Just back from one of the best nights observing I’ve ever experienced. First of all, I’ve had some great night’s before where I would observe many DSOs, but this was just awesome, more than 100 objects with several sharing the same field of view within the eyepiece. What was even more pleasing was that I was using the 6″ SCT in the remote location with a variety of eyepieces, is it was really being pushed to the limit but never disappointed. I must also add that the seeing was particularly good tonight in this dark sky location.
Once night replaced day I was able to get going, with the StarSense AutoAlign I had the scope set up quickly. My current dark site scope is the Celestron NexStar Evolution 6, granted it doesn’t gather as many photons as the EDGE 11, but it’s a nice and handy grab and go option and with the increasing amount of light pollution where my home observatory is situated. I find myself more often starting up the engine for a night of astronomy rather than rolling off the roof.
After a brief freak out when a stray cable got snagged as the scope was slewing and messed the alignment up, I quickly resolved the issue and re-aligned and hit my first object; Mars. Still visible in the western sky albeit quite low and at a current distance of 2.26 au (339 million km), it’s light right now (May 4th 2019) takes 18.84 light mins to reach us. Once my mind was set at ease and I knew I hadn’t mucked up the motors in the mount I savoured the thought of exploring the Virgo Cluster of galaxies and what a treat was in store for my eyes. Now, I knew that I would be pushing the small mobile scope to the limit as many of the DSOs I was going after would be very faint fuzziies, and coupled with my current favourite eyepiece, an Explore Scientific 30mm argon purged 82° beauty, I dove right in and sent the scope pointing straight to Messier 87, approx. 55 mly away, the source of the very recent and by now famous first image of a black hole.
The galaxy itself appears like a ball of fuzz such as the one seen below, but when those photons left on their journey to Earth, only 10 million years had passed since the last great extinction event took place here triggered by the infamous Yukutan Peninsula asteroid strike.
Outside of Virgo I slewed over to Ursa Major to M81 (Bode’s Nebula) and the Cigar Galaxy, all in one nice field of view. Always a favourite of mine, but this was my first time seeing both at the same time. Back to Virgo and to Markarian’s Chain, a nice line of galaxies in the northern part of the cluster, I managed several of these and three in the same filed of view. Too many other objects to speak of including the Blackeye and Sombrero Galaxies, some nebulae including the Blinking Planetary Nebula, the Ring Nebula and the Eskimo Nebula and 5 star clusters.
It started to get pretty chilly but I was more than satisfied with the results. The next time I anticipate similar conditions I’ll be bringing the full force of my arsenal with me and really hope to have a real go at some proper DSO astro imaging with a wide field refractor and a nice little camera from ZWO. More on that in a future post.
Here’s a list of gear I had with me tonight:
Celestron NexStar Evolution 6
Explore Scientific 2″ 82° Ar purged 30mm eyepiece
Baader Planetarium 1.25″ 8-24mm Hyperion Zoom eyepiece
Celestron StarSense AutoAlign
iPad mini 4 running Sky Portal