Thursday, March 1, 2012

Galaxy Hopping 2-19-2012

Carl Sagan might not have ever said "billions and billions," but I will. On the morning of February 19, I saw stars by the billions and billions. I observed 24 objects I'd never seen before, most of them galaxies in Leo and Virgo. All those galaxies are nicely placed to jump from one to the next, like intergalactic star hopping.

I'm almost certain I doubled the number of galaxies I've ever seen. They are never high on my priority list, but if you get the chance under a moderately dark sky, with a fairly large aperture telescope, go galaxy hopping through Leo, Virgo, or Ursa Major. It's almost like shooting fish in a barrel; can't miss. And you get to count stars by the billions and billions.

I've never been much of a galaxy observer, but have hit up the easier ones like M31, M51, M101, M81 & 82, M66 & 65, and M104. I'd probably seen a total of less than 20 galaxies before Saturday night/Sunday morning. Here's my observing list from that session, with objects I hadn't seen before italicized:

Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (from Chesterton, early in the night; the rest were after I arrived at Conway Observatory).

M42-12:05 AM

Bright meteor east-west through Hydra- 12:41 AM

M93- 12:46 AM- open cluster in Hydra

M68- 12:50 AM- dim, maybe loose globular cluster in Hydra (below Beta Corvus)

M66 & M65- 1:19 AM- spiral galaxies in Leo, part of Leo Triplet

NGC 3628- 1:21 AM- galaxy in Leo, also part of Leo Triplet

Mars- 1:24 AM

Saturn, Titan, and four small moons close in- 2:11 AM

M95 & M96-2:29 AM- galaxies in Leo

Here's where it got really fun. There is a cluster of galaxies west of Denebola, and reading my star chart well, I jumped galaxy to galaxy.

M105, NGC 3384, NGC 3389 (very dim)- 2:40 AM- galaxies in Leo

NGC 3367, NGC 3377- 3:01 AM- galaxies in Leo

NGC 3607 & NGC 3608- 3:12 AM- galaxies in Leo

M104- 3:33 AM- Spiral galaxy in Virgo (on the border with Corvus). Possibly the second coolest galaxy after Andromeda. Averted vision dust lane visible.

On to the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies.

M98 & M99- 3:49 AM- galaxies in Virgo

M88, M91- 3:53 AM- M88 spiral galaxy, M91 big, but dim, possibly elliptical galaxy

M90, M89, M58, M59, M60- 4:00 AM- galaxies in Virgo

M84, M86- 4:25 AM- galaxies in Virgo

M87- 4:26 AM- giant elliptical galaxy in Virgo, the prize of the Virgo Cluster. Slightly disappointed, but glad to have finally seen it.

NGC 4361- 4:51 AM- planetary nebula in Corvus

Moonrise 5:05 AM

Summary: In about five hours of (cold) observing time, I saw 33 objects. Twenty-five of those I observed for the first time, and 26 were galaxies. I would have seen even more galaxies, but the finder scope on the 16" was somehow knocked badly out of alignment, and I had to waste precious time finding Mars and getting the finder realigned. Seeing stars by the billions and billions or in a single night is incredible to me.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paulie, excellent evenings viewing ...loads on that list I haven't seen...

    After 30 years of observing so much left to see..... :0) I feel as if I've just scraped the surface....

    Clear Skies

    Pembs Astronomer...