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Astronomy

Are there better times than winter to have clear skies ? Not here : there's so many fine dust in the air, which distributes the shining of street lights, that the winter sky sometimes reminds me of a summer night. Talks with colleagues amateur astronomers teach me the same thing : clear skies, but a horrible seeing. But yesterday, the quality seemed a lot better. So time to haul my 25cm Dobson out of the closet, and have a look to the winter sky, and maybe, to test my Intelliscope Locator fine tuning. Alas, it seems that with temperatures around minus 8 degrees Celsius, any electronics is worthless : the Object Locator froze after a few seconds (computer speak, not literally), so I had to resort to manual control and a good old star map.

  • The winter sky is dominated by Orion, and M42 is without a doubt the most beautiful object on the northern sky. Lots of details, a nice view on the inner stars (the Trapezium), and nice long shootouts from the central nebula.
  • M78 is a small reflection nebula in Orion, which I hunted for long and in vain with my 114cm telescope, but now I spotted it immediately in the finder scope. Unfortunately, rather a dull object, quite small with little or no details.
  • Time to get a quick glance to the Andromeda nebula, M31, which started to disapear into the lower sky glow. Not too spectacular, almost no detail, indicating that the seeing was indeed of lower quality.
  • I tried then to find M1, the Crab nebula in Taurus, also an object which I couldn't locate with my first scope. M1 has the reputation to be a dull object, though I couldn't understand why : true, it is rather small, but with my telescope, I spotted rather lots of details.
  • Auriga is an interesting spot in the sky : many open clusters, from which M36, M37 and M38 (the Big Three) are the most interesting ones.
  • For one or other reason, I kept returning to Orion to find some more deep-sky objects. The Horse nebula is a very difficult object for visual observation, and I had no luck in spotting it, even while using a UHC-III deepsky filter. I really wonder if this nebula is really observable in Belgium with its horrible light pollution.
  • Some more open clusters, like M35 in Gemini, and the NGC869-NGC884 combo in Perseus are great objects, but after a while, open clusters tend to get rather boring.
  • I then remembered M48, an open cluster in Hydra, which I found a beautiful object at my first astronomy days, and one that I really wanted to see again after such a long time. Unfortunately, not so spectacular as I envisioned it.

Isn't it sad that I can't offer any visuals from my observations ? In the old days, I made some sketches, but I lack the patience for it nowadays, and for photography, a Dobson is rather worthless. Maybe I really should get my sketchbook the next time, but then preferably in warmer temperatures.