Astrotrip – La Montagne, 7-10 September 2015

10 & 11 September

Forecasts looked promising, but the evening of the 10th brought rain. It did clear shortly before midnight, but transparency was very poor. As if someone touched the skies’ dimmer. All stars appeared significantly less bright. Conditions did not improve with time. A pity, as I was looking forward to bagging a few (planetary) nebulae.

Packed the car early in the afternoon for the return trip. A succesful, albeit short trip with only two nights of observing. 157 Recordings on my memorecorder, meaning approximately the same number of objects observed. I will be working out these observations in AstroPlanner and I will be posting relevant updates to this blog. Already looking forward to the next astrotrip.

9 September

A great night with clear skies and good transparency. Although I do want to observe nebula during this trip, I did not feel like playing with filters. I made it a galaxy session instead.

Started with a few faint smudges in Hercules before the constellation got too close to the horizon. Generally, I do not target objects at an elevation of less than 40 degrees. Once lower, there is significantly more atmosphere absorbing photons. I will either wait for the right time of year when the objects are higher, or save them for a location further south.

South-southeast of galaxy NGC6674 I noted a small, circular group of stars that stands out from the surrounding starfield. The larger group of mag. 10.5 and fainter stars to its southeast appeared clusterlike, too. This asterism, the little circle, is designated Renou 3 (DSHJ1838.7+2515).

I observed about fifteen galaxies in Hercules before pointing the scope northwards to the constellation of Cepheus. Eleven galaxies in CSOG’s 12 edition. Among them NGC6951 and the two that make up Arp 114. NGC2276, itself designated Arp 25 revealed subtle mottled structure, about all that my 14" scope can pick up. Great, more aperture fever.

The Aqr Gx-3 guide was next. The duo MCG-01-58-009 (PGC70127) & MCG-01-58-010 (PGC70130) makes a pretty pair. The third companion, MCG-01-58-011 (PGC70133) was too faint. Together, these three galaxies form Arp 314.
The Psc Gx-4 objects were mostly faint, but even faint galaxies can make for nice observations when pairs share a field of view.
In Andromeda, NGC920 remained out of sight. Despite looking at the right location directly northeast of an elongated triangle of stars, easily determined thanks to the DSS image, it did not observe it.
Back in Pisces, I observed galaxies in the Gx-2 guide, picking up where I left a year ago. All remaining galaxies in this guide now logged.


Before Moonrise, the final objects for this session were in Triangulum. NGC925 was the showpiece and made for the best observation of the night. Averted vision subtly revealed a hint of a northwards curving western arm. The HII regions due west of the galaxy remained out of sight. Definitely a galaxy to revisit with a larger scope.

Approximately 100 observations logged this session. Just a single observing run like this makes it worth the travel.
The declination drive I adjusted a day before, worked like a charm. No more scratching sounds, just the whir of happily spinning gears.

8 September

Spent the afternoon tinkering with the LX850 mount. The declination drive was quite noisy and it turned out the gears were the cause. Made some adjustments and its much quieter now. I am thinking of ordering a replacement drive. Last thing I want to see happening is mechanical failure this far from home. Better to have a spare available for the next trip.

Despite all weather forecasts agreeing on clear skies, they were overcast. I waited until two in the morning for the skies to clear. At that time, a light drizzle started. Better luck tomorrow.

7 September

Great views during the three hour ride. Stopped for supplies in the town of Veynes, then climbed the last 600 meters to my destination. Spent about three hours setting up. The Kendrick tent, scope and accessories.

Drift aligned the mount using StarLock. It really doesn’t get any easier. After the mount sets the home position, I simply point to Polaris, followed by a one star alignment. Then its a matter of starting the drift alignment and following directions. Accurate polar alignment in minutes.

Skies were clear. Transparency was good, although there was some moisture in the air. Highest SQM value was just over 21.3, as can be expected with the Milky Way transiting.

First objects observed were eight carbon stars in Scutum, using CSOG’s 12″ Sct – CS guide. RX Scuti and S Scuti (β969) were obviously the prettiest, with the components of the latter easily split. A few of the fainter ones were tough to locate among the rich starclouds of the Milky Way.

Following the carbon stars was a single open cluster in Vulpecula: Dolidze 53 – Dolidze Open Clusters are available as a separate CSOG Catalog Edition. The emission nebula Sharpless 87 surrounding this cluster is too faint for moderately large amateur telescopes, but the cluster did pack a surprise. As indicated in the observing guide for this cluster there are two faint, anonymous reflection nebulae on the southern edge. A brighter one in the west with a fainter one due east. To my pleasant surprise, the western nebula was easily visible. Nothing spectacular, but a nice and somewhat unexpected observation. I did not think the nebula was bright enough to be picked up in my scope. It did not react to UHC or OIII filters, as can be expected from a reflection nebula. The visual appearance of the western nebula was not unlike a small elliptical galaxy. The eastern one remained elusive, although I believe it did once pop into view. I did not log it as observed, as I only do this for objects I can hold. To the best of my knowledge, both of these tiny nebulae are uncataloged. They are likely part of the same gas cloud that makes up Sharpless 87.

After a few open clusters and an asterism in Cygnus, I moved to galaxies in Aquarius. CSOG’s 12″ Aqr Gx-2 guide. All 26 galaxies in the observing guide observed, with a few bonus ones that are not part of CSOG but visible in my 14″ scope nonetheless. Thanks to the DSS images I know they are there and I can look for them in exactly the right place. Also, it doesn’t lead to surprises, or suspected comets. DSS images provide a wealth of information.

Object of a good discussion on DeepSkyForum is Pease 1, a planetary nebula in the globular cluster Messier 15 in the constellation of Pegasus. I did attempt to observe it before using smaller scopes, but I was never successful. This time, I still can’t say I am sure I did. I need a larger scope to confirm it and/or the opinion of others. The key to observing this tiny objects is knowing where to look. Just north of the core of M15, there are two small blobs of stars, aligned east-west. North-northeast of the eastern group is where Pease 1 lives. Using a 9, 7 and 5mm. Nagler T6 eyepiece (316×, 407×, 570×) and an OIII filter, there was definitely something there that reacted to the filter. Subtle, but real. It faded from view using a 3.5mm eyepiece (814×). The filter of course dimmed the star of the cluster, but to the north-northeast was a protrusion ending in a round "something"that disappeared when not using the filter. Definitely something reacting to OIII but still, I am not sure. I expected the nebula to be truly stellar. This appeared to be a somewhat extended, just not a stellar object. I spent almost thirty minutes on this one small piece of sky. What I observed may have been the nebula as it was in the right place, but I need confirmation before concluding I observed it.

The brightest galaxy was NGC7171, subtly revealing a mottled structure. NGC7309 did not reveal its tantalizing spiral arms, but that is to be expected in the scope I use. I will definitely observe it again once I have a truly large telescope. Yes, I have aperture fever, but I will not give in to it until I have observed most of the objects in CSOG. The final galaxy in the guide, MCG-01-57-018 (PGC69404) provided for a nice observation. The galaxy is not spectacular, just an east-west elongated glow, but the stars superimposed over its western edge make it pretty. The stars clearly have contrasting colors, with the west-southwestern one showing a yellow hue while the western one is white.

Final objects of the night were two galaxies in Andromeda. Well, three actually, as I was able to split UGC12389 & UGC12389A. It’s in CSOG 12" And Gx-1. I did observe UGC12389 before, but I was not until later that I determined there are two galaxies. It’s nothing spectacular to observe and the two galaxies are often incorrectly identified as a double star. I now know both can be observed, with the southwestern one (A) considerably smaller and fainter than the northeastern.
With Moonrise approaching, I zipped the roof of the mobile observatory and called it a night.


6 September

The tenth trip to my favorite observing site. A tiny place called La Montagne in the southern Alps. Elevation 1400 meters. Amazing vistas, clear skies and clean mountain air. Dark skies with SQM values hovering between 21.3 and 21.7. Plenty of space to set up a scope. Great accommodation. What more do I need?

As I often do, I cut the inbound leg in two. 800 Clicks down, 250 to go. Now in a hotel in the town of Macon. Will hit the road again before noon for the remaining three and a half hours.

This trip was a last-minute idea. I was planning a stay for early October. Great news from work made for a celebratory mood, so I grabbed this opportunity to squeeze in an extra visit.
The telescope along for the ride is a 14" SCT on an LX850 mount. Setup is semi-permanent in a Kendrick astro tent. I will be posting a few pics in the coming days. Planning to update this blog every day of the week. Follow @_Clearskies for pictures and short updates throughout the day, starting tomorrow. Current weather forecasts are favorable until Friday morning. Expecting at least four nights of observing.

My observing plan is, of course, based on CSOG. As always I am targeting objects I have not observed before. Some objects I do revisit. Be it for their beauty, because I have not observed them in quite a while and/or only through a smaller scope, or in an attempt to pick out more detail. Click the image to the right to download my observing plan for this week. All are CSOG’s 12" observing guides. The "X"-files are leftovers; objects from multiple guides in a single constellation that I have yet to observe.
The plan allows me to observe closest as possible to transit times, when the least amount of atmosphere is scattering photons for a given object. It is not my intention to observe every single object in the plan. I just want to make sure I do not run out of targets. As you will see, some of the transit times are quite early, well before darkness. This means a group of objects in the plan is well past transit by the time I can start my observations. These I will observe first. The date in the plan’s subtitle is the date for which the transit times were determined. For this, I use CSOG’s AstroPlanner planfiles.