3:00 a.m. 29 March 2003 PDT (2003–03–29–1100 UT)
I went out at 3:00 this morning. (I have a 6-month-old. This sort of thing happens from time to time.) The planets weren't visible from my observing spot, so I spent some time on M4 and M51. The sky was pretty fine for this area—about limiting magnitude 5.0. (The dimmest star in the Little Dipper bowl was just barely visible.) I used Opus, my 5-inch SCT.
M4 showed good resolution; the north-south bar was visible, not just as a vertical glow in the eyepiece, but as a grainy rod, while stars all around the periphery were seen individually. I couldn't count them, but they numbered in the tens.
Regarding this thread, it did take me a short while to find it; its closeness to the pole makes maneuvering to the finder a bit difficult. Having found it lots of times before helps; "a short while" for me on this object is about 2 or 3 minutes. It was plain to see with no detail at all using the 32 mm Plossl, for 40x.
I then tried the 8–24 mm zoom, starting from low power and moving up. The view at 24 mm, for 53x, was about the same as it was at 40x, but starting at about 20 mm (63x), the galaxy began to split in two, and at 16 mm (80x), the split was obvious. The best view for me came at 12 mm (105x). The southern spot of NGC 5194 (the main body of M51) was broad and smooth; I could see no hint of the ring formed by the two main arms that I was able to see through the same scope at Lockwood. NGC 5195, the companion was noticeably smaller and more concentrated. I thought I could see a modest north-south elongation in the core.
Copyright (c) 2003 Brian Tung