Roger Ivester: Amateur Astronomer

Posted December 15, 2015 by rogerivester
Categories: Roger's Articles

     Thank you for visiting my site. I’m hopeful that you’ll find it both interesting and possibly beneficial in your future observations.  

      First, to make it easier to locate the latest Observer’s Challenge report, and all reports to-date, I’m including the following link:


      I first became interested in astronomy in the mid-60’s at the age of twelve. One of my brothers had purchased a 60mm refractor, and I soon became interested in this telescope.

     It had an equatorial mount, several eyepieces, a Barlow lens, and a host of other accessories. I would take this small telescope into a weedy field beside  my house, where I hoped to view some of those fabulous spiral galaxies, nebulae and star clusters I’d seen in my science books. However, this was not yet to be, as I had a lot to learn, which continues to this day, more than 50 years later.      

     I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina, in a very rural area.  It was a fabulous place for a budding new amateur astronomer, completely devoid of light pollution. The sky was velvety black with the Milky Way extending almost to the southern horizon. 

     I can still remember the frogs in the spring and summer, and occasionally a solitary great horned owl in the distance on those cold wintry nights.  

     Summer nights in western North Carolina had a sound all its own, with a million insects singing in perfect harmony.  Gazing at a dark sky, full of stars and listening to the sounds of nature was mesmerizing to me.  

      It would be at least twenty years before I would meet that other person with a similar interest.  And finding that other person with an interest in astronomy would finally happen in 1985.  A local astronomy club formed and I became a member with my youngest son, Brad.  

     I gave my first amateur astronomy presentation to my eighth grade science class in October 1967.  The title of my presentation was “How To Use An Astronomical Telescope.” I used my brothers 60mm Sears (Jason) refractor, and told the class all about it, and most importantly, how to use it.  I was a big hit…even if it only lasted for the remainder of the day.  

     It wasn’t until the mid-70’s that I acquired my very own telescope, a 4 1/4-inch Edmund Scientific Newtonian EQ reflector, which was not my first choice, but the best my budget would allow at this time in my life.  

     I’ll never forget one special night using that humble Edmund scope, while attempting to locate M81 and M82, two of the most beautiful galaxies in the heavens. By this time, the fabulous skies of my early years were gone. I’d moved to an area packed with houses and street lights.   

     One night, while using my hands in an attempt to block the ambient light from entering my eyepiece, and then it happened:  A small and faint fuzzy object entered my telescope view.  Then, with a slight nudge, another…finally M81 and M82.  What a beautiful sight!  I savored the view for the longest time, and to this day, I can still feel that excitement.  That night, I went to bed smiling, and in my mind, I was now a real amateur astronomer!    

     There would be many other nights of success and failure in the years to follow.  However, in 1992 I became a much more serious observer, making systematic observations of deep-sky objects.  In February of that year, I purchased a new 10-inch Meade model DS-10A, equatorially mounted reflector, which allowed me to see faint deep-sky objects that were impossible with my previous smaller telescopes. 

     After a period of time with my new 10-inch reflector, I soon realized that just going outside and observing was not enough.  I needed a purpose, something more lasting, so I began taking copious notes on all the objects observed, noting the minutest of details, or at least to the best of my abilities.  This also proved to be somewhat lacking, so I added to those notes by pencil sketching.  I soon realized that drawing deep-sky objects challenged me to see more, which helped make me a far better visual observer.  


     I am co-founder of the Observer’s Challenge report, along with Fred Rayworth of Las Vegas.  The Observer’s Challenge is an international deep-sky observing report, which allows any serious amateur the opportunity to share notes, sketches and images for a preselected deep-sky object on a monthly basis.  The challenge report will celebrate its 13th year in 2021.    

     In October 2018, Sue French, “Contributing Editor” for “Sky & Telescope Magazine” became the Observer’s Challenge special advisor, after many years as a participant.  Sue wrote the very popular monthly “Deep-Sky Wonders” article for twenty years.  She is also the author of two deep-sky observing books:  “Celestial Sampler” and “Deep-Sky Wonders” which are great books, especially for the visual observer.  As of November 2019, Sue has agreed to help compile and edit the challenge report.  

 Mount Potosi Observing Complex in Southern Nevada: 

     I was fortunate to be able to play a role in the Mount Potosi Observing Complex in Southern Nevada, facilitating a $50,000 telescope donation by Dr. James Hermann, M.D. from North Carolina. The facility has been featured in Astronomy Magazine, the Las Vegas Review Journal and other publications.

Mount Potosi, and the plane crash: 

     An infamous mountain due to the tragic 1942 TWA plane crash (DC-3 Luxury Liner) killing all 22 souls on-board.  Both the propellers were spinning when the plane hit the rock cliff of Mount Potosi at 185 mph.  

Propellers spinning:  

     This is important, as there was an FBI investigation to determine if the plane might have been sabotaged, and exploded before hitting the cliff.  The propellers operating during impact, discounted the sabotage theory.  It was a clear, but moonless night, and the cause was later attributed to pilot error. 

      The following are some very interesting links concerning Mount Potosi, the plane crash and the observing complex:

     Astronomy blogger since 2010.  


Long time cyclist with almost 140,000 lifetime miles.   

“Nova Sophia” our long-haired Dachshund

NGC 3226 and NGC 3227, Galaxies in Leo: April 2021 Observer’s Challenge Report #147

Posted April 16, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports


Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina


Sue French, New York

April 2021

Report #147

NGC 3226 & NGC 3227, Galaxies in Leo

Sharing Observations and Bringing Amateur Astronomers Together


The purpose of the Observer’s Challenge is to encourage the pursuit of visual observing. It’s open to everyone who’s interested, and if you’re able to contribute notes and/or drawings, we’ll be happy to include them in our monthly summary. Visual astronomy depends on what’s seen through the eyepiece. Not only does it satisfy an innate curiosity, but it allows the visual observer to discover the beauty and the wonderment of the night sky. Before photography, all observations depended on what astronomers saw in the eyepiece, and how they recorded their observations. This was done through notes and drawings, and that’s the tradition we’re stressing in the Observer’s Challenge. And for folks with an interest in astrophotography, your digital images and notes are just as welcome. The hope is that you’ll read through these reports and become inspired to take more time at the eyepiece, study each object, and look for those subtle details that you might never have noticed before.

This month’s target

William Herschel discovered this interacting galaxy pair on 15 February 1784 with his 18.7-inch speculum-metal reflector. His hand-written journal of the discovery reads: “Two nebulae almost close together. Perhaps 1½ or 2′ asunder, they are pretty considerable in size, and of a roundish form; but not cometic; they are very faint.” He also notes that on this night he first used: “A new, large object Speculum. It is very bright but not quite as distinct as my first, I shall however use it all the night.”

Together known as Arp 94, NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 are wedded in a gravitational dance 47.2 ± 0.2 million light-years away from us. Their complex dance has spawned a remarkable array of tidal tails as well as one tidal dwarf galaxy — a gravitationally bound condensation of gas and stars formed during the repeated encounters of the two parent galaxies.

The most recent journal paper on this captivating system can be perused here:

or click on the PDF button for a more reader-friendly version

Mario Motta: Observer from Massachusetts

The following image is 2.5 hours of galaxies NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 with a Luminance filter with 1 hour each R,G,B, filters for a total of 5.5 hours of imaging. It was taken with my 32-inch f/6.5 telescope with a ZWO ASI6200 camera, then processed in PixInsight. The distance is 77 Million Light years away. This spiral galaxy is interacting with a dwarf elliptical galaxy, also known as Arp 94. The arp catalog is among my favorite, for unusual objects in the sky.

Glenn Chaple: Observer from Massachusetts

Our April Observer’s Challenge brings us to a cosmic double-header, the interacting galaxies NGC 3226 and NGC 3227. NGC 3227, the brighter of the pair at magnitude 10.3, is a Seyfert galaxy (a spiral galaxy with a quasar-like nucleus). Its partner, the dwarf elliptical galaxy NGC 3226, is about half as large and a magnitude fainter. The two are gravitationally bound and are listed in the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies as Arp 94.

If you use a scope with GoTo technology, you’ll find these galaxies by plugging in the coordinates Right Ascension 10h23m30.6s and declination +19°51’54”. I suggest you skip the electronics and simply aim your scope at the 2nd magnitude star gamma (γ) Leonis (Algieba). NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 are less than a degree east. Before you go anywhere, however, center this star in the telescopic field and switch to an eyepiece that magnifies around 100x. Algieba is a showpiece binary pair whose components, of magnitudes 2.4 and 3.6, are currently separated by 4.7 arc-seconds. These spectral class K1 and G7 giants shine with striking golden yellow hues.

Once you’ve paid your respects to Algieba, keep your eye glued to the eyepiece as you slowly move eastward past a pair of 9th magnitude stars to the spot marked with an “+” on the accompanying finder chart. At this location, I was able to see a pair of hazy smudges (the nuclei of the two galaxies) separated by about 2 arc-minutes. I was using a 10-inch reflector and a magnifying power of 141x under magnitude 5 skies. There was no sign of the spiral arms of NGC 3227. The appearance of NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 was not unlike a small-scope view of M51 and its companion NGC 5195.

NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 were discovered by William Herschel on February 15, 1784. Their distance isn’t accurately known. The SIMBAD astronomical database cites 5 measurements that range from 51 to 73 million light years.

Uwe Glahn: Observer from Germany

Object: Arp 94(VV 209, KPG 234) = NGC 3226, NGC 3227 

Telescope: 4-inch Bino, 55x

Bedingungen: fst 6m5+

Seeing: III

Ort: Wachstedt

Barry Yomtov: Observer from Massachusetts

As I reported last month my primary optics (RASA 11) had to be set aside because my mount had to go for repair, so I imaged with the C9.25/Hyperstar. Fortunately my mount was repaired and returned with a fairly quick turnaround. I did manage to have a session with the C9.25/Hyperstar, for April’s NGC 3226/3227. I’ve also been lucky to have a clear night to have an additional session with the RASA 11. For April I’ve decided to present a comparison of NGC 3226/3227 between the two optical systems and using the same camera.

RASA 11C9.25/Hyperstar
Aperture (mm)279235
Focal Length (mm)620540
Focal Ratiof/2.22f/2.3
FiltersAstrodon notched light pollution filter, and    UV/IR cut filter (used for galaxy imaging)none
Camera Pixel size (µm)2.4 x 2.42.4 x 2.4
Camera Resolution (pixels)5496 x 36735496 x 3673
Pixel Resolution in seconds (“)0.800.92
Field of View in degrees (°)1.22 x 0.811.4 x 0.93

By comparing the field of view (FOV) and the pixel resolution between the two sets of optics, the RASA 11 is about 87% of the C9.25/Hyperstar optics. The following figure is a comparison of the field of view between the two sets of optics using NGC3226/3227 as the selected object of interest; (Field of View Calculator, courtesy of Astronomy Tools).

I also compared the distance between two star locations and the ratio was also about 86.4%.

The following are the processed images for each optical system.

C9.25/Hyperstar taken on March 19, 2021: 93 subs, 30 sec exposure, for 47 minutes total 

RASA 11 taken on April 4, 2021: 97 subs, 35 sec exposure, for 57 minutes total exposure time. 

The RASA was able to detect more of the outer periphery as well as greater detail of the core of NGC  3227, compared to the C9.25/Hyperstar. The improved quality of the image can be contributed to (1) improved pixel resolution (0.8“ versus 0.92”) (2) 1.42x greater light gathering power with the 11” RASA than with the C9.25”, and (3) the light pollution filter of the RASA reduces background light pollution noise thus improving the signal to noise ratio.

Larry McHenry: Observer from Pittsburgh, PA.

April:  NGC 3226/27 – Interacting Galaxies – Leo

RA:  10h  23m   Dec.  +19º  54′  (NGC 3326) Mag. V=11.4;  sfc. br. 13.3;  Size 2.8′ x 2.0′

RA:  10h  24m   Dec.  +19º  52′  (NGC 3327) Mag. V=10.3;  sfc. br. 13.1;  Size 4.1′ x 3.9′


NGC 3226 and 3227

Is a pair of interacting galaxies located in the spring constellation of Leo – ‘The Lion’, about 48 arc seconds east from the bright mag +2.6 star Algieba (Gamma Leonis). NGC3227, at +10.3 Mag, is a spiral in the process of merging with +11.4 Mag dwarf elliptical galaxy NGC3226. Both galaxies have an Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN) fueled by a suspected black hole in each.  The pair is about 77 million light years distant.  NGC 3226/3227 is listed as Arp94 in Halton Arp’s ‘Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies’ under his “Spiral Galaxies with Elliptical Companions” section.

Visual Screen Sketch:      

03/02/2021 from Big Woodchuck Observatory backyard in Pittsburgh, PA.

Using an 8″ SCT optical tube @ f6.3 on a GEM mount, with a CMOS/USB color camera and LP filter @ 60-second guided exposure livestacked for 30 minutes. 

West is @ top of sketch

Visually, NGC3227 is the larger of the two galaxies displaying spiral arms looping to the east and north. Both galaxies have star-like cores. Bonus galaxy NGC3222 at +12.8 Mag is nearby to the SW and visible in the same FOV. 


04/24/2014 from Cherry Springs State Park, using an 6″ RC optical tube @ f5 on a GEM mount, with an analog deep-sky video-camera & IR filter @ 25 seconds, single exposure.

Roger Ivester: Observer from North Carolina 

NGC 3226-3227: Interacting galaxy pair in Leo 

Date: March 2021

Telescope: 10-inch f/4.5 reflector 

Sketch Magnification: 114x

Field of View: 0.52º 

NGC 3227: Fairly bright, and easy to locate and see even at low magnification.  At 114x, elongated, oriented NW-SE, brighter central region, but subtle.  I first observed this galaxy pair and made my first sketch on April 14th 1993.   

NGC 3226: Much smaller and a fainter than NGC 3227, mostly round, but with a very slight elongation, NNE-WSW.  At 190x, and with averted vision, a stellar nucleus is visible.  

James Dire: Observer from Illinois

NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 comprise a pair of interacting galaxies in the constellation Leo. The galaxies are located 50 arc minutes east of the bright star Algeiba (Gamma Leonis). NGC 3226 is a magnitude 11.4 elliptical galaxy. It is roughly 3.1 x 2.3 arc minutes in size. NGC 3227 is a spiral galaxy of magnitude 10.7 measuring 4.7 x 1.9 arc minutes. The cores of the two galaxies are separated by a mere 3 arc minutes.

NGC 3226 and 3227 are estimated to be between 66 and 76 million light years away. Some sources mistakenly list one at 66 million light years and the other at 76 million light years. That would put them ten million light years apart…too far to be interacting as they are. That separation would be four times the separation of the Milky Way and M31, which we know are too far apart to be distorting each other like NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 are. So the galaxies are close to each other and must be approximately the same distance away from us.

I took an image of the pair this month with a 132mm f/7 apochromatic refractor on a CGEM II mount. I used an SBIG ST-2000XCM CCD camera. The exposure was two hours using 10-minute subframes. In the image, north is up and east to the left. NGC 3226 is the northernmost of the pair. NGC 3227’s spiral nature is still visibly intact. The galaxy has classification SABa, meaning it is in between a normal and a barred spiral galaxy with tightly wound spiral arms.

Longer exposures with larger instruments do a better job at showing the tidal streams around each galaxy caused by their close encounter. But my image does provide proof of the shearing of light matter from each galaxy caused by their gravitational tug of war. Perhaps the galaxies will eventually merge forming a giant elliptical galaxy.

Ten arc minutes west (to the right of these two galaxies in my image) is NGC 3222, a magnitude 13.7 spiral galaxy measuring 1.1 x 1.0 arc minutes in size. This galaxy may be four times further away than the NGC3226-3227 pair. Below NGC 3222 is a chain of five 16th-18th magnitude galaxies arcing south and east. Another small spiral galaxy, shining at magnitude 15.6, is seen in my image approximately eight arc minutes north of NGC 3226. Many other fainter galaxies are scattered throughout the image.

I viewed NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 April 29 with a 190mm (7.5-inches) f/5.3 Maksutov-Newtonian. The seeing was 2.5-3.0 arc sec with average transparency (Bortle scale 4.5). Both galaxies were clearly visible in the 24mm eyepiece (42x). Their cores were brighter than the outer parts of each galaxy, and the shape of the galaxies was very apparent. There was no dark space between the galaxies, but I could not see any of the tidal arcs. The view though a 14mm eyepiece was the same but larger (71x). Going to 6.7mm (150x) and 5mm eyepieces (200x) did not improve the view. It was actually worse since the light from the galaxies was spread out to the point I had trouble seeing the galaxies, even with averted vision. This was probably due to light pollution from nearby Peoria.

Michael Brown: Observer from Massachusetts

I observed the galaxy pair NGC 3226 and 3227 on March 30, 2021.  It is in the same low power field as the attractive binary star Gamma Leonis.  I was easily able to see the two galaxies, at 11th and 12th magnitude, with my 8-inch SCT.  The brighter of the pair (NGC 3227) is to the south and is a Seyfert galaxy with an active galactic nucleus.  The smaller and dimmer object (NGC 3226) is a dwarf elliptical galaxy.  I could see the two bright centers and some surrounding glow, but had trouble discerning any additional detail.  I perceived both galaxies to be fairly round, although I later realized from photographs (including my own) that they are tilted/elongated, especially NGC 3227.

I ventured outside four days later on April 3, 2021 to attempt a photograph, using my usual setup including the 8-inch scope and Canon Digital Rebel SLR.  By the time I had completed alignment, tracking, focusing, and guiding setup, I was racing against time before the target reached the meridian, at which point the drive of my German equatorial mount would shut off.  However, I managed to get enough shots for a total 33-minute exposure.  My photo shows the bright nucleus of each galaxy and dimmer surrounding regions.  An extended spiral arm of NGC 3227 is faintly visible to the east (left) of the main body of the galaxy.  I also noticed a very small galaxy (presumably) to the west (right) of the pair, about 2/3 of the distance to the edge of the photo.

Joseph Rothchild: Observer from Massachusetts

I observed the galaxy pair, NGC 3226/3327 twice from my dark site on Cape Cod.  Using my 10-inch dobsonian, the galaxy pair was easy to find near Algieba, which is a double star.  This was my first observations of these galaxies. They were best viewed with a 14mm eyepiece and Paracorr at 102x.  The galaxies were close, but easily separated. 

The fainter galaxy, elliptical NGC 3226 (mag 11.4), was smaller, round and with higher surface brightness.  The spiral NGC 3227 (mag 10.7) was a featureless oval.

John Bishop: Observer from Massachusetts

On 4/3/21, I observed NGC 3226 and NGC 3227, an interacting galaxy pair in Leo.  I observed from the ATMoB Clubhouse in Westford, MA.  The sky was clear at 7:00 pm as the sun set, with a good number of scopes set up on the observing field.  I sensed a “pent up demand” to observe among the group, now being relieved thanks to recently eased covid restrictions and better weather.  Air temperature was 40 degrees F. at 7:00 pm, and 28 degrees F. at midnight.

I observed with my usual 8.25-inch f/11.5 Dall-Kirkham reflector, at 48x to 193x.  The scope is a portable setup on an equatorial mount with a motor drive, but no goto.

The clear sky was deceptive. Contrast was poor; other observers reported that deep sky objects were washed out.  NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 were much fainter than I expected given their visual magnitudes of 11.4 and 10.8, respectively.  I assume that the objects’ reported surface brightness, 13.5 and 14.0, explains some of the difficulty in seeing them in these conditions. (Magnitudes per Luginbuhl & Skiff).

The target objects are very close to Algieba (Gamma Leonis), the prominent star at the nape of the Lion’s neck.  I assumed I could center on Algieba using my 2 inch, 50 mm eyepiece at 48x, move east slightly, and be right on the target.  I was, but what I saw was – nothing!    I waited, scanning the field with averted vision, and tapping the diagonal occasionally.  Eventually, I saw a very faint brightening in the field, so faint I wasn’t sure if it was real.  As I increased power, I could see that the bright area was indeed an object (it was NGC 3227), but I could not be certain of its shape.  Also as I  increased power, and  using averted vision, a second patch appeared nearby; this was NGC 3226.  It was very faint, nebulous, of indefinite shape, and smaller than NGC 3227.  With extended viewing, NGC 3226 was round; NGC 3227 was elongated..   The objects were close enough that they could have been touching, but the image was too faint and unsteady to be sure.  To my eyes, NGC 3227 was larger and brighter than NGC 3226.  Both objects have a (relatively) bright nucleus.

To illustrate how washed out conditions were,  at least once this night, while re-centering the objects with the hand controller (I had not precisely polar aligned the scope), I overshot, lost the target, and then had trouble getting back to it because it was so hard to see – you had to be right on it. One of the Club’s top observers, using his fine 18 inch Dob, agreed that these two galaxies were “very faint” this night.  Welcome to Eastern skies!

I spent nearly two hours on and off tracking NGC 3226 and NGC 3227, trying to tease out a little more detail in clear moments, and just savoring the view, dim as it was. This is why I prefer to have a tracking motor, although I am just a happy visual observer using modest aperture.  It allows me to spend time with the object, give my eyes a rest, catch the occasional clear moment, and even share the view with others, without having to relocate the target continually.  
Close galaxy pairs are among the most interesting objects, even as faint as these are. Not a lot of detail, but you have to love the hobby.

Chris Elledge: Observer from Massachusetts

On April 3rd @9:30pm EDT, I used a 10-inch f/5 reflector to observe NGC 3226 & 3227 from the ATMoB Clubhouse. Sky conditions were: Bortle Scale 6; NELM 4.5 near NGC 3226; Transparency: Good; Seeing: Average.

It’s not hard to target the pair of galaxies since mag. 2 star Algieba is less than a degree away to the West. At 36x (35mm, 1.9˚FoV) there is a zigzag of stars coming from the South towards the galaxies (HD 89930, TYC 1423-0364-1, TYC 1423-0156-1, HD 90053, TYC 1423-0248-1, & TYC 1423-0183-1). Just to the West of the end of the zigzag (0183-1) lies a pair of mag. 10 stars in a North-South orientation (TYC 1423-0013-1 & -0045-1). Following the line drawn by these two to the North 11’ arrives at a pair of mag. 13 stars separated by 1.5’. The galaxies lie 4’ to 5’ to the SE of the pair.

It is crucial to keep Algieba out of the view to see the object since it produces quite a bit of glare. At 36x I can get a hint that there is something there with averted vision. Could be a nucleus of one of the galaxies flashing in and out, or possibly a faint field star.

At 115x (11mm, 0.7˚FoV) a pair of blobby objects appear. They seem to be elongated in different directions. NGC 3226 is stretched North-South while NGC 3227 has a bit of SSE-NNW tilt. Together they form more of an angled boomerang shaped blob. The cores of the galaxies don’t stand out to me. There’s a very faint mag. 14 star in the center of NGC 3227.

Upping the power to 270x (4.7mm) makes the cores of the galaxies more apparent with averted vision. They are very small bright spots almost stellar in appearance. It is hard to distinguish between the mag. 14 star in NGC 3227 and it’s core. NGC3326 is slightly brighter and more rounded than NGC3327 which is more of an oval.

Rony De Laet: Observer from Belgium

NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 form a nice pair of galaxies. NGC3227 is the brighter one. It has a distinct stellar nucleus and an elongated halo. Its core seems uniform at first, but with time subtle features become visible. 3226 has a substellar nucleus. It has a circular smooth halo. Its core has the shape of a water drop with its tail pointing to the SE. From my backyard, I can’t tell if the galaxies connect to each other.

Site : Bekkevoort, Belgium (51° N)
Date : April 4, 2021
Time : around 21.00UT
Telescope : Taurus 16”
EP: Morpheus 6.5mm 76°, 277x
Filter : CLS
Seeing : 3.5/5
Sky brightness : 19.2 magnitudes per square arc second near zenith (SQM reading).
Sketch Orientation: N up, W right.
Digital sketch made with Corel Paint Shop Pro X2, based on a raw pencil sketch.

Anas Sawallha: Observer from Jordan

Unfortunately I was not able to observe the interacting galaxies NGC 3226/3227. I tried on multiple nights, but just could not see them, despite using a 10-inch reflector.

This was due in-part to our spring nights which are somewhat dusty in the upper layer of the atmosphere, and when this condition does exist, it can even obscure some open clusters.

However, one night I was able to observe the core of galaxy NGC 3226 with averted vision, but still unable to sketch.

The spring galaxy season is actually is my favorite season since I love galaxies, but I guess the season is not in love with me. But I’m hopeful to be able to attempt from a very dark site in the near future to catch up on what I usually miss during the galaxy season.

The Southern Cross by Commercial Airlines Pilot: James Yeager

Posted March 29, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

Jim Yeager has always allowed me to use any of his aerial photos, which over the years have included, a beautiful photo of the Barringer Crater in New Mexico, covered with snow, and the Mount Potosi Observing Complex in SW Nevada. Both of which I’ve used in previous blog articles and other.

I really like the following image, as I’ve never seen the Southern Cross.

Jim’s notes and photo:

Here is somewhat of clear picture taken with an iPhone using a 3 second exposure on a descent out of 41,000 feet about 100 miles north of Lima, Peru.

You can see Alpha and Beta Centauri pointing to the Southern Cross.

The residual cockpit lights, moonlight behind us, and the haze of high altitude cirrus kept us from seeing the Magellanic Clouds.

Other aerial photos by Jim Yeager:

Incredible and Remote Private Observatory in the Mountains of Western North Carolina

Posted March 23, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Roger's Articles

I have seen many private observatories over the past 40 years (plus) as an amateur astronomer, but nothing to the level of this one. It has bedrooms, a darkroom (for the days of film) kitchen, living room, bathrooms, without stairs, but with a “handicap” ramp to the observing room on the second floor. Even some stained glass windows.

It is so hidden on top of a mountain that “seemingly” few living near the facility were/are aware of its existence. Deb and I found this amazing.

The owner of the observatory might want to keep it private, so, my reason for not sharing more information as to the location, but it’s only a little more than an hour from our house.

Deb and I were invited to come for this visit by the owner. When leaving, we were told to come back at any time, but for some reason, we’ve not been able to find our way back. Maybe this year?

When we drove around the last curve going up the mountain and saw the observatory, we both thought it looked like a small castle which might be found in Scotland or England. You decide…

The following photos were made on April 25, 1993. Roger Ivester

In the following picture:

Note the photo propped against the wall behind Debbie, which was a very renowned and famous photo of one section of the Veil Nebula which (at that time, and in the days of film astrophotography) was considered extraordinary. The Veil Nebula is a supernova remnant.

September 2020 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE _Veil Nebula

A highly viewed and studied deep-sky object by both amateur and professional astronomers alike.

The supernova photo was taken using a 6.3-inch Takahashi reflector. The primary telescope in the dome is a 7-inch Astro-Physics refractor, as pictured below.

iOptron CEM70 – Center Balanced Equatorial Mount: By Guest Host: Mario Motta

Posted March 19, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

I was considering making a take-apart mount but finally realized I could not build one light enough with all the features I desire, so, I purchased an iOptron CEM70G mount. (guilt for an amateur telescope maker!)” Mario Motta

My story:

Up to this point I have always built my own equipment, such as my 32-inch f/6 reflector telescope in Gloucester, Massachusett, which is my main telescope for imaging, and in a dome attached to my house.

At the end of this year I will be retiring, and per my wife’s wishes will be spending winter months in Naples Florida at our second home. However, in my Florida location I can’t build a dome for a number of reasons. This is due to (hurricanes, building restrictions, etc.)

I was considering making a take apart mount but finally realized I could not build one light enough with all the features I desire, so, I purchased an iOptron CEM70G mount. (guilt for an amateur telescope maker!)

The head weighs only 30 pounds , tripod another 30 pounds, for a manageable weight, yet, tracks very well (3 arc sec error periodic error), is very sturdy, can carry a 70 pound weight load, so it can handle up to a 14-inch scope easily. It has a built-in polar scope alignment guide scope. It even has WiFi, and 4 USB ports. 

Why the center mount instead of a german equatorial or a fork? At 43º North latitude (my 32-inch sits in a handmade fork) or german equatorial which works fine.

Look at the following images as following, “German equatorial”and see that at 43º, the center point of gravity pushes through the main mount, and weight of scope and dec axles pushes down the polar axle, a fork also works the same way.

However…at 26º N latitude, the weight of the scope and counter weight is very far forward, putting all the stress on the forward polar bearing.

Not very stable: A fork overhangs badly.

Now let’s see what a center mount does:

At 43º North latitude, it works well, but all the thrust is on the rear bearing and a german equatorial may be best. Now see what it looks like at 26º N latitude. (see image center mount) Here the weight of the scope is directly over the center of the polar axis, the weight is evenly distributed on both bearings, thus can handle a heavier load with less stress, overall an ingenious design. In reality this is nothing new, what this is… is a miniature English “cross axle mount”.

I built one for a 16-inch scope in the 1980’s and it worked very well.  See the following photo following the M42 image:

In summary, if far north, fork or german equatorials are best, but if closer to the equator, a center mount or cross axle is best.

An Image of my new mount is attached, with a small 6-inch RC for test purposes. My plan is a 12 -14 inch on this mount. The following Image of M42 (test subject, not a long great image, but more of a proof of concept for location and mount. (this image was made unguided).

The English Cross-axle I built in 1985, with my older 16-inch f/4.5 home made telescope.

I’m proud to say: My current 32-inch f/6.5, and every part is hand-made

NGC 2685 – Galaxy In Ursa Major – March 2021- Observer’s Challenge Report # 146

Posted March 18, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports


Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina


Sue French, New York

March 2021

Report #146

NGC 2685, Galaxy In Ursa Major

Sharing Observations and Bringing Amateur Astronomers Together


The purpose of the Observer’s Challenge is to encourage the pursuit of visual observing. It’s open to everyone who’s interested, and if you’re able to contribute notes and/or drawings, we’ll be happy to include them in our monthly summary. Visual astronomy depends on what’s seen through the eyepiece. Not only does it satisfy an innate curiosity, but it allows the visual observer to discover the beauty and the wonderment of the night sky. Before photography, all observations depended on what astronomers saw in the eyepiece, and how they recorded their observations. This was done through notes and drawings, and that’s the tradition we’re stressing in the Observer’s Challenge. And for folks with an interest in astrophotography, your digital images and notes are just as welcome. The hope is that you’ll read through these reports and become inspired to take more time at the eyepiece, study each object, and look for those subtle details that you might never have noticed before.

This month’s target

German astronomer Wilhelm Tempel discovered NGC 2685 in 1882 with an 11-inch refractor. Loosely translated, his discovery description reads: Good II-III; round; with a small star in the middle; stands 4′ south of a 10th-magnitude star. 

In the Hubble Atlas of the Galaxies, Allan Sandage states, “NGC 2685 is perhaps the most unusual galaxy in the Shapley-Ames catalogue.” While most astronomers would agree with this, there remain various opinions as to why. NGC 2685 is generally regarded as a polar ring galaxy wrapped in exterior hoops of gas and dust aligned nearly perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy’s lenticular disk. The rings may have been birthed by a merger and/or accretion event. A less touted viewpoint is that this galaxy is strongly warped, and the semblance of rings is merely the result of projection effects.

This perplexing galaxy lies roughly 50 million light-years away from us. As seen photographically, the unusual array of gas, dust, and resultant stars entwining the Helix gives rise to its name. The galaxy may also house a supermassive black hole. Sue French

The complete “final” March Observer’s Challenge report:

Mario Motta: Observer from Massachusetts

I managed to image the March object a few weeks ago, which was a good thing as the weather has been pretty bad since.

NGC 2685, taken with my 32-inch home-built f/6.5 telescope with ZWO ASI6200 camera, 3 hours imaging, using RGB and Lum filters. Processed in PixInsight. This is a very Interesting galaxy in that it is a “polar ring seyfert” galaxy, with one galaxy “spearing” directly into another spiral galaxy at right angles, causing intense new star formation, why the intense blue hue from new star bursting activity. It is 42 million LY away in Ursa Major. 

I have also attached NGC 660 for comparison, another polar ring galaxy which I have imaged, that shows the polar ring structure more distinctly for illustrative purposes.

Barry Yomtov: Observer from Massachusetts

For the first two months that I’ve participated in the Observer’s Challenge I’ve used a RASA 11 (which is an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain) with great super-fast f/2.2 optics. A notched light pollution filter and an IR cut filter for imaging galaxies.

Unfortunately three weeks ago, my mount decided to get a mind of its own, so it’s now out for repair. Fortunately I still have my previous fast optics system:  A 9.25-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain with a Hyperstar lens providing f/2.3.  

The field of view between the two optics is roughly 15% larger for the 9.25/Hyperstar, which has only 71% of the light gathering as compared to the 11-inch RASA. The 9.25-inch does not have the custom notched frequency light pollution filter as that of the RASA.

This was also my first imaging experience with this combination of optics and the ZWO CMOS camera. 

What’s most or more important…imaging could still continue!

The following is my NGC 2685 image which was taken on March 9th 2021 which is a composite of 107 images at 30 second exposure’s, taken with a ZWO ASI183 pro-cooled color for a total exposure of 54 minutes.

My processed image was able to distinguish the helical bands which are perpendicular to the main galactic disk; as given the name Helix Galaxy. 

This image is about 40% cropped from the original, but the field of view still shows two smaller very faint edge-on galaxies to the SW of NGC 2685, which is about the four o’clock position in the image. That’s part of the fun of wide-field imaging during galaxy season…you never know how many other galaxies will show up.  

Roger Ivester: Observer from North Carolina

Date: February 3, 2021

Telescope: 10-inch reflector

Sketch Magnification: 114x

Field of View: 1/2º

Description: Small, fairly bright, elongated NE-SW, brighter bulged center with a stellar nucleus. I last observed this galaxy on March 11, 1996, from the same location and telescope with almost identical results.

From my 5.0 NELM suburban location, it is very easy to locate and see with the 10-inch, but with very little fine detail. The stellar nucleus required a magnification of 183x, and averted vision. It was my plan to observe this galaxy with my 6-inch reflector for a comparison. Hopefully, I can make this comparison next year.

Glenn Chaple: Observer from Massachusetts

This month’s Observer’s Challenge, NGC 2685, is a lenticular galaxy with a twist. It has a ring of stars, gas, and dust that runs perpendicular to the plane of the main galactic disk. Such rarities are known as polar ring galaxies. These cosmic oddities are likely a result as a collision or gravitational interaction between two galaxies, one of which is lenticular. The appearance of the whorls surrounding NGC 2685 give it the nick-name the “Helix Galaxy.”

Those with computer-controlled scopes will find NGC 2685 at coordinates RA 8h 55m 34.8s, Dec +58° 44’  03.9”. If you locate deep sky objects via the star-hop method, begin your search at the 3rd magnitude star Muscida (omicron [ο] Ursae Majoris), shown in upper right of Chart A. Aim your telescope midway between Muscida and 5th magnitude 17 Ursae Majoris (Chart B), and you should come across a pair of stars of magnitude 6 and 7 that are about a degree apart. Chart C shows the location of NGC 2685 between these two stars.

NGC 2685 was discovered by the German astronomer Wilhelm Tempel on August 18, 1882. Studies indicate a distance of around 40 million light years and a visual diameter of some 50,000 light years, about half that of the Milky Way.

Mike McCabe: Observer from Massachusetts

Having been presented with a crystal-clear night in early March, it seemed like a good idea to take a shot at observing the March Observer’s Challenge object. Yes, it was cold, and yes, it was breezy, but nights with transparency like that seen on the 6th only come around here a handful of times a year. And am I glad I did! This target needed that transparency to be seen well.

The area where NGC 2685 resides is an easy star hop from Muscida, the tip of the Great Bear’s nose. What’s not so easy is knowing that you’re in the right place at first glance. That field is DIM, and the galaxy is even dimmer. At low power there is just the vaguest hint of something aside an 11th magnitude star, but what it is is not immediately apparent.

Pushing the power up to 140x clarifies things quite a bit. It then became clear that I was definitely looking at a galaxy, which was obviously elongated and situated north-south along the long axis. Averted vision kept revealing a bright spot, but I couldn’t be sure if it was actual brightening towards the center of the galaxy or a star superimposed in front of it.

Doubling the power to 280x actually enhanced the nebulosity a little, but didn’t do much to resolve the question of core, or star? It wasn’t until I was warm and snug inside the house and on a computer that I was able to ascertain that what I was seeing was indeed brightening at the center of the galaxy. In the eyepiece of a scope with just 10-inches of aperture, the brighter core does indeed have what I’d call a “sharp edge” to it.

Aside from the observation of the target, the good transparency led to me being able to discern stars down to nearly 15th magnitude in the field of view, so that was fun. I even almost considered going for April’s target in Leo on this very clear night…almost, but then my scope and all my gear got up and went into the garage. It seems that they have more sense than me, when it comes to getting in out of the cold. 

James Dire: Observer from Illinois

NGC 2685, a.k.a the Helix Galaxy, is a small, faint galaxy in Ursa Major. The galaxy is located 11 degrees north of the wide, naked-eye double star Talitha (Kappa and Iota Ursae Majoris, magnitudes 3.57 and 3.14. respectively).  The galaxy is roughly 4.4 x 2.3 arc minutes in size and shines at magnitude 11.3. The galaxy is 52 million light years away and is classified as an S0 (Lenticular spiral galaxy).

The Helix Galaxy is dim and small. It doesn’t look like much in any telescope I have seen it.  It appears as an elongated smug with a brighter star-like core.  The galaxy is famous because it has a polar ring of material encircling it.  This is a ring of material perpendicular to the disk of the galaxy.  Most likely this ring was formed by a collision with another smaller galaxy, where the gravity of NGC 2685 ripped the smaller galaxy apart as it was captured in a polar orbit.  

I shot NGC 2685 this month with a William Optics 132mm f/7 Apo using a Televue 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener. My camera was an SBIG ST-4000XCM and the exposure was 60 minutes.  Despite the small telescope and short exposure, I was able to capture and resolve some of the polar ring.

The brightest stars in the image are SAO27026, magnitude 6.3, and SAO27056, magnitude 6.92.  The faintest stars in the image are below magnitude 18. There are about a half dozen other galaxies captured in the image that are very small and between 16th and 18th magnitude.

Joseph Rothchild: Observer from Massachusetts

I observed galaxy NGC 2685 in Ursa Major on March 9th under dark skies in Cape Cod.  I observed with my 10-inch dob.  I had not previously viewed this spiral galaxy.  It was easily found, appearing in a flattened triangle with a nearby star and double star. 

The double star points to the galaxy, which is small, compact, and spindle shaped, without any appreciable features.  It was best seen with a 14mm eyepiece at 111x.

Larry McHenry: Observer from Pennsylvania

NGC 2685 

Is a small +11.3 mag lenticular galaxy located in the spring constellation of Ursa Major – ‘The Great Bear’.

It is about 42 million light years distant, and about 50,000 light-years in size. Being only 31º from Polaris, the galaxy is circumpolar and above the horizon year-round for most observers. Deep images of NGC 2685 show that it is a polar ring Seyfert galaxy showing an outer ring of stars, gas & dust that may have been perturbed by another unidentified passing galaxy or possibly from the breakup and merging of a satellite companion pulled into the main galaxy. NGC 2685 is listed as Arp336 in Halton Arp’s “Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies”.

Visual Screen Sketch:      

03/02/2021 from Big Woodchuck Observatory backyard in Pittsburgh, PA.

Using an 8-inch SCT optical tube @ f6.3 on a GEM mount, with a CMOS/USB color camera and LP filter @ 30-second guided exposure live-stacked for 20 minutes. 

Visually, the galaxy is a small elongated spindle with a brighter bulge at its core and a star-like nucleus.


06/01/2016 from Cherry Springs State Park at the Cherry Springs Star Party, using an 8-inch SCT optical tube @ f/6.3 on a GEM mount, with an analog deep-sky video-camera & IR filter @ 35 seconds, unguided single exposure.

Venu Venugopal: Observer from Massachusetts

Attached is an image of the Helix galaxy I took from my backyard on March 20th 2021.

Scope: 72mm ED refractor with 45 minutes exposure, 10 second sub-exposures.

SharpCap live stacked.

Rony De Laet: Observer from Belgium

NGC 2685 lies so far away from any bright stars that my Telrad did not show any stars to aim at. I aimed at Muscida (omicron UMa) and started starhopping with my 32mm eyepiece and the guidance of the Stellarium+ app. At 60x NGC 2685 is a weak spot S of a mag 11 star. With each increasing magnification, the galaxy reveals more details. I got the best views at 280x with a CLS-filter and 400x without filter. At first sight, the galaxy is an elongated streak of light, brightening to the center. With time, more details become apparent. The nucleus appears stellar with averted vision. The core is quite compact and clearly elongated in the same position angle as the halo. It is my impression that just SE of the core, the spindle shaped halo appears suddenly brighter. A brighter arc of light appears next to the SE border of the core. A weird impression because the galaxy does not have any spiral arms? This might be an optical illusion caused by the sharp border of the SE core. The same phenomenon appears on the N edge of the core, but it is less prominent. The tips of the spindle shaped halo seem to bend both a bit counterclockwise before they fade away.

Site : Bekkevoort, Belgium (51° N)
Date : March 31, 2021
Time : around 20.30UT
Telescope : Taurus 16-inch reflector
FOV: 11.4’
Filter : with and without CLS
Seeing : 3/5
Transp. : 4/5
Sky brightness : 19.7 magnitudes per square arc second near zenith (SQM reading).
Sketch Orientation: N up, W right.
Digital sketch made with Corel Paint Shop Pro X2, based on a raw pencil sketch.

Richard Nugent: Observer from Massachusetts

This month’s object, NGC 2685, also known as the Helix Galaxy, glows at 11th magnitude and can be found in the constellation of Ursa Major. The galaxy has a reported surface brightness of 13.8, and with this type of object, a dark sky is preferred while using a telescope/eyepiece combination which yields an exit pupil of around 2mm. This object lies only 3.8 degrees away from Omicron Ursa Majoris, Muscida, the tip of the Great Bear’s nose. I enjoy star hopping to objects and from Muscida, I located magnitude 6.5, HD 73029. From there, I hop 2 degrees to magnitude 6.3, HD 75487. NGC 2685 lies midway between this star and slightly fainter HD76216. The galaxy is adjacent to an 11th magnitude star. 

During this era of the COVID pandemic, my observing has been restricted to my home in Framingham, (MA) where light pollution has reduced the NELM to about magnitude 4.8 under Bortle Class 7 skies. I was able to view the galaxy with 10- and 20-inch telescopes on nights of good transparency. 

Michael Covington is quoted as saying “All galaxies deserve to be stared at for a full 15 minutes.” and this wise advice should be kept in mind when observing this month’s object! Using the 10-inch, at first, I could see nothing at the galaxy’s location. But in time its ghostly light started to become visible.  The longer I observed the brighter the glow became. Tweaking the magnification to darken the background helps as does jiggling the telescope a bit. After about 20 minutes, the galaxy appeared as a small, faint, diffuse, oval-shaped glow which could be detected with direct vision and better with averted vision. The view through the 20-inch yielded a better view with the galaxy nicely apparent with direct vision. No hint of detail could be seen nor could the helix structure. 

Will I ever return to this faint fuzzy? Only if I can view it under darker sky conditions. Why should you observe this object? To gain an appreciation for your telescope’s capabilities and to become a better observer. 

How to Choose Your Telescope Magnification – Sky and Telescope Magazine: By Al Nagler

Posted March 9, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

One of the best articles I’ve ever read concerning the calculation of everything involving telescope eyepieces.

I was fortunate to meet Al Nagler a few years ago. Such a nice guy….

Virgo Diamond: Faint Five Star Asterism: Repost

Posted March 6, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Roger's Articles

The Virgo Diamond – Faint Five Star Asterism

April 3, 2012

     Have you ever heard of the Virgo Diamond?  No…I’m not talking about the large group of stars, comprised of Cor Caroli, Denobola, Spica, and Arcturus, also called the Virgo Diamond.  I’m talking about a basically unknown and very tiny asterism in Virgo which makes a beautiful diamond shape, comprised of five faint stars.  If conditions are not good this asterism can be difficult, especially the faint companion of the western-most star.   

     When I first read about the Virgo Diamond back in 1993, I became immediately interested, and could hardly wait to see it for myself.   The Virgo Diamond seems to be as unknown today as it was back in 1993.  I know of only a very few amateurs who have observed this most intriguing deep-sky object.

     If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating object, please continue reading, and you too might want to test your observing skills in an attempt to see all five stars of the “Virgo Diamond.”  

Virgo Diamond: In the December 1, 1991 Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society , Noah Brosch (Tel Aviv University, Israel) discusses his investigation of a newly discovered asterism in Virgo.  Five stars all appearing brighter than 13th magnitude, comprise a diamond shaped area with sides only 42 arc seconds long.  The probability is small that five stars with similar brightness could be so closely aligned by chance, and Brosch suggests that the stars of the diamond are physically associated.  The diamond is located at:  RA: 12:32.8   Dec: -0.7

Direct Source:  Sky and Telescope Magazine, May 1993, page 110

     My first observation of the Virgo Diamond came on the night of April 14th 1993.  I was using a 10-inch f/4.5 reflector at 190x which presented a faint grouping of four stars.  I was unable to see the fifth star.  The stars range in brightness from 10.9 to 13.7 in magnitude.  Please don’t underestimate this very faint asterism.  If conditions are not good, even the four primary stars can be difficult.  

     Since that night in 1993, I have observed this object many times, however, always seeing only the four primary stars.  However, this changed on the night of April 12th 2012.  The conditions were excellent, and using a 10-inch reflector, I saw the illusive fifth star at a magnification of 266x.  I could not hold the fifth companion star constantly, and averted vision was required.  Exciting to say the least….after all of my attempts over the years to see the fifth star.  

     It should be noted that excellent seeing and high magnification are essential for observing all components of the Virgo Diamond.  

The northern most star is TYC 4948-53-1 (Magnitude 10.9) The brightest and easiest of the diamond.  (RA  12h33m18.96s   Dec.  -00.38m32.3s) 

The western star (the double) is magnitude 12.1

The southern star is magnitude 13.7

The eastern star is magnitude 13.5

Tom English of North Carolina, using a 16-inch SCT described a fabulous view of all five stars using 194x and 387x.

Fred Rayworth of Las Vegas could see the fifth star using a 16-inch Reflector at 130x, but could not hold the faint companion constantly, even from the desert southwest.  

Sue French of New York could see the faint companion using both a 130-mm apochromatic refractor and a 10-inch reflector.  

Jaakko Saloranta of Finland, using an 8-inch reflector, under less than ideal conditions managed to see the elusive fifth star, despite a focuser that kept freezing up under extreme cold conditions.

The following is a pencil sketch from that special night of April 12th 2012, using only a No. 2 pencil on a blank 5 x 8 note card.  The colors were inverted using a scanner. 


The following image by James Dire of Hawaii.  “The image is a 20 second exposure.  Please note the streak below the diamond.  This is a geosynchronous satellite that I watched move from west to east across the field during multiple 20 second exposures.  I know it is a geosynchronous satellite because the Virgo Dimond is a few arch minutes below the celestial equator, the satellite was moving east with respect to the background stars, and the streak is 5 arc minutes long on the 20 second exposure.  Five arc minutes per 20 seconds translates to 360º (one orbit) in 24 hours.  This is my first geosynchronous satellite on an image.”  James Dire

Virgo Diamond 20s

The following image was taken by Don Olive of North Carolina from the Tzec Maun Observatory in Western Australia, using an Epsilon 180 mm corrected Newtonian.  


I’m hopeful that you will attempt the Virgo Diamond, and if you do, I feel certain it will become a favorite springtime object for you also.  Remember, it’s a tiny asterism, with very faint stars, so a good night and high magnification is a must.  

Good luck in your quest to see the Virgo Diamond…and the fifth and most difficult component.  

Roger Ivester

Edmund Scientific of Years Past

Posted March 6, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Roger's Articles


Edmund Scientific was the company that really fueled my interest in amateur astronomy. From the following books (pictured below) to my first serious telescope, an Edmund 4.25-inch f/10 reflector.   It came with a 25mm eyepiece, which was called a 1-inch in the advertisements, and also an adjustable Barlow, to vary the magnifications. 

The year…1976:

This following photo of my Edmund reflector is especially important to me.  Not only a picture of my telescope, but also the living room of an old rented house which was built in 1927, and took a fortune to heat.  However, the rent was really cheap, so it was affordable.  I was just getting started with my working career, and most all of my money was required for the essentials of life.   

 This telescope allowed me to see many of the Messier objects to a level I’d never seen before.  And at that time…

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My Quest to Observe the Entire Herschel Catalog: By “Guest Host Larry McHenry” From Pittsburgh

Posted February 18, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

It is Done!

As of May 13th, 2020, I have now completed observing all 2,482 identifiable objects of the Herschel 2500 Catalog.

My last catch was ‘H II-840’ a pretty little one-arm galaxy – NGC3978 in the Great Bear – Ursa Major.

The idea for this ‘Herschel Objects’ project started back at the end of 2012, as I was wrapping up a Constellation survey based on the “Night Sky Observers Handbook“. I realized that my observations would already include a large number of the Herschel-400 objects. So after identifying all the ‘400’ objects that I had previously observed, it only took me less than a year to finish the ‘Herschel 400’ list. For this phase of the project, I utilized the Astronomical League’s “Herschel 400 by Constellation” list and their “Observe the Herschel Objects” booklet. I then downloaded the AL’s “Herschel-II” list of the next 400 objects and began hunting those. 

By the fall of 2016, I was down to the last 60 objects and was wondering what my next project should be. Flipping thru some old “Sky & Telescope” magazines, I ran across an article from the August 2012 issue by Rod Mollise on observing the entire Herschel Catalog of 2500 objects using a deep-sky video camera. This was the inspiration (and project), that I needed, as I was already a videoastronomer, so I began a multi-year effort to observe the entire Herschel Catalog.

So today, we’ll discuss what I’ve learned during that journey among the Herschel Objects. Hopefully, when we are done, you will find them as interesting to hunt as I do.

First, a little background on the Herschel’s:

After the Messier List, the Herschel Object’s are the next most observed deep-sky objects. 
Most amateur astronomers know them by their NGC numbers, but they started out as a list created by British amateur astronomer William Herschel and his sister Caroline, two of the greatest astronomers from the ‘Age of Enlightenment’, which marked the birth of modern science.  

From 1782 to 1790, the Herschel’s conducted systematic surveys of the night sky, in search of “deep sky” objects, and discovered over 2500. Herschel used two telescopes for his survey, a “20-foot Reflector”, which had an 18.5” speculum-metal mirror, and later the great “40-foot Reflector” with a 48” mirror.  Most of Herschel’s recorded observations were made using the ’20-foot’ telescope, as the larger ’40-foot’ was cumbersome to use and suffered from tube current distortions.

Herschel’s telescopes didn’t have clock drives to track the stars, so instead, he would point the telescope to the meridian and let the Earth’s rotation carry objects across his field of view while he was up on a ladder observing. William would then call down to Caroline, at the bottom of the telescope, whenever he saw anything interesting, and she would write down his descriptions and time and where the telescope was pointing. Caroline would then quickly read this back to William and he would confirm the observation while the object was still in the eyepiece. This method allowed them to observe and record a nightly east-west strip of sky. The next day, the two of them would use their recorded observation to calculate the objects position on a star atlas. They would then move the telescope’s elevation up or down, in preparation of the next nights survey run.  Using this method, they were eventually able to observe all of the sky visible from England.

The Herschel’s observing technique of surveying, cataloguing, and classifying what they found, and then using that data to try and understand the structure of the universe, has become one of the most important tools of modern astronomy.

How I accomplished the project:

So back in 2016, as I began a multi-year effort to observe the entire Herschel 2500 Catalog, the first thing I needed to do was come up with a list of the Herschel Objects! While during the process of William and Caroline Herschel’s original recording and publishing of their observations from 1786 thru 1802, along with subsequent reprints and revisions over the 19th century, there have been a number of discrepancies over misidentified or non-existent objects. Depending on the source, of the Herschel’s 2500 objects cataloged, there are anywhere from the low 2400’s to over 2500 actual objects. Mark Bratton, in his book “The Complete Guide to the Herschel Objects“, gives a good review of the issues and historical attempts to rectify Herschel’s list of objects. He eventually settles on there being only 2,435 identifiable Herschel Objects. (I utilize his book’s visual descriptions and DSS images to help in comparing and confirming my personal observations). In addition to the above book, I also utilized George Kepple & Glen Sanner’s “Night Sky Observers Guide Handbook” and internet resources ‘WIKISKY‘ and ‘The NGC/IC Project’ to validate my observations. 

To help tackle this project, I downloaded several lists from various websites, and after combining, distilling, and sorting, I generated a personal spreadsheet/logbook to help in my tracking & logging. The core data for my logbook comes from a list of 2,482 Herschel Objects by Steve Gottlieb. 

All of my Herschel Object observations can be found in their individual constellations in my website under my ‘Constellation Tour’ page. To see the entire list together, I’ve created a specific page for the Herschel Project: “Herschel Tour”

Over the course of this project, I have spent a total of 239 nights working my way thru observing all of the Herschel Objects. 

Even though I really didn’t get serious about completing the list until 2012, my observations stretch all the way back to 1984. 

All of the early observations are visual sketches, (78 objects), made at the telescope eyepiece, with everything after 2001 using videoastronomy (EAA) short-exposure lucky imaging technique. I eventually used a total of ten different telescopes for this project. Six visually – 80mm f3.2 refractor, 8″ f4.5 dob, 10″ f5.6 dob, 13.1″ f4.5 dob, and a 8″ & 12″ SCT at f10. The dobs and small refractor were manual telescopes, with the two SCT’s being motorized, but all required using star-charts and star-hopping techniques to locate the objects. 

For the videoastronomy observations, I used four telescopes – 50mm f3 refractor, 80mm f6 refractor, 6″ RC at f9, f6.3 & f5, and a 8″ SCT at f10, f6.3 & f3.3.  All these telescopes were on either SCT or CGEM mounts that could track and later utilize GOTO.

The cameras used were a StellaCam-EX (2.5 seconds exposure), StellaCam-II (8 seconds exp), a Samsung SDC435 (8 seconds exp), a peltier cooled, wireless controlled StellaCam-3 (unlimited exp), and finally a ZWO ASI294MC Pro camera used in EAA mode (generally for around 120 second exposure). 

While I prefer going to dark sky locations, such as Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park, for my observing, utilizing near-realtime deep-sky videoastronomy cameras has allowed me to pull in faint 14th magnitude plus galaxies not visually possible from my backyard observatory located within 10 miles of downtown Pittsburgh, PA. This greatly expanded the number of clear evenings available for working on this project. 

Having spent time over the past several years following in the Herschel’s tracks, you could begin to pick-up on how they were doing their observing run for that particular night back in the 1780’s, slowly letting the Earth’s rotation bring each object into their sweep. Using today’s modern equipment, there’s no need to wait; all you had to do was hop down the sweep path to the next observable object. When you think about that, it’s sort of inspiring to think that in your own way you are following in their footsteps!

In retrospect, I have learned a lot about the lives of William and Caroline Herschel, along with the objects that they discovered. While there are a number of nice large, bright objects including galaxies, star clusters, and nebula, the majority of Herschel’s objects are small, faint, dim smudges of galaxies. It gives you an appreciation for the brighter Messier Objects. Still, there is a wide variety of shapes and sizes of interesting deep sky objects for any type of telescope. I now have a much greater respect for all those faint fuzzies and the work of the Herschel’s! So I encourage everyone to get out tonight and try your hand at finding and observing the deep-sky objects of William and Caroline Herschel!!

An examples of my many sketches:

My equipment used for this project: Telescopes, observatory and camper : Larry McHenry, Pittsburgh, Pa

Hope you enjoyed my story: Larry McHenry

Herschel 400 Notes: By “Guest Host Sue French” From New York

Posted February 16, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

Sue and Alan French

Click on to enlarge: The latest Herschel 400 book (above) from the Astronomical League. Consider ordering your copy today.