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Posts Tagged ‘Leo Triplet’

Windy, cold, but clear! I’ll take that any day over the muck we’ve had recently, though I must say seeing was poor and the older I get the less fond I become of cold. But what was keeping me warm last night was the fun of opening up the 30mm Universe – the night sky as seem through 10X30 IS Canon binoculars. It’s awesome.

Now I know a 30mm objective seems small, but here’s a summary of what I saw in a series of brief observing sessions in both the evening and early morning hours. (Yeah, I did a lot of going out for half an hour,then coming in and studying charts while I warmed up.)

In Draco I started with Nu, got a clean split (60″ gap) and so went to the fainter, 16/17 Draconus. Another cleansplit. Here the gaps is about 90 seconds. So I went to the more challenging Psi Draconis which I have not split before and has just a 30 second gap and despite passing clouds and unsteady skies I got “kissing” stars which occasionally steadied enough to give me a hairline split

Went to 56 Andromedae, which I had split several nights ago, and found it easily – and it splt very easily – but my real goal here was something more subtle – the open cluster NGC 756. And I found it – a faint sprinkling of star dust with two or three stars that easily stand out. But this is a real rich area of sky as the following chart shows, for it also contains two of the largest galaxies we see – M31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy, and M33, a much more subtle patch of white . So with relative litte movement of the binoculars – afterall, look at thai six degree field – you can go from an easy double stars to a subtle cluster to a great galaxy and to to a more ghostly one.

Click image for larger version - from Starry Nights Pro screens hot.

What I saw, though, does’t capture what I regard as a remarkable – and repeated – experience: One moment you have a star dancing around and then, almost like watching a photo print develop in a tray of chemicals, you realize you’re seeing two perfect stars. This happened more than once and I don’t know if it’s the image stabilization reaching a new level, or just my brain adjusting to the new scene and kicking into gear,

I experimented with the 11X56 Garrett Optical and the 15X70 Celestrons and I have to say, they just couldn’t deliver. The images were brighter, of course, but when push came to shove the resolution wasn’t there -especially where bright stars were involved. They simply won’t quiet down in any binocular I have, but they’re better in the 10X30IS. What’s more, even though the larger ones were gathering more light – and I was using them on a parallelogram mount – they rarely  allowed me to see any more details than the 30mm binoculars. Generally, whatever I could see, I could see with either, though extended objects, such as galaxies, were easier to see in the larger binoculars.

This raises real questions in my mind as to what is the best binocular for scouting and area while star hopping with a telescope. The 15X70s make extended objects pop more easily – but they give a significantly smaller field of view thanthe 10X30s. I need to experiment with this aspect of binocular use more.

What’s fun with Draco and the binos is you can go on a neat progression from 16/17 at 90 seconds, to Nu at 60 seconds, to Psi at 30 seconds – and all with stars that are pretty close to one another in magnitude.

On to galaxy land! Morning with Ls and Js.

After a few hours sleep I returned to observing in the morning and this time my first target was  M3 rising above Arcturus in the east. A quick scan and there it was, an obvious fat star with with crumbling edges among much “cleaner” ones.

This one's too easy - just draw line between Cor Caroli and Arcturus and you'll find M3 a bit closer to Arcturus and with a magnitude 6 star right next to it. (Click image for larger version - prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

But I was  interested in bigger – and much more distant – game.  First up was M81/82, the famous pair up behind the bigBear’s ears.  I say that. I don’t know howmany times I’ve seen them – certainly more than a hundred. But I always get lost looking for them despite some obvious clues. I think it was Sue French who said something like the “Big Bear has ear mites.”  That helps. It also helps to draw a line between two of the bow stars in the Big Dipper. But in the typical finder and these small binoculars they can be too faint to readily jump out at you. You need something more and I think I have it – three radily distinguishable asterims in a row 0 a bold triangle, a ragged “L’ and a 7.   The pair of galaxes we want is right off the end of the L as indicated inthe chart. To get in the right area, scratch around behind the Bear’s ears – or use the two bowl stars to make an arrow pointing the way.

I use the two indicated stars to cut across the Dipper's Bowl and get me in the right general vicinity. Then I look for the asterism in the next chart. (Click image for larger version - prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Sigma is actually a wide (19') optical double of fifth magnitude stars and forms a bold triangle with another star of similar brightness. The ragged "L" leads you to the two galaxies and if you see the "7" you know you've gone too far. The galaxies are fainter than the bright stars int hese asterisms, but keep in mind you are looking at objects about 10 million light years away shinning with the combined light of billions of stars.(Click image for larger version - prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

OK – traveling 10 million light years or so with objects I can easilyhold inmy hand is a real trip – but I wanted to go deeper and M51 provided thenext step. Seeing the famous “Whirlpool” galaxy takes you  out  about 23 million light years  and it’s a much easier trip – from a star hopping perspective – though the galaxies are a bit fianter and, of course, mushed together – quite different from the M81-82 pair.

Start with Alkaid, the last star in the handle of the Dipper, and head in the general direction of Cor Caroli. We really have two triangles here, as shown, the second consisting of magnitude 7 stars. Since all this fits in the same binocular field as Alkaid it's apiece of cake - that is, assuming your binoculars have a field of 4 degrees or more. The 10X30s I'm using have a 6 degree fov as indicated y the circle.

That encouraged me to take a look at the lion’s hip – Leo was rising in the east and he carries with him a slew of galaxiws, the brightest being M65 and M66 – and they’re also just plain simple to find.  These are my “J” galaxies – that is, I find them because of a pair of “Js” in the sky near them. In fact, the brighter J sort of hooks them.  Here’s what I mean.

Finding the Leo Triplet of galaxies starts with identifying th ebright triangle of stars that represents the Lions rear haunches. One of those is Thea and if oyu get it in your binoculars the two "J" asterisms should jump out at you. The fainter, larger one is there just to fool you - and I've been fooled by it sometimes, especially in a finder that reverses the image. But the smaller, brighter one is actually easier to spot and from there it's clear where the galaxies are. (Click image for larger version - prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t “see” these galaxies. I “detected ” them. Tome there’s a difference. “Seeing” means you can discern shape, texture, and form. “Detecting” means you know the object is there – that this tiny patch of sky is different in brightness from its surroundings, but where you to draw a picture of what you detected it would be an indistinct smudge. So what you see is a ghostly presence at best in such small binoculars, but I felt confident with M66, a little less so with M65 – and I might have seen the third member of this famous triplet, NGC 3628.

This all defies somewhat the common warnings you here about viewing extended objects. M66, which I certainly found easier to detect,  is listed as magnitude 9.7  and M65 a bit dimmer at magnitude 10.1. But in terms of surface brightness – taking into account how spread out their light is – they are both listed close to magnitude 12.5. Now given that I have a darned hard time seeing magnitude 9.5 stars with these binoculars, you would be justified in assuming that I am either crazy, or a liar, if I say I can see a galaxy with a surface brightness of 12.5.

But all that really illustrates is how puzzling this phenomena of sight and faint objects is.  Stephen James O’Meara, observer and writer par excellence, syas in his book “The Messier Objects,” that all three of these galaxies can be seen with 7X35 binoculars! (He wrote that before the time of image stabilization and I am sure he is not using amount for those.)  If that’s the case, then it certainly isn’t ridiculous for me to claim I’m seeing them with 10X30 image stabilized binoculars. So I have confidence that I am seeing what I think I am seeing.  It is also interesting that O’Meara finds M65 brighter and I find M66 brighter – and again, I have some confidence in what I saw because O”Meara also notes that other observers disagree with him and find M66 brighter.

This whole business of what you can see with what is variable at best and the role of magnification and field size and steadiness all complicate the question, not to mention light pollution and the atmospheres transparency at the moment.  So you really have to try these things for yourself. For me, I count it as great fun that with these tiny glasses I easily hold in my hands I have travelled 38 million light years out into the universe to pluck ancient photons from billions of stars. That’s awesome.

 

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Remember a summer evening when you were maybe 12 and you stayed out past sunset? And sunset faded into twilight which faded into night and you knew your Mom would be worried, but you just lay there on the grass, looking up, fascinated as the stars came out?

For me those evenings were filled with a mixture of wonder and confusion. They still are, but on a deeper basis. Last night was such an evening – only colder 😉

But I rediscovered for the umpteenth time the deep pleasure of simply looking up – and I enhanced this by adding a comfortable, swivel beach chair, a parallelogram mount, and a very nice pair of 10X50 binoculars – which in sum led me through a space walk in my new and much larger “backyard.”

It began close to home shortly after 8 pm with Saturn high in the southeast, Mars high in the south, and memories of Venus and Mercury, now well below the treeline, if not below the horizon to the northwest.  Together the four did a beautiful job of defining the ecliptic.  This is particularly true of Saturn and Mars, both just a tad north of it.  But Saturn also is a reminder these nights of where the southeast-to-northwest arc of the ecliptic crosses the more easily defined arc of  the celestial equator. Yes, I really do think about this stuff when I’m out there because I’m trying to develop an intuitive grasp of where we are in the universe  and this helps.

Suddenly it all fit together so nicely. The projection of earth’s equator is an easy one – but the ecliptic I usually find more elusive, but not last night. Then it  just seemed so obvious that these little dots of light – Saturn and Mars – were sitting on a disc – the same disc on which I was lounging in my beach chair in my little gem of a spaceship, Earth.  Here we were on the plane of our solar system where almost all the local action is. I wish I knew how to bottle that experience so I could take a sip of it whenever I wanted. Most of the time all this talk of planes and arcs and planets remains in an abstract world. I understand the words, but they have no meaning at the gut level – last night they did. Last night they they left the realm of mere words and  numbers and were real.

That’s the sort of thing I always seek – but too rarely find. But it didn’t end there. The night before I had enjoyed a brief tour with some 10X50 Pentax PCF WPII binoculars I had picked up recently on Astro-Mart. They give a crisp, five-degree field of view that stays sharp to near the edges. But I quickly tire of holding them up, so for tonight I had brought out the “Suntracker” swivel beach chair – my favorite for binocular use – and a rather battered parallelogram mount made to my specs by a guy in Tennessee  several years ago.  At the time I wanted something fairly short that didn’t crowd my observatory, but now I use it on an old Meade field tripod and in the open.

But what was important here was a new lesson in patience.  I not only was staying away from the DoubleStar mount which had scopes already to go, but I really took the time to get comfortable in my chair,  and get the binos well-balanced.  This is absolutely critical.  I want them to float in front of me and when looking straight up, they should not put any pressure on my face. Then I went out in space. It was a real trip!

My tiny backyard vanished – everything around me vanished – thanks to using both eyes – and I felt I owned the universe. It was my new backyard and I was just roaming around from one familiar spot to another –  M35, 37, 36 and 38 of course – then over to M44 and Mars spinning past, splitting the two donkeys – then down to ancient M67 and eventually over to the Leo Triplet where I settled down for a long look. Yes, I could see M65 and M66 in the 10X50s, but I had to pretty much imagine NGC 3628. Maybe others can pick it up with 50 mm? I feel good if I can see it with an 80mm scope.

And that’s where I eventually went – to the 80mm APO  which I gradually worked up from 16X to 37X. It was on the UA DoubleStar mount with a C8 and I switched to the bigger scope and I swear I saw these galaxies better than I ever had before and I think the reason was simple. No, it was not because transparency was excellent and seeing pretty darned good as well, though that certainly helped. It was because I had had the patience to get totally – and comfortably – immersed in the universe the way I know I should, but too seldom do.  I always seem to think I can cut corners.  What was important for me was to mentally and emotionally get the context down pat using naked eye and binocular, then slowly inch up on both power and light grasp, making each instrument deliver all it could before moving on. Delightful! When it works the way I think it should, this experience is way beyond my skill to express it.

In the final analysis I don’t think any of the equipment matters. What matters is simply learning how to relax.  I’m not talking meditation here – though that’s important to me – but learning to accept the fact that you’re going to take a beautiful night like this and really devote it to just a few objects. (Think of it as going to the Magic Kingdom and instead of hitting every ride in a marathon day, you just go through the Haunted Mansion – several times. [-)

And what was the best lesson of the night was learning – or maybe relearning – how to sit in a chair.  No kidding. I think lying back in the grass and looking up is the most natural approach to the night sky and I’m sure our species has been doing that for thousands of years.

But put binoculars in front of your eyes – binoculars held firmly in a very steady mount –  and it is still so easy to strain just a little and not even know you’re doing it. The position of the binoculars isn’t perfect, so you just raise your head a tiny bit and maybe twist it. The big mistake is you are, perhaps  subconsciously,  trying to bring your eyes to the binoculars  instead of bringing the binoculars to your eyes. Well – at least that’s been my problem in the past. I always thought that when I grew up I’d learn to be more patient. Maybe I’m growing up. 😉

In any event the evening session lasted a couple hours.  If I were younger I probably would have made a night of it. Conditions were terrific. But instead I came in and eventually got to sleep around midnight and didn’t get up again until 3 am. Still, this gave me a chance to repeat the process and extend my vision from the solar system to the galaxy. For once I was back on the observing deck and my eyes had reasonably dark adapted, the summer Milky Way was quite high overhead. The northern parts near Cassiopeia were lost in the light dome from New Bedford and North Dartmouth, but from Cygnus down through Scutum it was terrific. What really struck me was the varying intensity – the big rift you get between Cygnus and  Aquila, then the really bright clouds you find as you hit Scutum. My treeline blocked off the best parts that go down into Sagittarius towards the center of our galaxy, but what I could see was enough to give me a vision much akin to the one in the evening session where I could really see our planet sitting as a lonely speck on the great disc of our solar system with a few other lonely specs, Saturn and Mars.

Now the planets were mostly out of the picture, but that greater disc – this one much puffier, but better defined –  was obvious. And again I found it easy to envision our tiny star as one of millions in these clouds that spiral out from the galaxy core.  In a sense it was disc against disc – one in my memory from a few hours before and running across the sky from southeast to northwest – and a much puffier one now cutting across at a much different angle from northeast to south. Both these define our home – our place in the universe.

I spent more time in the chair not using the binoculars – just captivated by the naked eye vision.  But I at last did a little exploring of the familiar.   I looked for M57 but with 10X I could not decide which faint dot among several was a little blurry, so I swung on down to Albireo.  But  with 10X I could not split it. (Have others been able to with small binoculars?) It showed some gold, but no blue and nothing I could call two stars. So I kept moving eastward until I hit M27 which was certainly large enough to make an easy target.

Next I played with my own little piece of mythology – using the well-known Coat Hanger as a jumping off point. I think it was Bren who suggested that this belonged to the Fox, for the obscure constellation of Vulpecula is nearby – and we have always had fun thinking about this worn out little fox, returning to his den, a bit sweaty, but happy that he had once more eluded the hounds – and, of course, hanging up his red hunting coat on this starry coat hanger.  Having invented that – and I’m laughing at myself here because I am really not a big fan of constellation mythology – I can appreciate how ancient people, sitting on the ground at night, looked at the stars, connected the dots, and let their imaginations go wild.

From the Coat Hanger it was a short slide down past Altair to one of my favorite open clusters, M11. And with the first hints of dawn showing I moved quite quickly to the 80mm, got M11 in view, and then shifted to the C8. This fascinates me. At one moment it looks like a printed circuit board – at another, the streets of a well-planned city. There is something very regular, almost rigid, about the pattern of stars in this cluster that belies its nickname of “Wild Duck.”

The circuit board metaphor works for me, but this morning I liked the city one even better. The single bright star that dominates felt like the Empire State Building to me – and the dark lanes – a blotch really – that enter from the west could be a celestial version of Central Park – and at that point I have exhausted my very limited knowledge of the Big Apple.  But twilight was really taking over and I just had to check on the Double Double to see just how good the seeing really was.

Very good. So good that with the 24mm Panoptic in the C8 – 83X – I was getting a nice clean split of both stars. And they were perfect round dots at higher power in the 80 mm with as textbook clean a split as you can obtain.

Yep – and there’s more of this weather in the forecast for tonight! We’ve been building towards it gradually. Saturday gave clear skies for a while, but really horrendous seeing and not that good transparency. Each night since I’ve had  some hours that were better than Saturday, but none as good as last night. For me, it’s a few hours like these that define amateur astronomy. May we all have many of them!

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Three more observing sessions with two tiny beginner scopes (Friday night, Friday morning, and Saturday night) have left me with a firm enjoyment of the 50mm Tasco and a firm conclusion that no one is going to sell a telescope for under $50 that really performs. What’s more, IMHO it’s a mistake to encourage beginners to think they can get away cheap because they then just end up discouraged, having invested in something that doesn’t work.

A corollary to this conclusion goes like this: It’s a mistake to compare your experienced experience with the experience of an inexperienced beginner. Ouch! My apologies for that last sentence, but it made sense as it escaped my fingertips 😉 What I’m trying to say is: The more experience you have the more you can get out of a small telescope. But that doesn’t mean the beginner will have the same satisfaction.

So, here’s the bottom line on the Teddy Bear Scope (Celestron First Scope) and the 40-year-old Tasco 50mm.

1. I could not recommend either scope as they come out of the box.
2. Both suffer seriously – especially for a beginner – from the lack of an adequate finder.
3. The Celestron is crippled by the eyepieces that come with it. The 50mm Tasco performs pretty well with its .965mm eyepieces, but does significantly better with modern eyepieces, such as 1.25-inch Plossls.

I’m going to write a detailed review at some point, but this is an observing report. I observed the Moon and M42 – especially the Trapezium – with both scopes on Friday night/morning when seeing was very good. The Trapezium looked great in the Tasco -a veritable gem collection. But it was such a stretch in the Celestron that I doubt very much that a  beginning observer would know it was more than one star  and the most I could detect were three. The  nebula looked OK in both.

Here’s the rub on the Moon. We expect to see something of a color halo with any achromatic refractor – but with the F12 Tasco it was minimal and not disturbing to me. In fact, I had to look for it, especially at low power.  But at high power with the Celestron the halo was extreme – not because of the primary mirror, of course – reflectors don’t have the problem that achromatic refractors have –  but because of the incredibly poor 5mm eyepiece of unidentified breeding that comes with ithis little scope.

Now if you want to get really silly – and I just had to try – you can put a 5mm Nagler in the Celestron and guess what – the Moon looks super! So it’s not the primary and secondary mirrors that are the problem  -they’re fine. But to enjoy this scope a beginner would really have to spend some serious (in terms of what the scope alone cost) dollars on eyepieces. They don’t, of course, need a Nagler – it’s just what I had handy. But you would have to add decent Plossls.

But here’s the real rub – I had to search like heck to find the last quarter Moon – really. It was getting both frustrating and embarrassing, but sitting at a table beside the Celestron (the way you usually would use it) I could not point it at the moon. If I got up and got behind it I found the Moon pretty quickly.

I have no problem finding things with a refractor – even without a finder – if I have an eyepiece that gives a truly wide field.  That’s because the natural position is to sit  behind it and I’ve had lots of experience pointing small refractors without bothering with a finder, even when it’s there. (There is a finder on the Tasco, but it’s not original equipment. And while optically it’s fine, it’s a straight-through type and  next to impossible to use once you’re pointing reasonably high in the sky.)

But there’s a catch here too. Most of the .965 eyepieces are of early designs, such as Ramsdens, and have an apparent field of view of roughly 30 degrees. So I ended up substituting a modern 40mm Plossl which gave me a true field of view approaching three degrees.  That was adequate for finding most of my targets.

And my targets got quite interesting on Saturday night, plus I really learned something new – or strongly reinforced something old because I ended up with the best view of the Leo Triplet I have ever had!

For this later touring I used the 50mm with a 40mm Plossl, and old Meade 18mm wide field that was my favorite eyepiece  in the 1980s, but had been over taken by the Naglers, plus a 2X Barlow.  This gave me modest power, but enough to do some fun exploring.

First target was M44, the Beehive, and in the 40mm it was great. I think a beginner could find this and with an eyepiece such as this would really enjoy the view. Because of its size I think I would rate it a tie with M45, as seen in this scope.

That encouraged me to go after other popular  open clusters and I was able to quickly find – without contorting myself to try to use the finder on it  – M37, M36, and M38. They all showed up with the 40mm which delivers about 15X, making the view significantly better than in the typical 8X50 finder for a larger scope. With the 18mm (33X) the views were genuinely satisfying with M36 looking best because of its tight, though small, collection of bright stars. M37 did quite well though, while the basic cruciform outline of M38 was visible, but I fear a beginner might slide right past it because it was so faint.

Despite the limited light grasp, I just had to try for the Leo Triplet. I knew the “J” asterism near by would show up in the scope, so finding the  galaxies was a matter of knowing where they should be. That said, M66 and M65 were easy to pick out. I might have been kiddng myself with NGC 3628, though I thought I could glimpse something in the right location with averted vision.

I spent quite a bit of time seeing what I could see with the 50mm, then switched to the 80 ED. Wow! All three galaxies suddenly seemed bright.  Mounted beside it on the   DoubleStar mount was the C8 and after studying the galaxies with the 80mm, I switched to it – double wow! This is where I got the best view in memory of these galaxies – and that includes looking at them with the 15-inch. (The 15-inch mirror is now off being recoated.)

Does this mean the night was exceptional? Maybe – but how could an 8-inch deliver a view better than the 15-inch even on a good night – t and that’s what I thought the transparency was – good? It didn’t. I’m convinced that what it means is my ability to see faint fuzzies is increasing and it’s increasing because of my use of small telescopes – the 50mm and more habitually, the 80mm. I really enjoy these small refractors for their pristine images and I try to see as much as I can with them. Switching then to the 8-inch SCT is a tremendous jump in light grasp and I bring to it more experience with seeing things under faint conditions and all of the sudden all three galaxies looked like galaxies to me instead  the bright core and fuzzy, poorly-defined surroundings I’m used to.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying they looked like their pictures. But I am saying I could see they were much larger than I thought and I could catch a real sense of their size and shapes.  This was a result I had anticipated – and perhaps experienced before – but never in such a dramatic fashion and it made my night!

Well – coming in a close second was something I didn’t mention. Anyone else observing around 9:15 on Saturday night? I don’t wear a watch and didn’t know the exact time, but about then I looked up from observing Orion and saw the brightest, slowest meteor I’ve seen in a long time. It wasn’t a fireball – but it was, I would say, about -1 or -2 which was easy to judge because it came from the north, was visible for at least 40 degrees and went right past Sirius getting brighter as it fell. It was slow enough so that if someone had  been with me I could have pointed it out to them and they would have had time to turn and see it.  Such sites are one of the reasons why I prefer the observing deck to the observatory when weather permits.

I did some other scratching around, primarily with the 50mm, before calling it a night. I checked out M3 and found it satisfactory, though I could not resolve individual stars.  M51 was visible  as an  elongated patch, and Nu Draconis – a challenge for binoculars – made a beautiful pair at 15X. But by then my feet were cold and besides, we’re supposed to have up to three more clear nights in succession! Got to gets ome rests ;-).

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My Sky-Watcher 120mm ED-APO refractor arrived yesterday and I was certain I would suffer the new telescope curse of several nights of cloudy skies – and what’s more, didn’t much care!

Oh, I was anxious to see what this bargain priced “apo” could do – and hoping it would live up to it’s hype – but I’m also battling a major cold and spend most hours feeling at best half-drugged on cough medicine – at worse, looking for a firing squad to offer myself to as target practice. The forecast seemed to bear me out, but there were some question marks in it and after supper I curled up on a small couch and tried to get a little nap. This hadn’t worked for most of the day – I’d lie down and in 10 minutes be up again coughing.

But shock one – the nap worked! I didn’t wake up for two hours, felt refreshed, had missed my  dose of cough medicine by two hours and didn’t feel a need for it. I had set up the new refractor on the T-mount on the observing deck earlier in the day and left it out just in case. Well, now it was dark and I either had to bring it in, or use it if there were some holes in the clouds.  So I got dressed for outside. Checking the temperature, I saw it was 51 degrees which would seem to indicate clouds.

Nope. Shock 2:  Wonderfully – totally –  clear! Not much wind either, though that too had been in the forecast. Shock three was not so pleasant.  I gazed around trying to figure an appropriate “first light” test. I thought a good, challenging double star like Rigel would be perfect, but it was too low. So I settled on Saturn, high in the south.

Arghhhhhhhhhh! Shock three: It looked horrible! Even at low power. What was wrong with this scope! It is supposed to excel onplanets and double stars. I quickly swung it over to nearby Algieba and increased the power. This relatively easy double did split, but again, very sloppy: Like it might in the 15-inch before the mirror had cooled . . . oh my! Maybe I wasn’t quite awake. Maybe that cough medicine still had my brain sizzled. The scope’s  black tube – it has these wonderful flecks in it that sparkle in the sun – had been exposed to the sun all day. There’s a built in (not collapsible) lens shade. And, of course, I had left the lens covered until right now. Must make a wonderful little heat trap up there at the end of the tube where it can do the most damge. The lens obviously needed time to cool.

So I breathed through my nose, went back inside to make myself some tea, and came out again. It had now had 15-20 minutes to get down to air temperature. since it’s a doublet I thought that might do the trick. In any event, I swung it over to one of my favorite triples, Castor: Bingo! Charming. The seeing was nothing to write home about, but there were the nice faint diffraction rings I hoped to  see, almost kissing each other in the case of the two brighter components. (I think this was with the 13mm – 69x on this 900mm focal length. Though I’m pretty sure I jumped to the 7mm (129x) but I wasn’t taking notes.)

No – I didn’t do a formal star test. Didn’t study the image inside and outside of focus. I’ll leave that kind of hard-nosed review for another night. I wanted this to be a gala opening. I like this scope. I love the idea of having almost five inches of really fine refractor at my command without breaking the family budget. Yeah, the Chinese, I know. Hey – they are doing some real good work at incredible prices. I also like little details here – such as making the both ends of the scope white so you can see themin the dark, but leaving the bulk of it black.

This is a nice scope and it comes at a price that includes a really nice 9X50 correct image finder and what certainly seems like a very good 2-inch diagonal. (The price was $1495 and shipping was free wtih the retailer I used.) The two eyepieces included, a 20mm and a 5mm, I could do without. They seem serviceable. They may even be quite good. But I have a nearly complete set of Televue Naglers and I use a manual, alt-az mount, so I really want the wide field the Naglers provide. The eyepieces that came with the scope can wait for a more thorough evaluation another night as well.

I don’t like to bounce around a lot. I sit at the telescope and I spend time on target, but I did take a quick look at the Beehive (M44), just to experience an open star cluster. And I did stay long enough to see all four members of ADS 6921, a quadruple I’ve found a little deceiving in the past when using a good 102mm refractor. But I wanted to see how the 120ED handled a globular cluster, so I swung over to M3 and remained entranced. The seeing didn’t allow the kind of power I would have liked to use, but it was nice at about 129x.

Somewhere I found a few moments to get the 15-inch Obsession set up and the cooling fan going on it. I didn’t know how long these skies would last, but this is galaxy season and . . . so, how does this reffractor do on the Leo Triplet?

Answer? Just fine, thank you. M65 and M66 show their distinctive traits and their ghostly companion, NGC 3628 popped right out. Of the three, I have to say  NGC 3628 tends to hold my attention the longest – I guess because it plays periferal vision games with you, teasing you into wondering just how much you’re seeing.

Those three confirmed I moved on to the other “triple” in Leo – M95, M96 and M105. This is really a quadruple – or a quint – though I admit, it’s very hard to fit them all in the same field of view.  I almost always find M105 first and the reason is, it’s a double! Why didn’t Messier list it this way?

Well, maybe because Messier never listed it. It was found by his buddy Pierre Mechain, but not passed on to him for inclusion in his list. It wasn’t added to the “official” Messier catalog until 1947. But that still doesn’t answer my question. M105 has a companion that’s only about half a magnitude fainter and 8 minutes away – that’s as close or closer than a couple craters on the moon such as Plato and Copernicus –  NGC 3384.

In the new scope – as in many others, it seemed almost as bright as M105 to me, although it’s listed as half a magnitude dimmer, that’s hardly dim. What’s more, M105 is a triplet in itself with a third, much dimmer companion,  NGC 3389. And no, I didn’t see this – forgot to search for it. I was having too much fun. What I should have done is put the Clearvue 30mm eyepiece in – that would have have given me a field of more than 2.5 degrees and I at least should have captured all four galaxies in one gulp – though I’m quite sure the fifth would remain elusive at that power, though the exit pupil still would have remained well within the capabilities of my aging eyes – hmmm… really need to try this! That 30mm Clearvue was another bargain. It has a very good 80-degree afov and so should make a great, low-powered eyepiece for this scope.

But on to M51. Tonight I’m playing the tourist – hey, what’s that? What a neat double star – lavender and white. I mean, I had started at Alkaid as I do when looking for M51, but had gone in the wrong direction and ended up in the outer fringes of Bootes. What I saw, I’m sure, was Kappa Bootes and another, much wider double nearby, Iota Bootes. Don’t you love discovering stuff? Sure, I’ve seen these doubles before, but not for a long time and I couldn’t identify them until I checked the books and charts. So for a while they were my discoveries – kind of a purity there. Once you put a name to them you “tame” them – take away the wild freedom they had for a moment.

But I was looking for M51 and found it of course and was delighted to be able to detect the swirling collision that is called the “Whirlpool.” Funny how we always speak of this one as singular too, though we all know it’s two galaxies, one having passed through the other in all probability, though I can’t remember which is the bumper car and which the bumped.

I then zipped on over behind the bear’s ears to check out M81 and M82. Wow! M81 was a veritable spotlight! Yeah, I’m getting excited about this scope – and also about the night.

At this point I needed to switch to the 15-inch. Much as the 120mm was delighting me, I had just washed the mirror on the 15-inch – something I do only once a year – and I wanted to see how it was performing. Besides, the skies were offering above average transparency. At first glance I was actually a little disappointed. In a strange way I thought the view through the 120mm of M51 was better. But it isn’t. That was just a quick, first impression. As I studied M51 in the 15-inch I saw much, much more. Aperture rules. But there’s an aesthetic to the view through the 120mm that has the 15-inch beat in some ways, and there’s an ambiance – an ease – to using the smaller refractor that makes it both more intimate and more comfortabl to use.

That said – the rest of the night  I opted for just plain more – more light – which the 15-inch delivered. M81 leaped out at me, as did the dark clouds crossing M82. And I fairly danced down Markarian’s Chain in Virgo – no strain at all to see seven galaxies in a single field and if I had strained I probably would have seen a few more. But seven blows my mind – hell, one does! And I did swing back to M105 and take a quick look for NGC 3389 and found it with no problem-  the 17mm Nagler Type 4 on the 15-inch was a wonderful eyepice for this.

It was midnight by the time my cough returned – as well as some clouds – but before packing up I took one more look at Staurnt hrough the 120mm. Yep – it deserves to be called an apochromatic in myhumble opinion. Yes, if you pay $3-$5,000 more for a similar sized scope I’d expect something more – but except for the hole in my bank account I really don’t know how much difference I would notice.

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