Archive for March 12, 2023

Becoming A Real Amateur Astronomer, Seeing M81-82, And The Story Of Losing My Observing Partner Of 17 Years

March 12, 2023

My Notes of seeing M81-82 for the first time in April 1978….and sketches/notes from many years later:   

It wasn’t until the mid-70’s when I acquired my very own telescope, a 4 1/4-inch Edmund Scientific reflector, a Palomar Jr. which was not my first choice, but the best my budget would allow.  

I’ll never forget one special night using this telescope. I was 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, and the light pollution was very severe in my back yard.  

I was less than 50 feet from a HPS street light.  

Attempting to find even the brightest deep-sky objects under these conditions proved to be difficult.  I had tried on many occasions to find M81 and M82, without success.  I wanted to see this galaxy pair, which appeared so striking and beautiful in the magazines.

One night, while observing, time was running out.  It was already after 11:00 PM, and needed to get up early the next morning.  I used my hands in an attempt to block the ambient light from entering my eyepiece, and then it happened: A small, faint fuzzy object entered my telescope view.  I then nudged the scope slightly and then another…..finally M81 and M82.  What a beautiful sight!  I savored the view for the longest time and to this day and I can still feel that excitement.  

In my mind, I was now a real amateur astronomer, and went to bed smiling.  RI 

Supplemental:

Seeing M81/82 that night in April 1978 with my Edmund 4.25-inch EQ reflector was my greatest achievement to that point, as a humble back yard observer.  

I remember that night so well, and can just see the galaxies in my mind at this very moment, even though I’ve seen them hundreds of times since.  REALLY!  I was using an Edmund 25mm (called a 1-inch at that time) for a magnification of 43x. 

No astronomy club, or other amateurs to share with the next day.  I would have liked that, but the “solitary” excitement in my back yard on that night was “apparently” all I needed.

It would be 1991 before I would meet another amateur astronomer, and later join an astronomy club.  However, most of my observing would and still “continues” to be mostly by myself.

Observing deep-sky objects is serious business indeed.  No time for idle chatter!  There are sketches and notes to make.  :-))  

However, I did have one observing partner, that was with me on a regular basis, for almost 17 years, but she passed away in February 2016.  She’s been gone “now” for over seven years, and no one can replace her.  

To this day…I still think about her often.  

She never said….not one time:  “HEY…you gotta see this” or “I’ve got the Ring Nebula, or you should see M42!

My observing partner for 17 years, and the story:

I can still see CJ, our Persian Cat, waiting anxiously at the back door to go outside, while I’d be setting up my telescope on the deck or in the back yard. 

She would walk around, climb the deck, play like she was catching something….pouncing and clawing the ground. However, after a short while, she’d end up on my lap, either due to being cold, or to just feel safe.  

CJ was going to stay with me for only a couple weeks, and then would be moving to California, but that two weeks ended up being almost 17 years.  I’m really glad the move didn’t work out.   

Astronomy from my backyard will never be the same.  

Debbie and I held her in our arms from 11:30 AM till 8:15 PM.  I had my hand on her chest when her little heart beat the last time, after 19 years.  It was a very sad day.  

CJ had a wonderful life.  We treated her like a Princess!   Roger 

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The following observations and sketches are from 40 years later: 

Messier 81 (NGC 3031) Galaxy in Ursa:   10-inch f/4.5 reflector.  Sketch magnification; 12mm eyepiece 95x.  

80 mm refractor at 33x, M81 is large, bright, mostly round with a brighter nucleus, and is nicely framed with companion galaxy M82.   

10-inch reflector at 95x, M81 is bright, large, well concentrated, elongated, but subtle, NE-SW.  Very bright nucleus, almost stellar.  Only on nights of excellent seeing and transparency can the spiral arms be seen from my moderately light polluted backyard.   RI   

Rogers M-081 Inverted

Messier 82 (NGC 3034) Galaxy in Ursa Major:  10-inch f/4.5 reflector @ 191x magnification.  Eyepiece:  12 mm plus 2.8x Barlow 

80 mm f/5 refractor:  Surprisingly bright, elongated with a lens shape, smooth texture at low magnification.  When increasing the magnification to 75x, the galaxy becomes very uneven and mottled, with two brighter knots toward the middle, and an outer elongated halo.  This galaxy is much fainter than it’s companion, Messier 81.

10-inch reflector:  Bright, very elongated, dark band in the central region is almost separating the galaxy, and is very easy at 114x, but really comes out at 200x.  At the higher magnification the galaxy becomes very mottled, and with a faint surrounding halo extending the length of the galaxy.  The NE and SW edges or tips of the halo are smooth.   RI   

Rogers M-082 Inverted

Images using a 32-inch telescope of M81 and M82 by Mario Motta:

M82