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.

NGC 1893 Open Cluster + IC 410 Emission Nebula – February 2021 Observer’s Challenge Report – Auriga #145

Posted February 5, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports


Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina


Sue French, New York

February 2021

Report #145

IC 1893 and IC 410, Cluster and Emission Nebula in Auriga

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

John Herschel discovered the open cluster IC 1893 in 1827 with the 18¼-inch reflector at Slough in Buckinghamshire, England. His handwritten journal reads: “Rich, coarse, scattered and straggling. It more than fills the field. The stars are 9…15 magnitude.”  The engulfing nebula, IC 410, wasn’t discovered until 1892, when Max Wolf found some new extended nebulae on photographic plates taken with a 6-inch Voigtländer portrait lens. My paraphrased translation of the pertinent section of his discovery says: The ribbon-rich nebula shown on the plates around the star cluster surrounds the star BD+33 1023 [HD 242908] should also be new. It largely encloses the whole group.

The nebula is roughly 11,000 to 12,000 light-years distant, and the adolescent cluster within it is at least 4-million years old.

Complete Report: February 2021 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE _NGC 1893 and IC 410

IC 348 – Open Star Cluster Plus Nebula – Perseus – January 2021 Observer’s Challenge Report #144

Posted January 2, 2021 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports

Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina 


Sue French, New York

January 2021

Report #144

IC 348 – Cluster plus Nebula in Perseus

Sharing Observations and Bringing Amateur Astronomers Together

This month’s target

During his term as the first director of Dearborn Observatory, Truman Henry Safford discovered IC 348 on December 1, 1866, with the observatory’s 18.5-inch refractor. Safford published his observation in a table of objects found at Dearborn in the years 1866–1868. The table uses the alphabet-soup notation common to the era, which decrypted means: very large, very gradually brighter in the middle, pretty bright. Additionally, a note below that section of the table describes the object as “A loose cluster with nebula.” The combo appeared in the First Index Catalogue.

IC 348 has the dubious honor of bearing two IC designations. Edward Emerson Barnard independently discovered the nebula in 1893, and it was placed in the Second Index Calalogue as IC 1985, without anyone tumbling to the fact that it was already in the previous IC catalog. Unlike Safford, Barnard didn’t note the existence of the cluster within the nebula. 

IC 348 is thought to be roughly 1000 light-years away and a youthful 2–3 million years old. It holds about 500 stars, with brightest being hot, blue-white stars on the main sequence. The cluster’s visual magnitude is 7.3. By Sue French


Mario Motta: Observer from Massachusetts

This is 90 min, about 30 mins each Red/green/blue through the 32-inch scope, asi6200 camerainteresting in that I thought was mostly a reflection nebula, but the nebula is both red and some blue, so must be both reflection and some emission.

Roger Ivester: Observer from North Carolina

IC 348, open cluster in Perseus enveloped with nebulosity:  

Just to the south of bright star Omicron Persei (apparent visual magnitude 3.8) lies the sparse and scattered open cluster IC 348, which contains about 10 mostly dim stars.   

M76 – Planetary Nebula in Perseus – December 2020 Observer’s Challenge Report: #143

Posted November 29, 2020 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports

Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina 


Sue French, New York

December 2020

Report #143

M76, Planetary Nebula in Perseus

Sharing Observations and Bringing Amateur Astronomers Together






NGC 278 – Galaxy in Cassiopeia – November 2020 Observers Challenge: #142

Posted November 15, 2020 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports

Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina 


Sue French, New York

November 2020

Report #142

NGC 278, Galaxy in Cassiopeia

Complete report: Click on the following link


Reiland 1: Obscure Cluster Plus Nebula in Cepheus

Posted October 18, 2020 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

Earlier this year (Spring 2020) I was communicating with Tom Reiland of Pennsylvania. Tom was recently a recipient of the Astronomical League, Leslie Peltier award, and a lifelong amateur. He mentioned to me about a cluster in Cepheus which he discovered back in the 80’s, and was given the name, Reiland 1.

Right Ascension: 23h 04m.8″ Declination: +60º 05

The following image provided by Mario Motta from Massachusetts: 32-inch Reflector; 40 mins asi6200 camera

The following images Provided by James Dire of Illinois: 8-inch f/8 Ritchey-Chretien telescope with a 0.8x FR/FF and a SBIG ST-2000XCM camera. Exposure 60 minutes

An excellent report by Mike McCabe from Massachusetts: Click on the above link.

October 2020 New Moon In Jordan by Anas Sawallha: 19 Hours 36 Minutes and Also the Last Crescent Moon of June 2021

Posted October 18, 2020 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

I was happy to have received an email (September 17th) from my astronomy friend in Jordan, Anas Sawallha with this 19 hour 36 minute new moon photo. Thank you Anas.

Supplemental: June 9th 2021

I’d would like to share with you the photo I took of the last crescent of shawwal taken during daytime with CCD camera.

Date: June 9th @ 8:30 AM local Jordan time…

Anas Sawallha

NGC 7332/7339 Galaxy Pair in Pegasus: October 2020 Observer’s Challenge Report #141

Posted October 15, 2020 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports

Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina 


Sue French, New York

October 2020

To view the complete report: Click on the following link…


The Deer Lick Galaxy Group and Deerlick Gap Overlook, Little Switzerland, North Carolina

Posted October 6, 2020 by rogerivester
Categories: Roger's Articles

We had an incredibly beautiful day yesterday (October 5th, 2020) so Deb and I (and Sophie too) decided on a trip to Mount Mitchell (North Carolina) which is the highest peak, east of the Mississippi…@ 6,684 ft. 

When coming back down the mountain to eat dinner with friends (Mike & Rhonda and their Dachshund, Peta) in Little Switzerland, we stopped at the Deerlick Gap Overlook.  

I have always considered this a “very famous” location for amateur astronomers, and professionals alike.

The “Deer Lick Galaxy Cluster” in Pegasus:

Finally the “definitive” story of how the name came about:

It has nothing to do with the appearance of the galaxies, but from the location where they were observed from…on one special night, in the early 80’s by the late Tom Lorenzin.

So here is the story:

Friend and amateur astronomer (author of 1000+ The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing) the late Tom Lorenzin was observing from this overlook, with a few others from the Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club.  

Tom was observing galaxy NGC 7331 in Pegasus, and on that night of  exceptional seeing and transparency, he made the following notes, taken from 1000+ of a very faint galaxy cluster, to the east of NGC 7331. 

NGC 7331: 10.4M; 10′ x 2.5′ extent; bright and much elongated edge-on spiral with stellar nucleus; axis oriented NNW-SSE; the Deer Lick group, a very faint triangle of 14+M GALs (N7335,6,40) is a few minutes E and a little N; “STEPHAN’S QUINTET” (soft glow of five very faint and distant GAL’s) is 30′ due S; good supernova prospect

From this extraordinary night this galaxy cluster, observed from the “Deerlick Gap Overlook” and Tom coined the name “The Deer Lick group” which stuck, and is known by both professional and amateur astronomers throughout the country and the world, as such.

A wide-field snapshot (below) from of the “Deer Lick galaxy group” and Stephan’s Quintet (compact galaxy cluster) to the south, at the bottom.

The large galaxy is NGC 7331, and the “Deer Lick Group” of galaxies are the small and very faint, mostly round galaxies to the east, or to the left of NGC 7331. A difficult group, best suited for larger amateur telescopes.

On excellent nights (NELM 5.2) using my 10-inch reflector from my moderately light polluted back yard, I can see the brightest member of the group, NGC 7335, requiring averted vision, but cannot hold constantly.

Stephan’s Quintet, the compact galaxy cluster is shown in the opening of the 1946 Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” so be looking for it this year.

The following image provided by Mario Motta from Massachusetts using a 32-inch telescope of NGC 7331 and the very faint “Deer Lick Galaxy Cluster” to the E. North is up in this photo and W is to the right.

Mount Mitchell, not too far from Deerlick Gap Overlook

Grave of Elisha Mitchell (1793-1857) Scientist and professor. Died in an attempt to prove this mountain was the highest in the eastern United States