Archive for the ‘Observer’s Challenge Reports’ category

NGC 6015 – Galaxy in Draco – Observer’s Challenge Report – June 2017 #100

June 9, 2017

A fabulous galaxy, NGC 6015 awaits those who choose to be a part of this months very special observer challenge report….our 100th edition.  

A brief excerpt from Skiff & Luginbuhl:

NGC 6015 – Galaxy – Draco – Mag. 11.1; Size 5.4′ x 2.3′ “This galaxy is faintly visible to 15 cm about 2′.5 E of a mag. 11 star.  In 25 cm it is 3′ x 1′.25 in pa 30º, a fat oval broadly brighter to the center with a narrow central bar occasionally visible.  It grows to 5′.5 x 1′.8 with 30 cm, with weak concentration to a broad core. A mag. 13.5 star is visible within the halo 2′ S.”  Skiff & Luginbuhl;  Observing Handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects

RA: 15h 51.4m  Dec. +62º 19′ 

NGC 6015:  The following image provided by James Dire of Hawaii using a 10-inch reflector:



The following image by Mario Motta from Massachusetts using a 32-inch reflector:



Observer’s Challenge: Galaxy M98 in Virgo – May 2017 – Report #99

May 24, 2017


Image of galaxy M98:  32-inch reflector by Mario Motta from Massachusetts.   



“M98 (NGC 4192) is an elongated nearly edge-on type Sb spiral, measuring 8.2′ x 2.0′ and shining at magnitude 11.0.  This galaxy’s surface brightness is rather low, making it a tricky object at high power.  Backyard telescopes show this galaxy as a thin streak of greenish light, slightly curved, showing a faint envelope of gas and a sharp nucleus.”   David J. Eicher – Wisconsin – Editor Astronomy Magazine 


“Although M98 has low surface brightness, it can be seen in a 60mm refractor under dark skies.  Through a 105mm scope at around 100x, the galaxy is about 6′ x 2′, elongated N-NW to S-SW.  It contains a brighter, extended patchy core and an off-center, nearly stellar nucleus.”  Sue French –  New York – Deep-Sky Wonders


M98 is one of the fainter of the Messier objects and can be especially difficult when observed with a telescope smaller than 4-inches. The surface brightness is very low, and regardless of telescope size, a dark sky is needed to see and fully appreciate the many faint, but fine details this galaxy has to offer.

In a 10-inch reflector, M98 appears fairly bright, elongated, a bright nucleus, with unevenness in the halo, with some mottling noted in the central region. Two brighter sections can be seen in both the NW and SE arms.  The nucleus is off-set toward the SE.  

With a 102 mm refractor, and observing from my moderately light polluted backyard this galaxy appears very faint, elongated and weak without any center brightness. In a 6-inch reflector, the galaxy is slightly enlarged and overall a bit brighter when compared to the refractor.  Roger Ivester – Observer from North Carolina 

 Pencil sketch:


Inverted sketch: 

Rogers M-098 Inverted



By Dr. James Dire –  Observer from Hawaii
M98 is a magnitude 10.1 barred spiral galaxy in the constellation Coma Berenices. The galaxy is located 6 degrees east of the star Denebola. The galaxy is one-half degree west of the 5th magnitude star 6 Comae Berenices. M98 measures 10 x 2.8 arc minutes in size.

M98 is a nearly edge-on galaxy, inclined 74° to our line of sight. The galaxy has tightly wound spiral arms with a chaotic disk and an active nucleus. Distance measurements range from 44 to 66 million light years. It is thought to be a member of the Virgo galaxy cluster. The galaxy may have interacted with M99 750 million years ago which may account for the distortions in its disk.

Pierre Mechain discovered M98 in 1781, confirmed later that year by Charles Messier. Messier added M98, M99 and M100 into his third catalog immediately before publishing this final edition of his famous list. M98 is one of the faintest objects in Messier’s Catalog.

M98 is one of the few galaxies with a blue shift, meaning it is approaching us. This motion may be temporary if M98 is orbiting the Virgo Cluster. It may be at a point in its orbit where it is approaching us. If it is gravitationally bound to the cluster, it will never reach us.

I viewed M98 in a 6-inch refractor. The galaxy definitely was elongated and nearly edge on. No dust lane was visible and the core appeared much brighter then the galaxy’s edges.

My image of M98 was taken with a 10-inch f/6.9 Newtonian with an SBIG ST-2000XCM CCD camera. The exposure was 200 minutes. I would have preferred a much longer exposure to bring out more detail on the edges of the galaxy and may gather more data on it in the future. The brightest star in the image, located near the bottom left edge, is magnitude 11.7. The four star just off the left edge of the galaxy are magnitudes 12.5, 15.2 16.5 and 18.

On the image, note the bright star-forming region on the bottom (south) edge of the disk. The spiral arm edge visible on the top (north) side of the galaxy has bright HII regions with bright star clusters. Even with this small telescope, I was able to capture the distortions on the north edge of the galaxy’s disk. It appears like the galaxy has two disks that are slightly misaligned with each other. This was either caused the interaction with M99 cited above, or two galaxies have merged to create the presently seen M98.  JD 




Messier 98 is the second faintest object in the entire Messier galaxy only preceded by M91 (only 0.1 magnitudes fainter). With a visual magnitude of 10.1 and a surface brightness of roughly 13.5 it can be a fairly difficult catch under light polluted skies.

Observing in a suburban location, I could barely make out M98 with a 4.5-inch telescope as an elongated galaxy with a brighter core. With a 10-inch dobsonian reflector and high magnification under a dark sky, I could make out some structure from the mottled disk.

I described the object as follows using magnifications between 60 and 343x:

“Elongated in NW-SE direction. Bright core with a nearly stellar nucleus in the middle. Two spiral arm stubs visible, southern one being slightly brighter. Some dark markings near on the NW side of the galaxy but too difficult to sketch properly. With a bit of a stretch the galaxy is 5′ x 2′ in size”.    Jaakko Saloranta – Observer from Finland 

M98 Pencil sketch using a 4.5-inch reflector:   JS 




M98 –  Date of Observation:  4/12/2015 

I first viewed this galaxy on April 2, 1978, using a 3-inch f/10 reflector at 30X. I wrote in my logbook “Very faint, but looms large with averted vision.” On both occasions, M98 was located with the help of an Astro Card.  Glenn Chaple – Observer from Massachusetts 

Pencil sketch with colors inverted.  GC 

Glenns M-098


I observed M98 in dark but hazy skies on Cape Cod with a 10-inch reflector at 87x.  It was easily found with a Telrad offset from 6 Com.  It appeared as an oval patch elongated with approximately 1:4 ratio.  The galaxy appeared uniform without internal details.

Joseph Rothchild –  Observer from Massachusetts


Time: 5/20/2017 10:30pm EDT; Location: ATMoB Clubhouse
Bortle Scale: 6; NELM: 5; Transparency: Good; Seeing: Average
Telescope: 10-inch f/5 Reflector 

I managed to locate M98 after several minutes of star hopping from Denebola in Leo. This is the first Deep Sky Object that I’ve attempted on my own in a non-goto telescope. It was quite a challenging learning experience. The galaxy did not jump out at me after initially finding the surrounding star pattern, so I doubted myself for a while until I finally spotted it.

I found that my 25mm eyepiece presented the best view at 51x, with a 1.38º FOV.   Using direct vision the core of M98 showed up as a faint glow. Viewing with averted vision, I was able to see a thin elliptical patch aligned with of a chain of three stars to its SE and two stars to its NW.

A bright magnitude 5 star, 6 Comae Berenices, lies 1/2º due east of the galaxy. Chris Elledge – Observer from Massachusetts 



Site: Cherry Springs State Park, Coudersport, PA
May 15, 2017
Seeing: Excellent
Transparency: Excellent

I observed M98 with a Celestron 8SE SCT, and a Meade zoom EP set to 21 mm, for a magnification of 97x.  

This is a delicate and wispy fried egg of a galaxy; at the time I noted, “reminds one of M108; more pronounced west; upward curve East.”

Craig Sandler – Observer from Lexington, Massachusetts 

M98 Galaxy in Coma Berenices 

May 1967 using a 6-inch reflector @ 59x was large, elongated, located 1/2º east of the 5th mag. star, 6 Coma.  

1991 – using a 3-inch reflector @ 39x:  Large, elongated and diffuse.

1992 – With poor transparency ~ 4.0 NELM using a 60 mm refractor @ 21x could not see.
1993 – Using 12 x 50 binoculars could not see, however, galaxies M99 and M100 could be glimpsed.  
Gus Johnson – Observer from A Delaware  

NGC 3395-96 – Interacting Galaxies in Leo Minor – Observer’s Challenge Report For April 2017 – Month # 98

April 8, 2017

Complete Report:  APRIL 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-3395-96

Image by Mario Motta –  Observer from Massachusetts –  32-inch telescope – One hour:  6 exposures x 10 minutes stacked 


Coordinates:  RA: 10h 49.8m   Dec. +33.0′ 

NGC 3395-96 – Interacting Galaxies – Leo Minor – Visual magnitudes: 12.1/12.2  Sfc. Br. 12.9/13.4   Size: 1.9′ x 1.2′ NGC 3396 2.8′ x 1.2′ – “NGC 3395 small but bright oblong;  NGC 3396 lies 1′ E; small oblong; tough but worthy pair!  don’t leave without seeing spiral galaxy NGC 3430 just 30′ to E.    Tom Lorenzin  1000+ The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing


NGC 3395 is another 12th-magnitude spiral, about 2′ in diameter.  Amateur telescopes will show it almost in contact with NGC 3396 at its northeast edge.  These are interacting galaxies, but the bridge of material between them does not show in small telescopes.  Has anyone viewed them with a 30-inch aperture?   Walter Scott Houston  Deep-Sky Wonders – selections and commentary by Stephen James O’Meara 


In my 130mm refractor at 48× NGC 3430 shares the field with the colliding galaxies NGC 3395 and NGC 3396. Their combined glow appears a little smaller and fainter than the lone galaxy. At 117× these entangled galaxies each harbor a brighter center, with NGC 3395 boasting the more obvious one. NGC 3396 is elongated approximately east-west, with NGC 3395 south of its western end, where their halos blend together. Seen through my 10-inch scope at 166×, NGC 3396 hosts an elongated core with a starlike nucleus.

NGC 3395 and NGC 3396 have undergone at least one close encounter in the past and are now thought to be in the early stages of a merger, a show we are watching from a distance of 85 million light-years.    Sue French – Observer from New York 


I also observed NGC 3395-6 under dark skies with a 10” reflector at 81x.  It was easily seen, appearing most like an asymmetric butterfly  with close interaction of the galaxy pair.   Joseph Rothchild – Observer from Massachusetts 
NGC 3395 and 3396 are a pair of interacting galaxies in the constellation Leo Minor. The galaxies are thought to be in the early stages of merging. The galaxies were discovered by William Herschel in 1785 using an 18.7-inch reflector.

NGC 3395, the brighter of the two galaxies, is magnitude 12 and is roughly 1.6 x0.9 arc minutes in size. Its core is south-west of NGC 3396. NGC 3395 is a Hubble type Sc spiral galaxies.

NGC 3396 is slightly dimmer and slightly larger than NGC 3395. It shines at magnitude 12.4 and is 3.1×1.3 arc minutes in size. NGC 3396 is a barred spiral galaxy.

My image of NGC 3395 and 3396 was taken with a 10-inch f/6.9 Newtonian with a SBIG ST-2000XCM CCD camera. The exposure was 150 minutes. West is to the right and north is up. Several smaller fainter galaxies can be seen scattered throughout the image. The brightest star in the image, located near the left (east) edge, shines at magnitude 10.3. NGC 3396 is on the left, NGC 3395 on the right.


Sometimes NGC 3395 is measured to be larger than the size I reported above. That is because the galaxy lies along the line of sight of a slightly larger and slightly dimmer background galaxy. This galaxy is PGC 4534783, a magnitude 13.2 galaxy. PGC 4534783 is 2.3 x 1 arc minutes in size and the position angle is nearly identical to NGC 3395.

The bright emission nebula IC 2605 lies in the southern edge of NGC 3395. The nebula can be seen in the accompanying image near the edge of the visible galaxy. This nebula was discovered April 11, 1899 by Guillaume Bigourdan. He estimated the magnitude to be 15 and size 0.4 x 0.2 arc minutes.

I viewed NGC3395 and 3396 with a 6-inch refractor under clear dark skies. The galaxies appeared as elongated glows close to one another, but the interacting portions of the galaxies were not bright enough to see.     Dr. James Dire from Hawaii


Observer:  Roger Ivester – Date: March 18, 2017  
Telescope: 10-Inch Reflector
Sketch Magnification: 135x
Eyepiece: 16 mm + 1.9x Barlow

Galaxy NGC 3395-96: Almost connecting. Both galaxies are elongated, brighter middles with NGC 3396 having a distinctive stellar nucleus when using averted vision, but could only be seen intermittently. I could glimpse the galaxies using a low magnification of 57x, but the best views came at 200x, and 135x, respectively, which would indicate that both galaxies are fairly well concentrated. Joseph Rothchild from Massachusetts, using a 10-inch reflector provided an excellent description of this beautiful interacting pair: “Easily seen, appearing most like an asymmetric butterfly….”

Another galaxy, NGC 3340, only 1/2º to the east of the NGC 3395-96 pair, has low surface brightness. Elongated NE-SW with an oval shape and a very subtle brightening or greater concentration in the central region. Despite the low surface brightness, I found that a higher magnification of 191x worked best.

Roger Ivester:  Observer from North Carolina 

NGC 3395-96:  Pencil Sketch with colors inverted:

Rogers NGC-3395-96a

NGC 3395-96:  Pencil sketch direct from the telescope eyepiece without colors inverted:


NGC 3430:  Direct pencil sketch from the telescope eyepiece without colors inverted.  



Glenn Chaple:  Observer from Massachusetts

“I observed and sketched these interacting galaxies with a 13.1-inch f/4.5 Coulter Odyssey I reflector and 9mm Nagler eyepiece (166X, 0.5 degree field). The galaxies were relatively easy to find by star-hopping from a trio of stars that included 46 LMi and 46 UMa to a wide double star a degree south and slightly west, then shifting one-half. I had previously viewed these galaxies with fellow ATMoB members Steve Clougherty and Rich Nugent, using Steve’s 18-inch Dob. They were barely perceptible, but skies were rapidly hazing up. These galaxies definitely need clear skies!”

You’ll like this. On the same night we viewed NGC 3395/6, Steve and Rich also turned the 18-inch on your Virgo Diamond. I’m not sure which of them had the finder chart, but they did this on their own – no prodding from me

Glenn Chaple 

Open Cluster M67 In Cancer: March 2017 Observer’s Challenge Report

March 13, 2017

March Observer’s Challenge Report:  Open cluster M67 in Cancer. 


M67 is an open star cluster in the constellation Cancer located 105 arc minutes west of the star Acubens (Alpha Cancri). The cluster is also cataloged as NGC2682. The cluster was first recorded by the German astronomer Johann Gottfried Koehler in 1779 and then by Charles Messier in 1780. The cluster is magnitude 6.1.

M67 has nearly 100 stars between 10th and 14th magnitude spread over a diameter of about 30 arcminutes. The cluster is 2960 light years away and approximately 25 light years across. It is one the closest open clusters and thus one of the most studied. The cluster is several billion (3.2-5) years old. Unlike most star clusters that reside in the plane of the Milky Way, M67 lies 1500 light years away from the plane.

Stellar interactions have flung most of the lighter stars to the outer regions of the cluster, leaving the more massive stars in the center. In possibly 5 billion more years, the cluster will no longer exist as its stars will have spread out too far from one another to be gravitationally bound.

My image of M67 was taken with 190 mm f/5.3 Maksutov-Newtonian telescope with an SBIG ST-2000XCM CCD camera. The exposure was 20 minutes. North is up and east is to the left. The faintest star in the image is 15th magnitude. The exposure captures how the cluster looks in my 14 inch Dob Newtonian.

I viewed the cluster this month with a 6-inch f/6.5 acromatic refractor with a 20mm Nagler eyepiece (50x). The brightest star, shown with the red arrow on my second image, is magnitude 7.8. This star appeared orange to me, but my image does not show that color. That was probably due to my image processing. I captured this image in 2010 and no longer have the original file to check my color processing accuracy.

Three stars stood out at the center of the cluster forming an “L”. I have drawn the L in yellow on the second image. The brightest of the three is magnitude 9.6, while the other two are 10.2. With the 6-inch refractor, I could not visually resolve the half-dozen stars inside of the triangle formed by those three stars. However, the area inside the triangle did not appear as dark as the space between other stars. So my eyes were capturing some of the photons from those unresolved stars.   James Dire – Observer from Hawaii

James M-067-2


Telescope: 6-inch f/6 reflector
Eyepiece: 11mm 82º AF
Sketch Magnification: 83x – FOV: 1.0º

The brightest star of the cluster on the NE tip appears yellow. The cluster is very bright and large, consisting of two sections, the sparse eastern section, and the more concentrated western part. I could count ~ 30 to 40 total stars, with many faint stars being in the background, causing a hazy appearance in these areas. A lane separates the east from the west, traveling north to south, or the entire length of the cluster. With careful and patient observing, several dark lanes were noted.

An almost perfect circle, devoid of stars is obvious in the most concentrated area on the western side.

Inverted pencil sketch:  Roger Ivester 

Rogers M-067a

M67 is a beautiful object.  Two- and three-inch telescopes show a misty patch of light speckled with a few tiny, gleaming stars.  A 6-inch telescope at 120x resolves the cluster into dozens of faint pinpoints, but an overall haze pervades the field of view.  A 10-inch scope at 100x does a better job, because it resolves the group into what is clearly an open star cluster without nebulosity.   
David Eicher 

Image by Mario Motta of Massachusetts using a 6-inch refractor:



This cluster is barely visible to the naked eye as a nebulous patch in the same “field of view” with Praesepe under truly dark skies.  I was observing from Teide National Park, Canary Islands, Spain at an altitude of 7480 feet.  Switching to a pair of 8×30 binoculars the nebulosity stars showing signs of resolution.

With a 4.5 inch Orion SkyQuest XT this is truly a fine cluster even under average observing conditions.  I called M67 “A fine cluster of about 50 stars and many swirling chains of stars”.  At low power there is a faint glow visible in the background slightly concentrated towards the middle.  The core region of the cluster is roughly 12′ in size.  With low power several chains of stars can be seen running NW and SE increasing the cluster’s visual size to nearly 30′ with a bit of imagination.  Foreground 8th magnitude star NE from the cluster appears a “topaz yellow”.  The brightest actual member of M67 is probably magnitude 9.8 TYC 814-1515-1

Two small patches of nebulosity can be discerned within the cluster.  SW one resolved in to 4-5 stars between magnitudes 11-13 with high magnifications. NW one is slightly larger and with high magnification displays a fan-shaped grouping of ~8 stars.   NW section also shows a circular region without stars but this feature is best seen with a larger aperture reminding me of NGC 7789. I could not identify the nearby cluster candidates Chupina 1 or Chupina 2 with the 4.5 inch telescope.  Also I failed to see a specific form in M67 although I commonly see this cluster as an octopus.   Jaakko Saloranta – Observer from Finland 

Jaakko Saloranta: pencil sketch with inverted colors: 



Through my 105 mm refractor at 17x, Alpha Cancri and M67 share the field of view.  This stunning group of many barely resolved and densely packed stars is irregular in both concentration and outline.  A considerably brighter, yellow-orange star adorns its northeastern edge.  At 47x a heavily populated tree of stars dominates the group, its shining trunk and star-leafed branches overspread 11′. At 87x, I count 80 stars in this amazing cluster, which spans about 22′.     Sue French Deep-Sky Wonders – Observer from New York

I observed M67 twice.  My initial observation with a 6” reflector and first ¼ moon in suburban skies revealed a faint compact cluster with about 20 visible stars.  My second observation with a 10” reflector under dark skies showed over 50 cluster members with a prominent notch on one side of the cluster.  Joseph Rothchild –  Observer from Massachusetts

I attempted M67 with 15×70 binoculars from my front yard (LP Bortle
Scale 8). I was able to locate the open cluster, but I was unable to
identify any structure other than a slightly brighter patch with
averted vision. The brightest star of the cluster at the NE tip
resolved amidst the rest of the patch; however, it was not bright
enough to for me to determine a color.   Chris Elledge – Observer from Massachusetts


Date:  January 23, 2017 – Bortle Scale:  3.5: – NELM 5.0 – Telescope:  8-inch SC – Magnification:  92x  

I observed M 67 a number of times in February and March, and was very interested to view it from different angles as it rotated around the NCP.  My first note read “an angel or a bird”; that was my impression based on the shape of the central area of perhaps 250 stars observable with an 8” SCT.  But it definitely didn’t have that form seen setting late on a March evening.  The bright star the AMToB (Amateur Telescope Makes of Boston) has been writing about appears a shade paler than Betelgeuse to me.  This is among my very favorite O.C.s, and I only paid attention to it because of the Observer’s Challenge report!   Craig Sandler Observer from Massachusetts




For some reason, M67 is one of the least observed of the Messiers for me, though I’ve seen it through both my home-built 8-inch f/9.44 back in 1986 in Spain and several times through my home-built 16-inch f/6.4 from various locations.  It’s not by far the champ of least seen Messiers, but not a common object, let’s put it that way.

To complete the Challenge for March, I did my most detailed observation on January 27, 2017 from Furnace Creek in Death Valley at an altitude of -190 feet below sea level. As I’ve probably mentioned before, one would think all that atmosphere would be a hindrance, but that’s not necessarily so. What’s just as important is sky darkness, and almost anywhere in Death Valley is a national dark sky site.

This night, it was cold with occasional gusts, just enough to make it uncomfortable. The skies were clear. Seeing was poor, but transparency was excellent.

At 102X, it was a fairly even mag. bluish clump of about 50 stars with one brighter, slightly orange one off to the side that may or may not be a member. During this observation, I did my best to be more aware of star color, something I’ve strived for given what I’ve learned through the Challenge. In this case, due to seeing, though plenty of stars cut through the muck, extra color wasn’t along for the ride. Not only was it hard to see on this object, but even much brighter ones as well. Last month’s Winter Alberio was another example. It took a lot of strain and looking between waves of boiling sky just to pick out what should’ve been blatant colors on that easy double.

As for M67, while I tried to differentiate other colors, or even just subtle differences, I came away with either the bland gray-blue so common to many clusters, or that one orange one off to the side. Slightly orange as well, because sometimes it blinked more white than orange. Some of the main cluster stars would barely give me blue as well, while once in a while, they’d flash a deeper blue which was much more so than normal.

Note that the drawing blended the mags. a little more homogenous than they actually appeared in the scope. That’s my lack of drawing skills and the pen I was using. The lighter stars, especially the squiggly ones were done in pencil. Also, I omitted a few of the more minor peripheral members on the edge, now that I look at it.    Fred Rayworth – Observer from Nevada


My 70th birthday was March 23. It was low-key – just dinner out with my wife. We’ll be getting together with immediate family for a more formal celebration on Thursday night.  After returning home, I decided to spend a few hours at the ATMoB clubhouse. Because an extended period of cloudy weather was predicted for the upcoming week, I had decided to work on the Double Star Marathon using my 4.5-inch Orion reflector. Steve Clougherty was there with his 18-inch Dob and he was busy with Rich Nugent working on the March and April LVAS Observer’s Challenges!

I spent just enough time to work on the double stars setting in the west (Andromeda, Triangulum, Aries, Eridanus, and Lepus), plus a batch in Orion, then I put things away and observed with Rich and Steve.

While I had been working on the Double Star Marathon, Steve had been busy observing interacting galaxies, NGC 3395-96 in Leo Minor. The pair was faintly visible under magnitude 5 and rapidly hazing up skies.

He then turned to M67. Rich has already sent you a report on what he saw that night. I took a peek and, like Rich, had difficulty noting any obvious coloring of the main stars. I did notice that the cluster seemed to be comprised of two distinct populations – a dozen or so relatively bright members accompanied by several dozen fainter ones.

My first encounter with M67 was on the night of January 11, 1978, when I viewed it with a 3-inch f/10 reflector at 30X. I wrote in my log book, “Faint, ghostly, beautiful; Reminds me of M11. Contains three visible stars attended by a soft glow. Glow bursts into speckles of light with averted vision. General funnel shape.” More recently, I re-observed M67 with the same scope and a higher magnification of 60X. The cluster was better resolved; with a half dozen faint stars surrounded by another dozen or so averted vision stars.   Glenn Chaple – Observer from Massachusetts

Thursday, March 23, 2017:    I was observing with Steve Clougherty at the clubhouse. We were using his 18-inch reflector. The sky was fair (a Bortle Scale 6 or perhaps a little better) but conditions were worsening. By 11 p.m. clouds were overtaking the sky and we ended our observations for the evening.

We decided to take a look at M67. It’s a lovely little cluster but, truth be told, I’ve never found it particularly interesting and have seldom observed it. Thanks for including it in the challenge list because I’ve learned quite a bit about it over the last month! By the way, there’s a nice limiting magnitude chart of M67’s stars on page 69 of this year’s RASC Handbook. I was particularly interested in seeing if it was possible to see the color of some of the cluster’s K-type giant stars. The only color I could see through Steve’s scope was a slight yellow-orange color in HIP 43491 (Spectral type K3) at magnitude ~9.8.

I didn’t pay attention to the nearby, brighter (mag. ~7.9) K0 foreground star (HIP43519/SAO98178) but I will check for color when the skies eventually clear.

Steve and I discussed the value of having an adequate star chart and a capable finder scope when star-hopping to deep sky objects. (We had been searching for April’s challenge: NGC3395/6) I’ll bet when hunting for challenging objects the real challenge isn’t seeing the object as much as it is finding the object! You have to be looking in the right place, right? My favorite print star atlas to have near the telescope is Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas. This fine atlas shows stars to magnitude 9.5 which is perfect for the 80mm, RACI finders I use on my telescopes. (I use Project Pluto’s Guide v9.0 on my laptop when I need to go deeper.) As experienced star-hoppers well-know, we live and die by our finder system. I use a green laser pointer to roughly aim the scope then acquire the proper star field using the finder. If I can see the desired object in the finder…Bingo! I win. The next best thing to seeing the object itself is seeing the surrounding field stars visible in the atlas. Line the scope with those stars and…Bingo! I win. While I enjoy the chase, I don’t want it to take all night because I really enjoy the view!

As we all have seen, the finder scope that comes with many commercial telescopes is simply inadequate. I try to respectfully implore newbies with such telescopes to upgrade to a “pointer” (Telrad or green laser) and to buy a quality finder scope. It’s all about aperture, right? I decided to run a little test with M67.

Saturday, March 25: 

The sky cleared during the early evening. Temperatures were dropping and surfaces were beginning to freeze over. Framingham enjoys (ahem!) Bortle Scale 7 skies most of the time. I could see Acubens (a cancri; magnitude 4.2) but not much fainter. I could just barely see M44 with my naked eyes but averted vision was necessary. I made a series of observations of M67 (60 degrees in altitude) using 10×21, 8.5×44, 10×50, and 20×80 binoculars. Here are my notes:

10×21: M67 was barely visible; easily missed! HIP43519/SAO98178 was not visible.

8.5×44: A whisper of light; averted vision necessary. HIP43519/SAO98178 was not visible.

10×50: Visible; faint, diffuse; averted vision was helpful. HIP43519/SAO98178 was visible but difficult

20×80: Easy; Obvious! HIP43519/SAO98178 was easily visible.     Richard Nugent – Observer from Massachusetts

M67: ! A beautiful but often-overlooked cluster in the shadow of the Beehive. “Vivid rich type of it exhaulted class.” “Resembles a nebula in small instruments.” “Whorls of stars remind one of a whirlpool.” “Star hues are predominantly rust, orange gold & yellow.”   James Mullaney Observer from Delaware


M67 is very conveniently located about a degree west of Acubens, the alpha star in Cancer, where there’s a lovely little arrangement of four stars in the mag. 4 & 5 range that guide you right to this under-appreciated open cluster. In 7X50 and 10X50 binoculars, the open star cluster is just a fuzzy patch, but in 20X80’s, I could begin to resolve some stars in the center.

In my 4.5-inch Newtonian and my 5-inch refractor at 100X, there were a few dozen or so stars in the eyepiece, and all are in the mag. 10 and 11 range, except for one lone mag. 8 star just to the east of the core.

In my 12.5-inch Newtonian, this cluster became an absolute showpiece! There were easily over 100 stars in the .5° FOV provided by the 12mm eyepiece I was using and the view was simply amazing. It almost makes one wonder why M67 isn’t more celebrated, but it’s probably because you really do need a large scope to bring out the best in this cluster. The view in the smaller scopes was nice, but doesn’t have much wow factor.  Where M44, with its massive size and large population of bright stars really lights up the eyepiece of a small rich-field telescope, the relatively dim M67 doesn’t have much punch. However, put some aperture on it, and stand back! In fact I see M67 as the much better object for a larger scope, because M44 is so huge that it typically doesn’t fit into the smaller field of view provided by bigger scopes, and adding magnification just causes you to lose the “cluster” effect with M44’s spread out population.

I chose to sketch M67 at the eyepiece of my 5-inch refractor. I counted about 40 stars visible in the eyepiece and I didn’t see color in any of them. For comparison purposes, I flipped, cropped and rotated Mario Motta’s image to match the orientation of what I was seeing in the eyepiece. I always find it interesting to compare my drawings to the real deal and see how accurately – or not – my brain and my body transferred what I was seeing onto the paper.  Mike McCabe – Observer from Massachusetts



Help promote amateur astronomy….be a part of the Observer’s Challenge Report

March 12, 2017

March 11th 2017 


The observer’s challenge is the only report which allows the average amateur an opportunity to participate and share their observations in an organized monthly report with other amateurs all over the country and beyond. The loss of the observer’s challenge report…..after eight years would be a loss to amateur astronomy.

I must admit, during busy times, if not for the challenge report, I might not have taken my scope outside. It’s just too easy to stay in a warm house during the winter months, or a cool house during the heat and humidity of summer. Mosquito’s can be a problem also. I think we can all admit that amateur astronomy can be a difficult hobby at times. Miss one month, then two, and before you know it….a year or two has passed.

After more than 40 years as an amateur, I sometimes need some motivation. That motivation for most part is the observer’s challenge, sharing emails, and talking with amateurs….far from my own backyard.

Roger Ivester 

Winter Albireo – Double Star – Known As: h3945 and 145 G Canis Majoris February Observer’s Challenge Object

February 8, 2017

This is the 8th year anniversary edition of the Observer’s Challenge, which started out as a three month trial.  Thanks to all who have participated and made this….the 96th consecutive monthly report possible.  The following link is the anniversary report.  Enjoy!


February Observers Challenge: h3945/The Winter Albireo

Despite the fact that thousands of double and multiple stars lie within reach of even the smallest of telescopes, and are visible on all but the worst of nights even in light-polluted skies, they are the most neglected of all deep-sky objects. (Incidentally, these tinted jewels are deep-sky objects, lying as they do beyond the solar system.) Were I to pick one object that epitomizes an overlooked and neglected wonder of the skies, it would surely be this lovely combo. Its ruddy-orange and greenish-blue components, while over a magnitude fainter than its namesake’s, seem more intensely hued to some observers including myself. Indeed, the primary even appears a fiery-red at times (apparently depending on atmospheric conditions). This pair is striking even in a 2-inch glass at 25x and is absolutely superb in a 6-inch reflector at 50x. So why the neglect? Overshadowed by radiant Sirius to its northwest may be one reason. But I suspect that the real cause is its unusual designation. Having neither a Bayer Greek-letter or Flamsteed number on atlases — nor even a Struve or other obvious double star designation — causes most observers to ignore it. The “h” prefix indicates that it’s one of the discoveries of Sir John Herschel, William’s famous son. (Sir William himself discovered some 800 double and multiple stars in addition to the more than 2,000 clusters and nebulae for which he is best known.) In any case, this Albireo clone certainly deserves to be on every showpiece list!    

 Jim Mullaney, Author:

Recent books by James Mullaney you might find interesting: Double & Multiple Stars & How To Observe Them (Springer)
Celebrating the Universe! (Hay House)

Supplemental information provided by Sue French:

“This double also carries the moniker 145 G Canis
Majoris, though the designation is often
incorrectly listed without the G, which
indicates it’s from the 1879 Uranometria
Argentina by Benjamin Apthrop Gould.”  Sue French 


The following photo of the Winter Albireo by Mario Motta of Massachusetts:



Observing notes by Sue French from New York:

The lovely double star h3945 lies about
halfway along and 38′ west of a line connecting
NGC 2367 and Tau. (This double
also carries the moniker 145 G Canis
Majoris, though the designation is often
incorrectly listed without the G, which
indicates it’s from the 1879 Uranometria
Argentina by Benjamin Apthrop Gould.)
It’s the brightest star in the area and
sports 5.0- and 5.8-magnitude components
26″ apart. Although striking in
appearance, this is only an optical pair
whose unrelated stars lie along the same
line of sight. Astronomy author James
Mullaney dubbed this duo the Winter
Albireo for its resemblance to the famous
gold and blue double in Cygnus. In a
small scope, they seem gold and white to
me.   Sue French


Observing notes by Debbie Ivester from North Carolina: 

Date: February 25, 2017
Observer: Debbie Ivester
Object: Double Star h3945; Winter Albireo
Date: February 25, 2017
Seeing: Excellent
Telescope: 6-inch f/6 reflector
Magnification: 73x

A beautiful double star, and definitely the most color I’ve ever seen through a telescope. I saw the primary as yellow and the companion as a vivid blue. My color perception was not arbitrary. I looked at this double several times over a thirty minute period, and each time, I saw the same colors. It was very enjoyable to see this most colorful pair.   Debbie Ivester


Observing notes by Roger Ivester from North Carolina:

Object: h3945 Double Star in Canis Major – 145 Canis Majoris

This wide and colorful double star is known as the “Winter Albireo” a name coined by author and astronomy lecturer, James Mullaney. The component magnitudes are 5.0 and 5.8 with a wide separation of 26 arcseconds. This double is easy to observe even in the smallest of telescopes. I was able to observe this beautiful double with a 76 mm f/4 reflector, but with subdued colors, as compared to larger telescopes. The following are my notes using three different telescopes:
Date: March 2016
Telescope: 102 mm refractor
Magnification: 82x
Colors: Yellow/blue

Date: February 25, 2017
Telescope: 6-inch f/6 reflector
Magnification: 73x
Primary: Deep Yellow/Aqua

Date: February 13, 2017
Telescope: 76 mm f/4 reflector
Eyepiece: 12.5 mm + 2.8x Barlow
Magnification: 67x
Colors: Yellowish/pale blue


Roger Ivester


Observing notes by Steve Clougherty from Massachusetts:

A few of us die hard observers finally got around to checking out h3945 last night using a 25 inch Dobsonian in the Ed Knight Observatory in Westford at the ATMoB clubhouse. Despite only fair seeing, the colors were striking!

Gold and pale Blue; best at low magnification using a 13 mm eyepiece for a magnification of 131x. As always, the colors are more pronounced when slightly defocusing the double.  Steve Clougherty


Notes from Peter Bealo from New Hampshire: 

As clouds were rolling in from the south at 7:20 PM EST on 2/26/2017 I took a few minutes to observe h3945 with my 80mm f6 apochromatic refractor.

It is indeed a pretty double. Easily split at even 20X, probably would have been no problem with 14 X 70 binoculars, but didn’t have them handy.

With a 9mm eyepiece, the primary appeared yellow with more intense color than the companion. The companion or secondary star was a bluish-aqua. When I switched to a 24mm, the companion color intensity was more blue. Possibly very subjective, but obvious to me!   Peter Bealo


Observing notes by Craig Sandler from Massachusetts: 

Telescope:  8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain 

Eyepiece:  24 mm 

Tallahassee, FL
Date:  Jan. 24, 2017
Seeing:  Good 
Transparency:  Good
NELM:  6.0

First, some nomenclature. I first found this beautiful object tooling around with my GoTo in the hand control’s “Constellation” menu item, which will bring up notable objects (NGC, IC, Messier and 2x stars) in a given constellation. Under “Double Stars” for CanMajor, the SE8 database gave the designation “CanMaj 145,” so I’ll always think of it that way. Many prefer the Herschel designation, h3945. And Sue French points out the definitive designation is Canis Majoris G 145, “which indicates it’s from the 1879 Uranometria Argentina by Benjamin Apthrop Gould.”

In any event, I was stunned when it came into view in Petersham, MA right at the beginning of winter/end of fall. For my report, I’m using an observation in January from Florida – the first apparition was when the double star was so low it (and the Trapezium) was so low it was boiling in the atomosphere – quite beautifully, I must say. Anyhow, in January the object was high in the southern sky with a stable sky and was beautiful. I think of it as being the state colors of Massachusetts, plus some orange (for the primary) and some purple (for the secondary). I did my usual (sadly) ballpoint pen sketch, because that night I had limited time and a long agenda. Then on Cape Cod in February, I tried a color sketch just for fun. I was not too pleased with the result, but the process is interesting and pleasing. Once I have observed all the Messiers (two to go, saving M56 for Cherry Springs!) and the “Covington 200” (“Celestial Objects for Modern Telescopes”), I believe I’ll be ready to slooow dooown and give my sketches the practice they deserve. C.S. to all!    Craig Sandler 


Observing notes by Richard Nugent from Massachusetts:

I had never before observed h3945 so, thanks for the February challenge. What a beautiful double star! I have been observing it over the last month through telescopes ranging from my 10-inch,  Joe Henry’s 16-inch, Steve Clougherty’s 18-inch and my 20-inch scope.

I saw the stars as burnt orange and pale blue. The companion blue star’s color seemed muted through the 20-inch, but was more pronounced with the 9-inch aperture mask in place. My favorite view came last Sunday evening through the 10-inch at 50x and good seeing. The colors were quite dazzling! I’ll add this to my list of star party objects…h3945 offers the “Wow!” we always hope for. Thanks again!   Richard Nugent


Observing notes by Chris Elledge from Massachusetts: 

I was able to split h3945 with 15×70 binoculars tonight (February27th) after my difficulty yesterday with the stars low on the horizon and my not wearing contacts. With the stars higher in the sky and my astigmatism corrected, it wasn’t difficult thanks to their distinct colors. I would describe the primary to be orange and the companion pale blue.   Chris Elledge


Observing notes by Sharon Mullaney from Delaware: 

Date:  February 20, 2017
Observer:  Sharon Mullaney
Object:  Double Star h3945
Seeing:  Very Good
Telescope: 5-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain
Magnification:  50x

A stunning double star – brilliant in color. I saw the primary as bright yellow and the companion as lavender blue. The companion definitely had a purplish hue,
even after checking back in on this double a few times over the next hour. It was a great night to observe!   Sharon Mullaney


Observing notes by John Goss from Virginia:

The skies in southwest Virginia were near perfect last night. So, not wanting to waste such a rare opportunity, I tried my luck with a few objects, primarily h 3945. My equipment was an 8-inch reflector f/4 reflector and the eyepiece was a 24 mm, giving 32 x. It was easy to find as it is a straight shot from epsilon through delta Canis Majoris. The brighter component appeared orange-gold. The other one was what I would call a “Carolina Blue.” UNC fans know the shade well.

Yes, h 3945 should be on anyone’s top ten multiple star list. It is well worth any observer’s time, even if he or she doesn’t particularly fancy double stars.

John Jardine Goss
Astronomical League President


Observing notes by Glenn Chaple from Massachusetts:

I just returned inside after having made a few small-scope observations of h3945. I studied this beautiful pair with a 60mm f/11 refractor and a 114mm f/8 reflector. Finding h3945 was a simple matter of pointing each scope at an area defined by a line traced from omicron-1 CMa through omicron-2 CMa and extended an equal distance beyond. Experimenting with different eyepieces, I found that h3945 was best split (not too close, not too widely separated) by magnifications between 35X and 50X. The golden yellow color of the primary was obvious in the 60mm scope; the bluish hue of the companion wasn’t as apparent. The colors were more vivid in the reflector, with the primary sporting a rich golden-yellow color, the secondary a soft blue tint. This is definitely a showpiece double!   Glenn Chaple


Observing notes by Joseph Rothchild from Massachusetts:

I observed the Winter Albireo tonight with a 6″ f/5 reflector at 53x. The primary appeared copper and the secondary a pale blue.   Joseph Rothchild 


Observing notes by Sameer S. Bharadwaj from Massachusetts: 

I used my 60mm refractor at 30x and then barlowed it to 84x.

Not difficult to find using Sirius, Adhara and Wezen. About the same distance on the other side of Wezen as Adhara. Was at about 24 degrees altitude when I saw it between 7:30 and 8 pm local EST.

Could clearly see a warm orange and cyan blue well separated. The colors are indeed pretty and the contrast is good.   Sameer S. Bharadwaj 





NGC 1545 – Open Cluster in Perseus – Beautiful and Colorful Triple Star in the Central Region

January 13, 2017

January Observers Challenge Report:  january-2017-observers-challenge-ngc-1545-1

NGC 1545 – Open Cluster; Perseus; Mag. 6.2; Size 12′ – “Near the center of this cluster 6 cm shows a pretty 2′.5 triangle pointing SW, formed by blue, orange, and yellow stars (moving clockwise from the SW apex). In 30 cm about 35 stars are visible in an 18′ area.” Skiff & Luginbuhl  “Observing Handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects” 

Pencil sketch using an 5 x 8 notecard with colors inverted:


Image provided by Mario Motta from Massachusetts, using an 8-inch RC telescope.  


The following image by James Dire of Hawaii:

My first image here is of both NGC-1545 and NGC-1528 taken with a 70mm (2-3/4-inch) f/4.8 APO using an SBIG STF-8300C CCD camera. The field of view is approximately 1.5° from left to right. I have circled and labeled the two star clusters. The brightest star in the image is b Persei, a foreground star 318 light-years away.   James Dire