28 December 2008: Various nebulae
It was a clear night, and not too cold, at least, by comparison to the rest of the month. I haven’t done much observing lately (other than a quick look at Jupiter with my my small Dob a few weeks ago, that I didn’t blog about), so I decided to get the 10 in. Dob out. I set it up in the driveway around 9:00 pm.
The finder scope was severely out of alignment, and it took a surprisingly long time to get it set right. Eventually I got it aligned with the main tube by sighting on M42, the great nebula in Orion, because it has an unmistakable appearance in both the finder and the main scope.
I found that the batteries in the electronic object finder in the Intelliscope were out of power, so, rather than taking the time to replace them, I decided it would be a night for star-hopping. In any case, I had not done any manual star-hopping in quite some time, so I needed the practice. My son was interested in looking at some objects (he could stay up late since the school was still on break), so at first I showed him the aforementioned Orion Nebula. While he was using the scope, I grabbed a pair of binoculars to take a quick look around. I looked at the Pleiades and the Beehive cluster, which are always pretty objects in binoculars, and too large to be good objects with my larger scope anyway. I was also able to locate M31, the Andromeda galaxy.
I asked my son if he was interested in seeing that, and he was, so I trained the scope that way. M31 was nearly straight overhead, which is normally no problem for looking at using a Newtonian reflector scope—once the object is located that is. However, using the finder when the scope is pointed up is neck-straining work, especially for me since I had disc surgery on my neck in August. Instead of star-hopping with the finder scope, I located Mirach (?-Andromedae), and laid my green laser pointer along the tube of the scope to point at it. Then, without taking the laser off the scope, I used the visible beam to point the scope in the area in which M31 ought to be, or at least close to it. I found M31 soon this way, but in the poor seeing in these relatively bright skies only the core was clearly visible.
I wanted to show my son something a little better looking, so I used a similar strategy to find M35, an open cluster in Gemini, which is also nearly straight overhead. In my opinion, open clusters are always good objects to see in poor skies, and indeed he enjoyed the view. By this time, it was getting late, and he was getting cold and tired, so I packed it in for the night.