The Observer’s Challenge
The purpose of the observer’s challenge is to encourage the pursuit of visual observing. It is open to everyone that is interested, and if you are able to contribute notes, drawings, or photographs, we will be happy to include them in our monthly summary. Observing is not only a pleasure, but an art. With the main focus of amateur astronomy on astrophotography, many times people tend to forget how it was in the days before cameras, clock drives, and GOTO. Astronomy depended on what was seen through the eyepiece. Not only did it satisfy an innate curiosity, but it allowed the first astronomers to discover the beauty and the wonderment of the night sky.
Before photography, all observations depended on what the astronomer saw in the eyepiece, and how they recorded their observations. This was done through notes and drawings and that is the tradition we are stressing in the observers challenge. By combining our visual observations with our drawings, and sometimes, astrophotography (from those with the equipment and talent to do so), we get a unique understanding of what it is like to look through an eyepiece, and to see what is really there. The hope is that you will read through these notes and become inspired to take more time at the eyepiece studying each object, and looking for those subtle details that you might never have noticed before. Each new discovery increases one’s appreciation of the skies above us. It is our firm belief that careful observing can improve your visual acuity to a much higher level that just might allow you to add inches to your telescope. Please consider this at your next observing session, as you can learn to make details jump out. It is also a thrill to point out details a new observer wouldn’t even know to look for in that very faint galaxy, star cluster, nebula, or planet.
A word about the editing: When we started these back in 2009, I was a hard-core technical writer and I abhorred the use of first person. In technical writing, that is usually a big nono and I took these challenge writeups to be in the technical nature. When our contributors would submit their material, I’d convert all their first person information to third person narrative. Sometimes it would present challenges to make the phrasing less awkward, but I made it work. However, when Rob would present it on the web site, he’d convert them back to first person! After a few years of this, he finally convinced me to go with first person since these were the words of the contributors and not simply dry technical descriptions. Roger, my partner in crime was neutral but saw it both ways and it was up to me to make any changes. I finally relented and realized that though it went against everything I knew about technical writing, these challenges aren’t technical papers! A lot of that stemmed from when we used to quote references in each challenge. We since realized that references were not only unnecessary, but opened us up to legal and copywrite issues. So in each of the challenges below, I’ve not only converted all of the older challenges to first person, I’ve deleted all of the references.
Secondly, you will notice there are no brand names mentioned with few notable exceptions. That’s where I draw the line and refuse to budge. The last thing I wanted to do was turn the Challenge into a TeleVue or Brandon or Zambuto or Meade love fest or product indorsement. There’s enough of that nonsense out there already. I’m also hypersensitive to one particular brand and don’t want to perpetuate that any more than it is already. You can read more about that on my Astronomy page if you care. Equipment brings out the “passionate” people, the politically correct term. I have a less polite word for it, but won’t mention it here. If you want to see what I’m talking about, just go to the Equipment forum on Cloudy Nights and you’ll soon figure out what I’m talking about. For that matter, just look at most of the Deep Sky Observing threads at Cloudy Nights and you’ll see brand names liberally sprinkled throughout almost every entry. That’s not the purpose of this project and never will be. I’ve done my best to edit all of that out. What you get is the size and type of telescope, the length and magnification of eyepiece (if available), and that’s it. I’ve had to compromise with the camera equipment simply because I don’t know enough about it to generalize. Until I do, the model and brands stay in there. In that case, the camera equipment doesn’t usually lead to the crazy arguments caused by other brand names anyway, as far as I know. The Challenge is about observing, not equipment!
The main forum for the Observer’s Challenge is on the Las Vegas Astronomical Society web page at http://www.lvastronomy.com/. However, I’m also presenting it here as an alternative location, cross-pollination so to speak. It’s also available on Roger Ivester’s web site at http://rogerivester.com/.
The Challenges, as presented here and on Roger’s site, are in a slightly different format than what you see on the LVAS site. Rob Lambert has edited them down to his personal preferences and for web expediency for the LVAS site. He used to plug them in as HTML. Now as .pdf versions, he’s compressed them and deleted repeat information. What you get here are the full versions. Each is a stand-alone file so that no matter where you jump into the challenge, you know what’s going on. I’ve also not compressed the images as much (except the images of the contributors) so you can see them better.
They’re presented below in .pdf format. Just click on each one to download it.
THE OBSERVER’S CHALLENGE
OBJECT LIST FOR 2016
December: M74 – Spiral Galaxy; Pisces; Mag. 9.4; Size: 10’ – “This is a difficult galaxy for the 4-inch (Unitron f/15 refractor) but it is easily seen in the 10 x 40 finder” John Mallas “The Messier Album” RA: 01h 36.7m Dec. +15º 47m
OBJECT LIST FOR 2017
January: NGC-1545 – Open Cluster; Perseus; Mag. 6.2; Size 12′ – “Near the center of this cluster 6cm shows a pretty 2′.5 triangle pointing SW, formed by blue, orange, and yellow stars (moving clockwise from the SW apex). In 30cm about 35 stars are visible in an 18′ area.” Skiff & Luginbuhl: Observing Handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects.
RA: 04h 20.9m Dec. +50º 15′
February: Winter Albireo – Double Star; 5.0/5.8; Sep. 27″ – Identification is h3945 from the John Herschel catalog. The lower case h represents John, and capital H is for William Herschel. Orange and Blue -“Largely unknown and unobserved….a pity” James Mullany and Will Tirion: The Cambridge Double Star Atlas.
RA: 07h 17m Dec. -23º 19′
March: M67 – NGC 2682 – Open Cluster – Cancer – Mag. 7.0; Size 30′ – “An easy cluster to resolve. In the 4-inch, the star hues of M67 are predominantly rust, orange, gold and yellow.” John Mallas with Evered Kreimer: The Messier Album.
RA: 08h 50.4m Dec: +11º 49′
April: NGC-3245 – Galaxy – Leo Minor; Mag. 11.8; Size 2′ x 1′ – “Bright oblong with much brighter center and stellar core: 1º to NNE is galaxy NGC-3254…” Tom Lorenzin: 1000+ The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing.
RA: 10h 27.3 Dec. +28º 30′
May: M98 – NGC-4192 – Galaxy – Coma Berenices – Mag. 10.0; Size 7′ x 5′ – “In the 4-inch refractor, M98 is grainy and mottled like a globular cluster, but with some bright knots superimposed.” John Mallas with Evered Kreimer: The Messier Album.
RA: 12h 13.8m Dec. +14º 54′
June: 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′
July: M14 – NGC-6402 – Globular Cluster – Ophiuchus – Mag. 7.6; Size 12′ – “M14 has a nearly circular form in the 4-inch. The central two-thirds of the visual image is bright, but toward the outer edges the light fades rapidly. Some graininess was noticed at moments of steady seeing, giving the impression that a little more optical power would show some stars.” John Mallas with Evered Kreimer: The Messier Album.
RA: 17h 44.9m Dec. -03º 15′
August: M24 – NGC-6603 – Star Cloud – Sagittarius – Size 1º x 2º – “In the 4-inch, is a compact glow, containing stars forming a “V.” There are beautiful star fields in this area.” John Mallas with Evered Kreimer: The Messier Album.
“A faint but very rich rich group…but not easy to detect in any aperture smaller than 8-inches. Suspended in front of M24 is B92, one of the most prominent dark nebula in the sky.” James Mullaney: Celestial Harvest.
RA: 18h 17.0m Dec. -18° 36′
September: NGC-6905 – Planetary Nebula – “Blue Flash Nebula” – Delphinus – Mag. 12; Size 42″ x 35″ with mag. 14.2 central star – “An unusual and overlooked planetary nebula, visible in a 5-inch and a fascinating sight in a 10-inch or larger scope. Lies near the Delphinus-Sagittarius border in a rich Milky Way field.” James Mullaney: Celestial Harvest.
RA: 18h 17m Dec. -18º 36′
October: NGC-7635 – “Bubble Nebula” Emission Nebula – Cassiopeia – “Associated with mag. 8 star, 8′ x 15′ extent, larger aperture and N-filter show detail, just 30′ SW of M52.” Tom Lorenzin: 1000+ The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing.
RA: 23h 20.7m Dec. +61º 12′
November: NGC-772 – Galaxy – Aries – Mag. 12; Size 7.1′ x 4.5′ – “This galaxy is visible in 15 cm. It has a small intense core and a stellar nucleus.” Skiff & Luginbuhl: Observing Handbook and Catalogue of Deep-Sky Objects.
RA: 01h 59m Dec. +19º 00′
December: NGC-925 – Galaxy – Triangulum – (Mag. V 10.0 – sfc. br. 13.0) Size 9’8 x 6′.0′ – “This galaxy is faintly visible in 6 cm, which shows a small, round core and a halo seemingly elongated N-S, though larger apertures show that this impression is caused by some faint associated stars.” Skiff & Luginbuhl: Observing Handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects.
RA: 02h 27m Dec. +33º 34′