Astro Log: April 15th, 2010

Equipment: Celestron AstroMaster 76 EQ, Orion Skyview 6 Deluxe EQ, 32mm, 15mm, 10mm, 9mm eyepieces.

New objects observed: Mercury, M60, M86, M84, M58, M104, M5

Previous objects observed: M87

Notes: An excellent night with good transparency and seeing, which has been quite the rarity around these parts for the last six months or so.

To start off the night, at late evening I walked down to the corner with the Astromaster (easier to carry) to try and get Mercury. It took a while to find, especially with having to contort myself in weird angles to see that low on the horizon, but while I was going down through the lenses to the smaller ones it went behind a chimney, and there weren't any good places to move to and try again. Only made it to the 9mm there; didn't get a disk. I'll try again later, but I don't think Mercury's ever going to be real great from my house. Venus was out too, but I didn't get around to looking at it.

Later in the night, I went out to my backyard with the 6" telescope. I didn't bother setting the shelter up, which was both good and bad. Bad because I might have done even better than I did with it up, but good because my daughter got sick and started throwing up right after I came in, and if I'd had to take the shelter down too it would have caused problems.

Mostly I observed Virgo Cluster galaxies. There was a lot of averted vision going on, but as mentioned above I was able to see Messier 60, Messier 87, Messier 86, Messier 84, and Messier 58. Messier 58 is especially cool, since per WIkipedia it's 68 million light years away and was the most distant astronomical object known until 1959 (although there's no cite for that on the Wikipedia article). All of the Virgo Cluster galaxies are pretty far off though, so I'm glad to be able to get any of them. I was having enough success that I could probably have gotten even more in, but my iPhone (which has my astronomical chart program) was running low on battery life so I elected to pack it in earlier than I would have liked. Since it turned out that my daughter got sick soon after, I would have had to come in anyway so it worked out.

Usually with galaxies, I get the best results by sticking to the 32mm eyepiece, but I found with the Virgo galaxies that I had better success with starting with the 32mm (to orient myself by the surrounding stars and get enough of a glimpse of the galaxy in question to be able to center on it) and then going down to the 15mm or 10mm. I should try this technique on some other galaxies as well, although it may not work as well on closer galaxies since they take up more space in the sky.

Before I packed it in, though, I observed the Sombrero Galaxy (M104) and M5, an attractive looking globular cluster kind of over by Arcturus. All in all, an extremely productive night. I wish I was able to have more like this one.

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