Autumn Telescopic Wonders

© 1998 by Robert C. Moler

Note: Planet information was for October 1998

Two months ago Judy and I bought a telescope from Enerdyne. Officially it's Judy's telescope and is a Celestron 11 inch Star Hopper Dobsonian. After over 20 years of relying on the telescopes at the Lanphier and Rogers observatories, we felt the need again for a personal backyard telescope. This was also brought home by the appearance of the comets Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp in the past two years.

Though large in diameter, the telescope has a focal length of 49.5 inches, much closer to the telescopes I've made and used in the past, and a third of the C14s at the observatories. So the scope gives bright low power views of galaxies and nebulae. The diameter allows the resolution of some globular clusters. I was also quite pleasantly surprised at the scope's ability to see detail on Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter's Great Red (currently a pale pink) Spot and on Saturn: a cloud band, ring shadows and Cassini's Division.

By the way Jupiter's Great Red Spot will be crossing the central meridian on these early October dates and times 1, 1:34 a.m., 9:25 p.m.; 3, 3:12 a.m., 11:03 p.m.; 5, 4:50 a.m., 8:41 p.m.; 7, 6:28 a.m.; 8, 2:19 a.m., 10:11 p.m.; 10, 3:57 a.m. It's best seen within an hour of these times. The source of this information was the Sky and Telescope Web Page.

Recently I surveyed the dim wonders of the autumn sky beyond the solar system. And here are the results:

First the galaxies:

M31, M32 and M110 Better known as the Andromeda Galaxy and its companion galaxies, the view is made to order for the smaller telescope. M31's glowing nucleus spans the eyepiece field. The galaxy is larger than out own and lies at a distance of a bit more than 2 million light years. The brightness falls off sharply along the north side of it's elliptical minor axis. The nearly spherical M32 is seen nearby, while the faint elliptical galaxy M110 is barely visible on the other side of M31. I used to know M110 only as NGC205.

M33 The Triangulum galaxy is seen nearby off the point Triangulum is about as close as M31, but smaller than M31 with a small nucleus and large faint disk. It has a very low surface brightness and requires a dark sky.

M74 Is located in Pisces near Aries. It is a face-on galaxy like M33 but a lot smaller and fainter. I saw no central condensation.

M77 is a different story, a galaxy with a bright nucleus. M77 is located is Cetus located just below the head of the monster or tail of the whale, however you see him.

Globular star clusters:

M15 is a globular cluster found by extending the nose of Pegasus. The 11 inch telescope could resolve the cluster's outer stars. It was a smaller, dimmer version of M13, the grand globular in Hercules.

M2 is a more distant globular located due south of M15 and at an equal declination as Alpha Aquarii or Sadal Melik. It earns its inclusion as Messier's object number 2, for it looks for all the world like a tailless comet. On a second look at it the 11 inch could resolve a few stars.

M30 seems the same size as M2 and located farther south just right of the star Zeta Capricorni. However the 11 inch can resolve a handful of its brighter stars.

As we move outward from the galactic center in Sagittarius the globular clusters thin out dramatically. The next Messier globular is located in Lepus the hare below Orion a winter constellation.

Open or galactic clusters:

M34 is a large but sparse open or galactic star cluster located just west of the star Algol in Perseus.

M103 is a faint triangular shaped cluster located just east of the star Delta Casseopeiae. The triangular arrangement of its stars reminds me of of a smaller version of the Beehive Cluster (M44) in Cancer.

M52 is a faint but populous cluster located between Casseopeia and Cepheus.

The Double Cluster is a great view in a low power eyepiece. The two clusters do not have Messier designations. But they do have NGC numbers: 869 and 884. NGC is the "New General Catalog" and is not so new. It's about 100 years old.

M45 or the Pleiades is best seen in a pair of binoculars. Also known as the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades is close as star clusters go at 400 light years.

The Hyades in the face of Taurus the Bull is the closest star cluster of all at about 130 light years. Sparse and big, it is almost too large to view in a pair of binoculars. The Hyades is the key to finding distances to the ends of the universe. It is close enough to get good parallax data for triangulation. Its many stars of known brightness and distance can be matched to other star clusters to ascertain their distances.

M76 is the only planetary nebula in our group. Called the Little Dumbbell Nebula or the Barbell Nebula, it has a shape of one of those Milk Bone dog biscuits.

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Updated: 10/04/00