Sky-observing report – 27 Dec. 2005

Akarsh and Shashank, my two observing partners, and me had gone for our observing session on 27th and 28th (we stayed at our observing site for 2 days). That location, Sivanhalli, on the outskirts of South Bangalore and near to Bannerghatta National Park was my observing site for the past 2-3 years since I started observing. Year by year it was getting light polluted and on that day too it was very bad at all the horizons, I even felt that that it’s no use finding anything there. Still, this day was one of my most successful observing session ever !! For the first time ever I saw so many objects in one single night !! Using Shashank’s good quality 8″ f/6 we found many new objects.

In the following cases, most of the objects were found by me only as I was obsessed with seeing as many objects as possible. In the evening, we started with some binocular galaxies in Cetus-Sculptor region which were visible quite clearly with the telescope. They included Sculptor galaxy (NGC 253), NGC 55, globular NGC 288. Accompanied with them were 2 new faint planetary nebula, Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) in Aquarius and NGC 246 in Cetus which were visible only telescopically. We also concentrated in the Eridanus region which has clusters of galaxies and saw totally around 6-7 objects, half of them unknown. After midnight we concentrated in the Leo and Ursa Major region and saw many galaxies totally in both the regions. We also found some 10-15 new random NGC galaxies scattered in the entire sky. ALL galaxies whatever we saw were very dim and fuzzy.

Then I did what I never wanted to do. I aimed the telescope at the Virgo cluster, I didn’t want to do it so early but wanted to enter this crowded and nightmarish region when I felt I had the experience and confidence. But I just thought of kick-starting it that day itself instead of waiting for some other day. I started “galaxy-hopping” from a starting point to another and from one galaxy to another. I’m NOT an experienced observer so was not sure about achieving success there, what if I get “lost” there? But an unexpected thing happened and due to successful galaxy-hopping as in my star atlas I finally finished 3/4th of the Virgo cluster in my first attempt with the same level of low-confidence!! I covered most of the Messier galaxies and some NGC galaxies in the region too !

Finally the most awaited object by me : the comet C/2005 E2 McNaught. I had to get it this time, because it was in the 10-11th magnitude range and wouldn’t have brightened than 9th magnitude. We had 2 nights to spot it (as we were going to stay there for another night) and detailed readymade finder charts from the internet. I even centered the field in the right position both the days, but the comet was never there. Any amount of staring into the eyepiece never revealed any sign of the comet. It was very dim. We could hardly see 11th mag. stars but never see the brighter (10th mag) comet anywhere. Another factor which I considered true was that after going home when I compared this finder-chart with the software position, both the fields were different !! I was sure that this finder chart which we were referring to was the faulty one because software can be trusted more than readymade finder charts.

One object which I came to know at the last moment which was easily visible was the asteroid 4 Vesta at magnitude 6.5. It’s actually the only asteroid to be visible with naked-eyes. For the first time I think I successfully saw it first with binoculars and then the 8inch because it was very close to the bright star Delta Gemini. (I had previously unsuccessfully attempted for another faint asteroid 532 Herculina at mag. 11 in the year 2003 which was again so close to a faint star that star-light was blocking it out !!) Even though I had two days for Vesta I never tried for a verification but I think I could see it having moved to a new position the next day.

On this day, I totally saw roughly around 80 objects in the sky in one night, and around 35 of them were new (mostly galaxies) !! A successful observing session had ended.

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