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The Observer’s Challenge

The purpose of the observer’s challenge is to encourage the pursuit of visual observing.  It’s open to everyone that’s interested, and if you’re able to contribute notes, drawings, or photographs, we’ll be happy to include them in our monthly summary.  Observing isn’t 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’s the tradition we’re 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’s like to look through an eyepiece, and to see what’s really there.  The hope is that you’ll 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’s 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’s 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’s 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 Lambert 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.

Second is passivity. I will not allow passive writing. A lot of amateur astronomers write in passive voice. Whenever I receive input, I often have to convert passive and telling voice into active. This is a pet peeve.

Third, you’ll 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 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

FEBRUARY 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE M-1

MARCH 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE NGC-2403

SPRING 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE SUPPLEMENTAL – VIRGO DIAMOND

APRIL 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – MARKHARIANS CHAIN

MAY 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – LEO TRIO

JUNE 2009 MONTHLY OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-13

JULY 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-27

AUGUST 2009 MONTHLY OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-002

SEPTEMBER 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE NGC-7293

OCTOBER 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-253

NOVEMBER 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-891

DECEMBER 2009 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-474

JANUARY 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2264

FEBRUARY 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2903 and SUPPLEMENTAL

MARCH 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – IC-405 IC-410 NGC 1893a

SPRING 2010 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-51

APRIL 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-4889

MAY 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-4631

JUNE 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-5907

SUMMER 2010 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6826

JULY 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6543

AUGUST 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-188

SEPTEMBER 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-7331

OCTOBER 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6888

NOVEMBER 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – IC-342

DECEMBER 2010 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-77

JANUARY 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-1333

FEBRUARY 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2261

MARCH 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2419

APRIL 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-3190

MAY 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-97

JUNE 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-102

JULY 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6645

AUGUST 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6819

SEPTEMBER 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6946

OCTOBER 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-7380

NOVEMBER 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-281

DECEMBER 2011 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-33

JANUARY 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-1502

FEBRUARY 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – THETA ORIONIS

MARCH 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2362

APRIL 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-3115

MAY 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-64

JUNE 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-5353

JULY 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-17

AUGUST 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-22

SEPTEMBER 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6826

OCTOBER 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-7023

NOVEMBER 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-55

DECEMBER 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-457

JANUARY 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-1579

FEBRUARY 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – MEL-71

MARCH 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-46 NGC-2438

APRIL 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2672

 MAY 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – PORRIMA

JUNE 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-5466

AUGUST 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6791

SEPTEMBER 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-7044

OCTOBER 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – IC-5146

NOVEMBER 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – IC-1747

DECEMBER 2013 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-40

JANUARY 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-1491

FEBRUARY 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-1664

MARCH 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2359

APRIL 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-3893-3896

MAY 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC- 4284 – 4290

JUNE 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-53 NGC – 5053

JULY 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-101 NGC 5457

AUGUST 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6822

SEPTEMBER 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-030

OCTOBER 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-7640

NOVEMBER 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-0404

DECEMBER 2014 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-0672

JANUARY 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-1569

FEBRUARY 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2158

MARCH 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2683

APRIL 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-3184

MAY 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-4244

JUNE 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-083

JULY 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6503

AUGUST 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-016

SEPTEMBER 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-7000

OCTOBER 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-7128

NOVEMBER 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-7789

DECEMBER 2015 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-1023

JANUARY 2016 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-078

FEBRUARY 2016 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2237

MARCH 2012 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-2362

APRIL 2016 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-3077

MAY 2016 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-100

JUNE 2016 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-005

JULY 2016 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-092

AUGUST-2016-OBSERVERS-CHALLENGE-CHAPLES-ARC

SEPTEMBER-2016-OBSERVERS-CHALLENGE-NGC-7009

OCTOBER-2016-OBSERVERS-CHALLENGE-NGC-7479

NOVEMBER-2016-OBSERVERS-CHALLENGE-NGC-0206

DECEMBER-2016-OBSERVERS-CHALLENGE-M-74

JANUARY-2017-OBSERVERS-CHALLENGE-NGC-1545

FEBRUARY 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – WINTER ALBIREO

MARCH 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-067

APRIL 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-3395-96

MAY 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-098

JUNE 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6015

JULY 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-014

AUGUST 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-024

SEPTEMBER 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-6905

OCTOBER 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – M-015

NOVEMBER 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-0772

DECEMBER 2017 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-0925

JANUARY 2018 OBSERVERS CHALLENGE – NGC-1624

 OBJECT LIST FOR 2018    

February:  M41 – Open Cluster – Canis Major – Mag. 4.5; Size 39′ – The famous red star at the center of the cluster has a visual magnitude of 6.9 and a K3 spectrum.  Mallas The Messier Album. A grand view in the Mallas 4-inch refractor, and indeed one of the finest open clusters for very small apertures.  The brightest members form a butterfly pattern, but the cluster as a whole is circular, with little concentration.  The 4-inch shows the Espin star as plainly reddish.   John Mallas  The Messier Album. Red star near center shows clearly.  A lovely site in a 4-inch at 45x.  Visible to the unaided eye on a dark, moonless night.   James Mullaney  Celestial Harvest. M41 has always been one of my favorite deep-sky objects.  Over the years, on many nights, I would take a pair of binoculars outside, just to look at this beautiful cluster.  However, needing a small telescope to see the famous Espin star.  I would also look at other bright deep-sky objects, including the double cluster, the Andromeda galaxy and others during the winter.  I have my favorite bright spring and summer objects also.  This might be some akin to the following quote by Peltier.   Roger Ivester. “Were I to write out one prescription designed to alleviate at least some of the self-made miseries of mankind, it would read like this: “One gentle dose of starlight to be taken each clear night just before retiring.”  Leslie Peltier 

RA:  06h 46.1m    Dec.  -20º 46′

March:  NGC 2371/2 – Double Planetary – Gemini – Mag. 11.2 – My little refractor (105 mm) at 87x shows a small oblong oblong nebula nebula.  At 174x, I can distinguish the lobes, the southwestern one being brighter.  In my 10-inch reflector at 166x, each half grows brighter toward an off-center patch, and the southwestern lobe holds a starlike-spot.  Adding an O-III filter makes this spot stand out much better indicating that it’s not a star but, rather, a tiny intense knot in the nebula.  At 213x without a filter, I see faint haze between the lobes and in a thin envelope around them. The 14.8-magnitude central star that is nestled between the main lobes has been glimpsed through 11-inch and larger scopes at high magnification without a filter.  Sue French   Deep Sky Wonder’s  A Tour of the Universe

RA:  07h 25.6m    Dec.  +29º 29′ 

April:  M81/82 –  Galaxy Pair – Ursa Major – In a 4-inch telescope at low power, M81 appears as a bright oval haze without detail and M82 shows a slim grey needle of uniform light.  An 8-inch scope with high power reveals a huge low-surface-brightness halo of nebulosity around M81 and dusty patches crossing M82’s sharp surface.  M82 shows a highly condensed nucleus at high power.   David J. Eicher  The Universe from Your Backyard  A guide to Deep-Sky Objects from Astronomy Magazine

M81:  RA: 09h 55.6m    Dec.  +69º 04′  M82:  RA: 09h 55.9m    Dec.  +69º 41′

May:  NGC 4236 – Galaxy – Draco – Mag. 9.6 – In my semi-rural skies, I notice NGC 4236 easily through my 105mm refractor at 47x.  It’s oval form leans north-north-west and is sheltered by a distinctive pattern of stars that helps pinpoint it’s exact position.  NGC 4236 appears large in our sky because it’s relatively nearby….only 14 million light-years away.   Sue French  Deep-Sky Wonders. 10.7M; 22′ x  5′ extent; diffuse, N-S oriented slash; very large!  best seen at 50x in wide field….  Tom Lorenzin  The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing 

RA:  12h 16.7m    Dec.  +69º 28′

June:  M51 (NGC 5194) and NGC 5195 – Interacting Galaxies – Canes Venatici – Mag. 8.4/9.6 – 8.1M; 11′ x 8′ extent, “Whirlpool”!  Large, round spiral with stellar nucleus; spiral arms readily visible with 8-inch, and larger aperture; 12M star just S of nucleus; IRR Gal NGC 5195 (11M; 2′ x 15′ extent) satellite system of M51 due N at the end of very soft NE-side filaments.   Tom Lorenzin  The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing 

RA:  13h 29.9m    Dec.  +47º 14′ 

July:  M4 – Globular Cluster – Scorpius – Mag. 5.6 – A faint spot to the naked eye, Messier 4 appears as a broad and weakly concentrated glow in 6 cm.  At 75x the irregular core sparkles with a few stars, the brightest ones lying on the S side.   Skiff and Lunginbuhl  Observing Handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects. Near Antares are three fine globulars, one of which is exceptional.  M4 is one of the most easily resolved such clusters in small telescopes because of its large diameter of 23′ and loose, unconcentrated structure.  On nights of fine transparency, a good 4-inch telescope at high power can resolve the entire face of the group into pinpoint multitudes of stars.   David J. Eicher  The Universe from Your Backyard  A guide to Deep-Sky Objects from Astronomy Magazine. Centrally resolved in 6-inch and larger apertures, which show faint stars in apparent chains and give the impression of dark lanes crossing the cluster.   James Mullaney  Celestial Harvest 

RA:  16h 23.6m    Dec.  -26º 32′

August:  IC 1295 – Planetary Nebula – Scutum – Although IC 1295 is fairly large, it has a low surface brightness.  The planetary is tough to spot through my little refractor at low power, but I can keep its faint, round, uniform glow steadily in view at 87x with averted vision.  My 10-inch reflector at 219x uncovers a faint star embedded in the southeastern edge of the nebula. Adding an O-III filter, I see hints of structure….darker patches within and some brighter patches along the rim.   Sue French  Deep-Sky Wonders. In 25 cm this is a large and diffuse planetary, seeming to lie in front of the rich star field:  two superposed mag. 13.5 stars near the E and W edges to be behind the nebula.  The ghostly blob is a nearly circular, almost uniformly bright glow.  At 200x a faint stellar ring is visible on the NW edge.   Skiff and Lunginbuhl  Observing Handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects

RA:  18h 54.6m    Dec.  -08º 50′ 

September:  NGC 6818 – Planetary Nebula – Sagittarius – Mag. 12.5 – 10M; 22″ x 10″ extent; very small but bright and oblong; Barnard’s Galaxy NGC 6822 45′ to SSE.    Tom Lorenzin  The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing 

RA:  19h 44m    Dec.  -14º 09′  

October:  NGC 7129 – Diffuse Nebula + Open Cluster – Cepheus – Mag. 11.5 – 6 cm shows oc-gn 7129 as two double stars with nebulosity surrounding and N of the northernmost pair.  A few arc minutes NE is gn 7133, which appears as a small, faint patch without stars.  In 25 cm the nebulous cluster has four bright stars and several fainter ones.  The nebula is 4′ x 2′ and has a fairly high surface brightness.  30 cm shows the pair on the S in pa 0º, the pair N in pa 110º.  The nebula is brightest around the eastern star of the northern pair, and a faint companion is suspected near this star.  The nebula is mostly N of this pair, and at least two more stars are involved.  It is about 2′ diameter and irregularly shaped gn 7133 is fainter, extending to only 1′, and has a single star involved on its S side.   Skiff and Lunginbuhl  Observing Handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects

RA:  21h 42m    Dec.  +66º  06′  

November:  NGC 147 – Galaxy – Cassiopeia – Mag. 9.7 – 11.5M; 7′ x 4′ extent; faint blob 1º W and a little N of (galaxy NGC 185)   Tom Lorenzin  The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing. When observing NGC 147, please also attempt galaxy NGC 185, which is a bit brighter than 147.  A faint galaxy pair for sure, even with a 10-inch.  When I first observed both NGC 147 and NGC 185 almost twenty five years ago, I used the photo’s in Burnham’s Celestial Handbook to verify my find.   Roger Ivester

RA:  00h 33.2m    Dec.  +48º 30′  (NGC 147)

RA:  00h 39.0m    Dec.  +48º 20′  (NGC 185) 

December:  NGC 1003 – Galaxy – Perseus – Mag. 11.5; Size 5′ x 2′ – Lying 1′.8 NE of a mag. 10.5 star, this galaxy is easily visible in 15 cm.  The halo is elongated E-W, and exhibits moderate concentration to a small substellar nucleus.  On the NE side of the core, at the edge of the halo, is a mag. 13 star.  Skiff and Lunginbuhl  Observing Handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects

RA:  02h 39.9m    Dec.  +40º 52m 22s 

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