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25th / 26th of September 2003: Observing session at Emberger Alm, Austria, ITT 2003

Observing report from the Emberger Alm, Austria. Starting at 19.00hrs UT on September the 25th 2003 and ending at 03.30 UT on September the 26th.

Instruments used: 8 inch f10 TAL 200K Klevtzov-Cassegrain with 32mm Televue plossl and a series of Vixen Lanthanum's (25, 20, 15, 12, 10, 9, and 7mm). Filters used: O-III and UHC. Binoculars used: Bresser 7 x 50 mounted on the Sky Window as well as a Vixen 12 x 80 mounted on a Sky Window.

Objects observed:
NGC 869, NGC 884, Stock 2, M31, NGC 752, Harrington's STAR 14, M27, M1, M36, M37, M38. NGC 1907, M35, NGC 2158, M78, M42, M43, M97, M108, M81, M82.

Tonight was the first clear night since we arrived in Austria on Tuesday. During the day we set up our telescope. After we had diner we went back to our telescope about 19.00 hrs UT. The table for the charts was already frozen! Tonight we would stay at the telescope for a period of 7 hours. The visual magnitude in the zenith was somewhere between 6 and 6.2 (changed during the night.

h and chi Perseus (The Double Cluster in Perseus, NGC 869 and NGC 884, Caldwell 14)

At 19.30 UT I started with a binocular view of the famous double cluster in Perseus, NGC 869 and NGC 884. This was the first object I ever saw through my 4.5-inch Newton telescope back in 1978, and ever since I'm paying them a visit at least once a year. I love to observe open clusters, and there are a lot of them to observe, but H and Chi Perseus are definitely my favourite couple. They are very easy to locate. Just draw an imaginary line from Gamma to Delta Cassiopeiae and extend this line with two times the same distance.

There you will find h and chi. According to O'Meara (The Caldwell Objects) NGC 869 has a visual magnitude of 4.5 and NGC 884 has a visual magnitude of 5.7. In Austria they were visible to the naked eye as a one hazy pitch of light in the Milky Way. They both have a diameter somewhere between 20′and 30′. The cores are separated by 25′. In my 8 inch, f10 Klevtzov-Cassegrain I just can frame the two cores into one field of view. That's why I prefer using binoculars for the Double Cluster.

Through the Vixen 12 x 80 with a field of view of 4.5° it looked awesome. Both clusters were resolving into individual stars. NGC 869 and NGC 884 lie in a rich star field that surrounds them. North of NGC 869, the more compressed of the two, I found a slightly bended chain of stars, about 2° long. The chain bends to the west slightly. At the end of this chain you will find another object that looks excellent in big binoculars, Stock 2 or "The Muscle Man". On the map below you see the Double Cluster in the lower half of the simulated field of view and Stock 2 in the upper half. North is up, East is to the left.

Stock 2 and the double cluster

Credit and © Capella Soft, “SkyTools2”

Stock 2 (The Muscle Man)

Through the 12 x 80 Vixen, mounted on the Sky Window, Stock 2 or "The Muscle Man" is a fine open cluster, containing about 50 stars. Most stars shine between the 8th and 10th magnitude. It is located in the constellation of Cassiopeia, just 2° north-northwest of the Double Cluster in Perseus. This mag. 4.4 open cluster has a diameter of 1°. The asterism of "The Muscle Man" is very easy to detect in giant binoculars. The V-shape represent the legs, there's a line of stars extending in the western direction that form the body. The arms are formed by two curves of stars near the cluster's centre. I can recommend Stock 2 to all of you. Go and check it out!

M31 (Andromeda Galaxy)

At 20.00 UT I looked up right overhead, and spotted M 31 with the naked eye. It lies just northwest of Nu Andromeda (see my article "Deepsky objects in Andromeda" in the "Focus On.." section of this site) I took up my 7 x 50 Bresser and looked at M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. I was stunned by this glorious view. It looked extremely large and elongated, about 3° by 1°. The 7° field of view of the Bresser left enough space to frame M31 nicely. This was the first time in my life that I have seen more than just the core of the Galaxy. I was so impressed with the view that I just kept looking at it for at least 10 minutes. I could not detect the dark lane(s) with the 7 x 50. I was so excited with the view, I totally forgot to look for M32 and M110.

NGC 752 (Caldwell 28, Collinder 33) and Harrington's STAR 14

Next stop was NGC 752 in Andromeda, an open cluster that lies about 5° southwest of Gamma Andromedae. In the 12 x 80 binoculars I immediately recognized an asterism to the west of NGC 752. It looks like a hockey stick (or like Phil Harrington calls it, a golf putter). This is Harrington's STAR 14. The asterism is made up of 6 or 7 "brighter" stars which stand out very well among the background stars. The head of the hockey stick, or golf putter, points right at NGC 752, the ball.


NGC 752 and "The Golf Putter" (Harrington's STAR 14)

Credit and © Software Bisque, “The Sky for Macintosh”

NGC 752 is a large cluster with a diameter of 50′and some 60 members. The brightest star shines at a magnitude of 8.9. The visual magnitude of the cluster is 5.7. This is definitely an object for giant binoculars. NGC 752 and Harrington's STAR 14 fit very nicely into the same field of view. Several chains and clumps are visible, as well as some fine double stars.

M27 (The Dumbbell nebula)

I switched to my telescope now, and the first object I observed was M 27, the Dumbbell Nebula, in Vulpecala. This is how I locate M 27. First I go to 12 Gamma Sagitta, the star at the eastern tip of Sagitta, "The Arrow". From there just go about 3° North to find M 27.

The Dumbbell nebula has a magnitude of 7.3 and it's size is 7′x 6′. I tried all available magnifications in combination with the OIII and the UHC filters. At 133 with the OIII the view was the most rewarding. I could see M 27 as a more or less rectangular object with rounded corners. In the middle there was a brighter oval form visible. I could not detect a central star.

M1 (The Crab Nebula)

After a break of half an hour, I turned the telescope to the east to observe the Crab Nebula. M1 in Taurus, the remnant of the supernova explosion observed by the Chinese in 1054 A.D. is very easy to locate. When you look at Taurus, the Bull, you see the two horns. The upper horn ends at Beta Tauri, a star which is shared by both Taurus and Auriga. The lower horn ends at Zeta Tauri. M1 can be found just 1° north-northwest of Beta Tauri.

I have observed M1 with my 8 inch telescope several times from different locations. Under light polluted skies it is not so easy to spot, and it shows absolutely no detail. This time, I spotted it immediately, but again, there was no detail visible at all. M1 just looked like a greyish patch of nebulosity with no structure or other significant features. I estimate its size somewhere between 3.5′to 4′. The OIII and UHC filters had little or no effect. The central star could not be detected.

M36, M37, M38, and NGC 1907

Auriga was rapidly climbing in the north-eastern sky. I started looking for three of my favourite open clusters M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga. When I turned the telescope to the southern part of Auriga, the three clusters showed up immediately in my 7° finder scope. They easily fit into the same field of view. I started with M37, the finest of the three. This cluster looks very impressive. At least 75 to 80 stars are visible in an area of 15′to 20′. There is a bright, 9th magnitude, star at the centre of M37. A lot of chains of stars are visible, but what really strikes me under these dark skies, is that I really can see the dark lanes between the chains of stars. They are much more prominent than they are from my own backyard. This is probably because of the very good sky darkness at this location.


The three big clusters in Auriga, M36, M37 and M38

Credit and © Capella Soft, “SkyTools2”

About 3° to the northwest of M37 I found M36. This cluster is smaller than M37, about 10′to 12′ in diameter, and at 133x I could detect about 30 to 35 stars. M36 has a certain "shape". Some people see a "crab", because of the Y-shaped pattern of the cluster. The cluster has a magnitude of 6 and it's brightest star shines at a visual magnitude of 8.9.

From M36 I went 2° northwest, to M38, the westernmost of the three great open clusters of Auriga. It looks great. This open cluster of Magnitude 6.4 has a diameter of 15′and consists of 100 stars. At 133x the cluster seems to contain an asterism that looks like an hourglass. Others see the Greek letter Pi in this pattern. It has many double stars. There are some dark lanes visible.

About half a degree to the south of M38 I found NGC1907, the next object on my observing list. NGC 1907 is a small, compact cluster of magnitude 8.2. The contrast with M38, is just fantastic. The cluster has a diameter of only 6′. The brightest star shines at a magnitude of 11.2. In my own backyard I always have to use averted vision to see stars within the faint background glow, but under the dark skies of Austria, it is no problem to see the stars with direct vision. At 166x the cluster shows more than 15 stars. Most shine between magnitude 9 and 12. NGC 1907 and M38 are a very rewarding couple, but there is another great couple which will be my next stop, M35 and NGC 2158 in Gemini.

M35 and NGC 2158

M 35 is a superb open cluster, even better than the three big open clusters in Auriga. Its magnitude is 5.1 visual. M35 has a diameter of 28′and contains 200 stars. The brightest star shines at a magnitude of 8.18. M35 can be found about 2.5° northwest of Eta Geminorum, a star that marks the foot of Castor. In the 8x50 finder it cannot be missed, even under suburban conditions. The thing that always strikes me, when observing M35, is that the centre is empty. Throughout the cluster I see arcs and chains of stars, and some double stars can be seen. There is no background glow of unresolved stars. M35 lies at a distance of approx. 2.200 light years. It's neighbour, NGC 2158, which is situated only 0.5 degrees southwest of M 35 lies at a distance of 13.000 light years!

NGC 2158 is one of the most remote open clusters that can be seen with small to medium aperture telescopes. When I observe this companion of M35 from my backyard, I have to use averted vision to see it at all, even when the seeing conditions are excellent! In the Alps NGC 2158 showed itself as a hazy patch of light, with 10 to 20 stars just visible. The cluster has a diameter of 5′. Its visual magnitude is 8.6 and it's brightest star shines at 12.4 visual. This is the first time I see M35's neighbour with direct vision. It's a pity that my telescope has only a field of view of 45′. However, I had a look through an 8-inch Vixen reflector. There I saw the two clusters in one field of view. A glorious sight, especially when you think of it that NGC 2158 lies 6 times as far away as M 35. I wonder how NGC 2158 would look like if it lay as close as M 35.


Orion is climbing higher and higher. Normally I always start with M42 when I get the chance to observe Orion for the first time in the oncoming autumn-winter period. But now I chose to go for a different Messier object, M78, a diffuse nebula in the upper half of Orion. I only had seen M78 once in my life; it was very disappointing, so I decided to give it a try under these excellent conditions.
I always start at Zeta Orionis (Alnitak), the easternmost star of Orion's belt. From there I go in north-eastern direction, towards Betelgeuse, for 2°. There you find M78. In my 8-inch telescope it looked like a fan-shaped nebulosity of 7′by 6′. The shape reminded me of Hubble's variable nebula in Monoceros. In the brightest part of M78 are two stars embedded of magnitude 10 or 11. The view of this emission / reflection nebula was much better than I had expected it to be. Next time I will give M78 another chance, when observing from my backyard.

M42 (The Great Orion Nebula) and M43

The Great Orion Nebula, or M42, is the best emission nebula around. I cannot find the words to describe the beauty of this really big object. My 8-inch telescope cannot frame this emission nebula with an outline of 1.5°x 1.0°. But what I did see tonight for the first time in my life, was the 5th member of "The Trapezium", Theta Orionis E. This 11th magnitude star lies only 4" north of Theta Orionis A. I could see it with magnifications of 166 x and higher. After that I have been looking for number 6, Theta Orionis F, which is also have the 11th magnitude, but I did not succeed in locating it.

About 10′northeast of "The Trapezium" lies M43, a large nebula surrounding a 7.5 magnitude star. In my own backyard I have seen it once or twice, using averted vision, but tonight I can see M43 right away, with direct vision. The best view is with the 32mm Televue plossl, which gives me the biggest TFOV, 46.5′. M43 looks like a big comma to me, and is separated from M42 by a dark lane. M43, like M42, shows so much detail that all words fall short, when describing these magnificent objects.

M97 (The Owl Nebula)

Above the mountains to the north, the big dipper has re-appeared. There are two objects, that I did not manage to observe until now. M97 is one of them. I turned my telescope north, using the Telrad, and centred on Beta Ursae Majoris or "Merak". About 2° southeast of Merak I should find M97, and.... I did.
Very easy object in fact, under these conditions! In my hometown and on a dark sky location I regularly visit in Belgium, I never managed to find it. But here it was, M97, a rather big planetary nebula. At medium to high powers it looked like a large circular object, about 3′wide with no details or color at all. I could not detect the Owl's eyes. I tried the OIII and the UHC filter on M97. The nebula looked just a little brighter (using lower magnifications) with the help of the filters, but I still could not detect "the eyes of the owl". Maybe my scope lacks the aperture to do so, or I was growing a little tired after more than six hours observing in the freezing cold!


M97 and M108 through the finderscope (south is up, east is to the right)

Credit and © Software Bisque, “The Sky for Macintosh”


While observing M97, I noticed in my Sky Atlas 2000, that just 48′northwest of M97 there was another Messier object I did not observe until now, M108, a spiral galaxy of the 10th magnitude. M108 measures 8′.7 x 2′.2. Its surface brightness is 13.0. I moved the telescope a little in the north-western direction and M108 immediately popped into the field of view. What I saw through my eyepiece was an elongated object, about 7′long and oriented east-west. I could not detect any details, probably because M108 was only some 20° above the horizon (and just over the mountain ridge to the north).

M81 and M82

The last couple of objects I visited were M81 and M82 in Ursa Major, a beautiful couple of galaxies. M81 and M82 were discovered by Bode in 1774. They are the brightest members in the Messier 81 Galaxy Group, a small cluster of galaxies. M81 is an oval and M82 a cigar-shaped galaxy. They are separated by 38′and fit into the same field of view. The galaxies are bright. M81 has a 6.9 visual magnitude and a surface brightness of 13. M82 has a visual magnitude of 8.4 and a surface brightness of 12.8.

Through my telescope M81 looked like a 12′x 6′patch of light, oriented northwest-southeast. I could not detect any spiral arms or other details. M82 was significantly smaller. It looked like a 7′x 2′cigar-shaped diffuse light, oriented east-northeast to west-southwest. With averted vision I could detect a little structure, though I could not see the dark lane that bisects M82 into two parts.

With this fine couple, after seven hours, I ended an excellent night of observing!

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