First Visual Observation Night

04 December 2018

Clear skies as forecast, so a chance for some visual observation for a change instead of imaging:

After finishing work at 11pm, a short walk home and immediately carried out my visual setup so that it could acclimatise a little. Whilst it did that, made a much needed latte.

Once outside, fired it up, checked focus with the x10 eyepiece (or EP) and then carried out a 2 star alignment on the Synscan Alt-Az Goto mount with the ST80 on board. Once I’d done that I made an immediate beeline for M45 (the Pleiades cluster)…oh my! Even through the ST80 it was pretty spectacular. Nice large, crisp pinpoints, and LOTS of them.

Then shifted to M42 (my favourite), and it’s breathtaking, even in a refractor designed primarily for guiding. Threw on the X2 Barlow lens to bring my focal length to 800mm and omg! Can clearly make out the nebulosity surrounding the trapezium, and faintly alongside it, the Running Man Nebula. Absolutely stunning ♥️ even in class 6 skies (I have a large supermarket car park at the back of me which doesn’t help with the light pollution.)

Moved to M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) and there she was, sitting perfectly in the centre of the eyepiece (EP.) Like her namesake, absolutely resplendent in her beauty. Even more so with the naked eye 😍 Ironically, when I usually search for M31, locating her is a bit hit and miss. Not tonight! Double checked my positioning with Star Walk 2, and boom! There she was, sitting high in the sky and beautiful. Couldn’t make out the two dwarf galaxies nearby, but I’m putting that down to the nearby light pollution. But I’m happy enough 🙂

Back to M45 with the x2 Barlow still attached, and the number of visible stars in this easily identifiable cluster was simply amazing. So so bright in the x10 EP, and absolutely pinpoint. Up close this is an incredible cluster to view, although it’s only through long exposure imaging that you can make out the nebulosity and dust clouds of the surrounding area.

Had another look at M42 as the skies are just becoming more and more clear and the view is just unbelievable. The Orion Nebula is a fascinating and beautiful DSO to both view and image, and even in a widefield such as the ST80, it’s easy to see why astronomers and astrophotographers choose her.

After that, a quick shift up to have a look at Betelgeuse. Amazing colour in her, you can clearly see the reddish orange of this red giant as she winds down the last part of her life before going supernova. I imagine when it blows, it’s going to be pretty spectacular, even from earth.

Attempted having a look for NGC 869 (double cluster in Perseus) before hitting the sack (have a split shift tomorrow which means an early start.) Sadly, despite cross referencing Caph and lining myself up, I wasn’t able to locate this with confidence. Perhaps my expectations on what I was hoping to see compared to what I’ve imaged previously were too high?

There’s something to be said for purely viewing that cleanses the soul and gives you a sense of wonder and acknowledgement of one’s place in the universe. Need to do this more often. Although I do wish I had my main imaging rig with me right now as well because I would imagine that M42 / M45 at 1000mm through the ST102 (with x2 Barlow) would be even more incredible. Can’t wait to try and capture these next week (looking at the 10 day forecast.)

The more astute among you who have knowledge of the mount I was using, might be asking why I didn’t use the GoTo function when looking for the Double Cluster. Truth is, I tried to. Just after my second look at M42 I moved the rig to the other end of the garden for a clearer view of the area of sky NGC 869 resides in. I carried out a second 2-star alignment, using Alnitak and Caph. The issue was that when it slewed to what was Caph, I had to use the manual controls and it wouldn’t accept any input, so I had to restart the mount. After several attempts I opted to manually search. I’ll have a look into this error when I get more time.

All in all a pretty successful first go at pure viewing and observation, that has stoked my astro heart (see what I did there?)

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