My Observing Log: May/June 2003

11:30 p.m. 9 May 2003 PDT (2003–05–10–0630 UT)

The birth of another child in the family has made it a bit more difficult for me to find observing time, especially as clear nights here have been at a premium lately. I found both time and a lack of clouds tonight and took some advantage of them.

I've been able to work on my PleiadAtlas program and added stars to magnitude 10.5 to it. It's really getting to the point where star-hopping through the eyepiece is a viable option with it. It goes deeper in terms of the star catalogue than Uranometria, although of course Uranometria shows a much wider field on each page.

I began with M27, the Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula. As always, though, I find it by pointing Opus at the empty point in a rectangle whose other points are formed by gamma, delta, and beta Cygni. There's a W-shaped asterism there—more obvious in the finder than it is on the atlas—and M27 can be found near the center point of that W.

In this case, I spent more time checking the star field around M27 for PleiadAtlas's accuracy than I did actually looking at M27. It's a bit embarrassing to admit that, even with an object I've seen as many times as M27, but it's true. That was also the case with M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra the Lyre. Naturally, in both cases, the field matched quite well. (Well, naturally!)

I spent a bit more time with M11. I did use PleiadAtlas to star-hop the last bit of the way through the eyepiece, although I know from memory how to do it through the finder. With local light pollution (I found the unaided eye limiting magnitude to be about 4.6, a little worse than usual), it was really more of a granular fan-shaped blur, a bit better defined near the brightish eighth-magnitude star at the corner, and a bit hazier around the periphery of the fan.

My one challenge object for the night—and only a challenge because of the sky conditions—was M64, the Black Eye Galaxy. Here, I was only trying to see it, let alone the black eye, and sure enough, it was a toughie. I was able to verify the star field quite easily with PleiadAtlas, but it took some time to convince myself that I was really seeing the galaxy. I used my Vixen 8–24 mm zoom eyepiece, and found that the galaxy was best seen at an effective focal length of about 18 mm, or 70x.

1:00 a.m. 18 May 2003 PDT (2003–05–18–0800 UT)

I took my C5+ for just a brief look at Mars tonight. The central meridian was about 320 during my observations, which means that Syrtis Major had recently passed the meridian, and was fading toward the preceding edge of the Martian disc. Nonetheless, it was still quite easy to see. I was unable to see any kind of blue tint to it, though.

The polar cap was fairly easy to see, and still reasonably large. Hellas was supposed to be up, but I was never quite sure that I saw any haze over it at all. Sinus Meridiani was rising and showed its distinctive cup shape, although it was continually blurred by the seeing.

Otherwise, the Martian disc was only 11 arcseconds—too small to see much detail.

Copyright (c) 2003 Brian Tung