2011-12-19, 21:00 – 00:00 CST
Location: Home, backyard, 41d44’N 93d36’W
Seeing: 2.5/5, Trans: 3.5/5
~40F and clear, still with occasional slight breeze
No visible moon, as it was below the horizon
Equipment used: Celestron Skymaster 15×70 binoculars
What I saw
* NGC 457 – Owl Cluster / E.T. Cluster, Cassiopeia
I finally had a chance to spend a little time with NGC 457, and I really, really dig it. I can tell why so many people get excited to see this one, because it definitely lives up to it’s name. It was just hanging out up there looking like a figure with two brightly glowing eyes, one brighter than the other, legs, feet, and arms or wings outstretched with a good number of “body stars” filling it in. I also like how there are not too many other stars visible in close vicinity so it is framed well and very obvious. I can’t wait to get a higher magnification of it sometime through my 10″ reflector.
* NGC 884, NGC 869 – Double Cluster, Perseus
I’ve mentioned it before, but I am in love with these two clusters, at just about any magnification. There are so many stars to see. I toyed around with the idea of trying to sketch it tonight, but I ended up deciding against it due to time constraints. I would guess that would take more than an hour to accurately sketch the 4.4 degree FOV at 15x.
* M45 – Pleiades, Taurus
M45 looking amazing as usual and was near zenith. I have been meaning to make a sketch of Pleiades for a while now, and the opportunity presented itself. I spent 30-45 minutes attempting to get almost everything in the FOV as accurate as possible. I had a chance to try out a new full-sheet observation sketching form I found from one of the fine folks on the Cloudy Nights astronomy forum, and I really like the extra room it allows. I also was able to get a chance to use the modified LED book light I made red by coloring the lens with a red permanent marker and putting a small piece of red translucent film inside it. I was a little worried because it was quite dim and the area of light it shed was small, but afterward I was glad that only part of my sketching area was illuminated at a time because it allowed me to concentrate on smaller areas. This will be helpful if/when I try to sketch the NGC 884 / NGC 869 double cluster!
The sketch (click to make ’em bigger):
* M42 – Orion Nebula, Orion
This old standard never fails to impress me. I try and take in more of the M42/M43 area every time I look at it and I keep finding more details that make it worth looking at for much longer than I usually give it. I would like to sketch the Orion sword area sometime as well, as viewed through the 15×70 binoculars.
I always like looking at Jupiter, even through the binoculars, just because of its sheer size. It looks like a bright star to the naked eye, but even at a modest 15x it looks so massive compared to the other stars and Galilean moons in the FOV. Such a contrast.
* Mystery open cluster (M48?)
I spotted an open cluster while just panning around half-heartedly looking for M1. I had a sense that I’d seen it before, but I’m not sure. It had multiple close pairs of bright stars, and was near the same altitude of Sirius at 00:00 CST (around 30 degrees?), and almost directly to the west, a bit over my house’s roof. I would have made a quick sketch, but I was tired and ready to be finished. (EDIT: After a brief search with Stellarium, I have determined this was most like likely M48, if I recollect correctly)
I took a quick peek at Mars as I was packing up, since it had risen high enough (around 20 degrees) for me to get a look over the neighboring house’s roof. Wow it was RED. I suppose the low altitude causes plenty of atmosphere to affect the color.