Observation Report 15 May 2012

I’ve been doing a lot of planetary imaging recently, so tonight decided that I’d have a dedicated observing session and at about 11:45 took my ST120 into the field in front of the house where I have as clear a view as possible of the southern horizon.

Given the state of the weather at the moment and the chance that I might not get the opportunity again for some time, my plan was to quickly visit as many of the Messier objects currently low in the southern sky as possible that I’d not already seen with a view to just finding them so I can repeat the process later at my leisure should the opportunity arise.

First off was M68, low between Hyades and Corvus. Took me five or ten minutes to get my head into star-hopping mode again, but soon found my way to it. At least, I was looking straight at it, but it wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Too much haze and a touch of LP in the damp air to the south west to be able to see it.

Keeping the theme going I moved over to M107 which I was unable to find last year for exactly the same reason. This time however it proved fairly straightforward and I moved on to M80.

My plan for M80 was to star-hop down from Acrab, but having struggled to pick out which of the multiplicity of stars in the finder was Acrab, I moved instead to Antares to work my way up. I’m pleased I did. What a stunning colour and brightness it has. And just as I was admiring it, what was that fuzzy object creeping into the corner of my view? Not M80, certainly, but M4, very clear and bright. Under decent skies I reckon it might give M13 a run for its money.

A fair bit of skipping back and forth later I eventually found M80 having hopped up from M4, very small and easily-overlooked.

Next on my list was M83, but it was clearly already going to be obscured by trees, so no chance there.

That was pretty much everything on my “try now” list, but as M4 was on my “try if you stay up late enough” (I have a “try if you don’t want to get up in the morning” list, too) I thought I’d have a go at a couple of others. M9 looked a fairly easy hop down from Sabik and indeed it provde so, as I realised I was looking straight at it even as I was picking stars out to hop by.

The same happened with M19, too. It looked like a reasonable hop from tau Scorpius, but there aren’t that many bright stars in that area and whilst I was casting about for candidates to find in Stellarium, there it was…

I was on the point of calling it a night there when I realised that Sagitta was fairly high in the East and M71 which I’d failed to find last summer is bang in the middle of it so I had to try that again. Actually locating the constellation in the finder was something of a challenge given the number of stars, but eventually I found something that looked like the western end of the constellation and decided I’d work from there. The asterism is much wider than I intuitively felt and it took me some time to gauge the distances, but just as the clouds started to drift in I managed to find a faint fuzzy blob alongside the constellation.

I’ve done a little observing over the last few months between imaging runs, to find comet Garradd and so on, but it’s been a real pleasure to get back to spending a night just looking and hunting for DSOs. Though I’d liked to have spent more time on each, they’re much easier to find second time around so it’s all useful. If summer holidays take us further south this year hopefully I’ll get to see them under better conditions. I can’t complain about my view of the southern horizon, but looking for anything that’s barely ten degrees above it is always going to be a bit of a struggle with the 120.

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