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24 February 2003: M 35, NGC 2158, M 81, M 82, NGC 2264 and NGC 2261

Last night I have been in Sourbroth (Belgium). The visual magnitude at the observing site was 5.6. Telescope: TAL 200K

I visited some Messier objects, M 35, M 48, M 51, M 65, M 66 and M 81/M 82. I will highlight a few of them.

M 35 was beautiful as always, one of my favourite open clusters. For the first time I could see NGC 2158 as a faint nebulosity. It is situated about half a degree southwest of M 35 and is about 13.000 light years distant, toward the edge of our galaxy, while M 35 is estimated at some 2200 light years distant. The brightest stars are of the 13th magnitude. I could not resolve any.

M 81/M 82 are a beautiful couple that fit nicely into the same field of view. M 81 is a spiral galaxy and M 82 is an irregular (cigar shaped) galaxy. Both galaxies were discovered the same night, December 31 1774, by Johann Bode.

I also visited the "Christmas tree" cluster (NGC 2264) in Monoceros. The cluster contains 20 bright stars. The size of the cluster is about 25 to 30 arc minutes. At the base of the Christmas tree, a shape that can be readily seen, is the brightest star, S 15Mon. Just about two degrees south-southwest of this cluster I found NGC 2261, or Hubble's Variable Nebula. this was the first time I really could see it with direct vision. It is a comet-like, triangular, nebula with a star (the variable R Monocerotis) at one of the three corners. According to Kepple and Sanner (the Night Sky Observers Guide), the variations in brightness, shape and detail of the nebula seem to be caused by shadows cast through it by dense dust clouds drifting near R Monocerotis.

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