October 22, 2003

Touring Cygnus - (With some detours)

  My observing list tonight was largely influenced by the ďOn the Wings of a SwanĒ article in Octoberís Sky and Telescope (page 96). This is a great article that points out a number of gems in the constellation Cygnus. I managed to take a couple detours though to see some Herschel and Messier objects that I have seen yet. The night was very clear but with unsteady air.

  I started out by visiting some ďlocalĒ objects. First was naturally Mars, the very bright orange globe blazing in the southern sky. Because of the seeing being so poor, I couldnít see any detail on Marsí surface. Oh well. I moved on to the green disk of Uranus. Itís surprisingly bright and obviously non-stellar. The green color is fun to see. You donít often see green in the sky. Neptune was next and while it was bluish in color it wasnít obviously a disk but looked more like a star. Pluto was not up for viewing so I had to stop there at my planetary tour.

  With that done, it was time to leave the comfort of the solar system and venture into the greater area of our local galaxy. First stop was M76, the Little Dumbell nebula. This bright nebula is shaped, well, like a dumbell.The OIII filter didnít help very much but using the Orion Skyglow filter helped darken the surrounding area and make the nebula pop out a little bit.

  NGC 1502, what I now call the Ladder Cluster, was next. There are 8 brighter stars in the cluster that form a ladder. The ladder is a little bit twisted on one side. There were about 18 stars visible in this cluster from my backyard location.

  NGC 6543, another planetary, was a bright disk that revealed no detail. No matter how much I pumped up the magnification it was just a bright non-stellar disk.

  After wandering around the sky a bit with the above objects, I began my tour of Cygnus, with the magazine by my side. First stop was 16 Cygni which is a bright double star. The stars look identical mirror images of each other. Near 16 Cygni was NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary. This planetary provides a visual treat in most scopes. Because of the way your eye works, if you stare at the central star in the nebula, the nebulosity disappears. But, if you look just to the side of the star, the nebulosity reappears. My scope had too much aperature so I was able to see the nebulosity even when staring at the central star.

  Back to an open cluster with NGC 6811, hereby known as the Racetrack Nebula (my name for it at least). This cluster has a figure eight form of two lanes of stars making it look like the classic electric race track that children have. Inside the two ovals appears to be empty space. Really an interesting cluster.

  Shark! NGC 6866 looks just like a shark fin moving through the water to me. It is hereby named the Shark Fin cluster. Take a look at it. Itís relatively bright and has approximately 21 stars all of similiar brightness.

  NGC 6910 is another interesting cluster in Cygnus. Itís shaped like a Y with 2 bright stars and several dimmer ones.

  Next I visited M29 which will be called the Little Lyra cluster from now on. This cluster looks very much like the constellation Lyra, which just happens to be right next to Cygnus. Other than this resemblance, itís really not that interesting compared to some others.

  Two of those other clusters that puts M29 to shame are NGC 869 and 884. Otherwise known as the Double Cluster these two clusters are breathtaking. The 55mm plossl gives a field of view of 66 arc minutes with my scope. That isnít big enough to hold both clusters at the same tame. The sky is litterally ablaze with light when viewing these two. Absolutely an all-time favorite of mine. But, Iím sure you know that already since I practically observe them every time Iím outside.

  I went to bed a happy man tonight. I observed 1 new Messier object and 4 new Herschel objects bringing my total to 84 and 27 respectively.