine predicted. Since we were out there, however, we decided to get the binoculars out and take a look around.

Our first target was the bright planet that was above the tree line to the West. We assume it was either Venus or Saturn -- I shake too much to see details like Saturn's rings through the binoculars and Katie wasn't sure. It was definitely a planet though, the crescent shape was clear even through my shaky view (Update -- since the planet was crescent shaped it had to be Venus. Saturn doesn't show phases.)

Next we turned back to Hercules and looked for M13 again. It was right were we expected to find it, confirming both our ability to view vague blobs of light in the sky, and our ability to find the vague blobs in the sky.

Emboldened. we turned our sights on M31, the Andromeda galaxy. We were looking in that general direction anyway for the Persied meteors, so it made sense to try to find something to our North rather than the South as we usually do. It took me a few tries. I tried using the end of Cassiopia as guide stars to find the galaxy, but one of the stars was hidden behind a tree so I was using the wrong set  of stars. Once I figured that out, I was able to get the binoculars on M31 with few problems.

By this time Katie had headed in to bed, so after a few minutes viewing, I headed in myself. On the way up I stopped by Katie's room to tell her that I spotted the galaxy, she hopped out of bed and we went back outside to take another look. I needed to find different way to guide her to the galaxy, working off Cassiopia didn't help her. Fortunately, M31 was almost directly above another tree top, so I was able to guide her up from the horizon.

In the 7x50 binoculars M31 appears as an elongated blob of light, quite bright in the center, fading gently to the edges. It occupies a large portion of the binocular's field of view. From our viewing position we could not see M31, nor the nearby stars, with the naked eye, we'll need to find a darker viewing area to see the galaxy without help.

We didn't have the 3-inch reflector set up, so we weren't able to take a "closer" look. That will have to wait for another night.

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Backyard Astronomy

M13 - Hercules Globular Cluster

by Chuck September 18, 2009

Tonight was a beautiful clear night, so I set the telescope up to try to get a look at M13 through our little 3-inch reflector. Two weeks ago at the Everett Astronomical Society's open scope night we'd seen M13 through a 16-inch Dobsonian telescope, a view that made the cluster look like the picture from the Hubble Space Telescope (here on Wikipedia). That night I'd went outside with binoculars and took a look, through the 7x50's M13 was little more than a smudge on the lens, but I could see it.

I was certain it wouldn't look anything like the 16-inch Dob in our scope, but the telescope would make it appear better than the binoculars, I was sure.

M13 is in Hercules, about 2/3rds of the way between the bottom two stars of the trapezoid (40ZetaHer and  44EtaHer according to Pocket Stars). I star-hopped from the tree line near Arcturus up to Hercules -- finding M13 was pretty easy since there was a straight line of bright stars from the tree line to the trapezoid. Once I'd found the trapezoid, finding M13 was easy.

Through the 16-inch reflector M13 appeared as a bright cluster of stars, the central cluster showing individual stars and thinning out toward the edges. Through the 7x50 binoculars the cluster appears as a bright smudge against the black sky, but with little detail. Through the 3-inch reflector I still can’t make out any individual stars in the cluster, but I can begin to see that it is round, bright in the middle and thinning toward the outside.

According to Wikipedia M13 is just visible to the naked eye on a clear night. I haven’t been able to pick it out yet, but since this is an easy to find Messier object, I’ll keep trying.

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Backyard Astronomy

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