Sunday and Monday nights (18 and 19 June 2023), just days before the summer solstice (21 June), were some of the best skies we have had here in months, following rain Saturday night and a temporary respite from Canada wildfire smoke. I had a Sunday evening meeting so driving to Lewis-Young Park in Louisburg, Kansas did not suit my schedule. Instead, I observed from home Sunday night and then met ASKC friends Dave Hudgins and Bill Barlow at Lewis-Young Park Monday night for a wonderful observing session.
Sunday night I observed some fine binocular doubles in Draco and made a detailed observation of a familiar but often overlooked cluster. More on those in other posts. Oh, and I tried to observe the supernova in M101 and might actually have been able to just see it, but with so few stars visible in the field of view a positive identification was not possible. For me, observing with binocular telescopes, the supernova is more an object for darker skies.
Monday night at Lewis-Young was fantastic, beginning with iconic views of the crescent moon and Venus in the western sky, shown above with an Oberwerk 120XL-SD in the foreground. I did not change eyepieces throughout the evening (though tempted a few times). And observed primarily with four binoculars – the 120XL, Maven b.5 10×56, Nikon 18×70 IF WF, and Kowa 8×32 BD XII (for quick orientation views).
Corvus / Hydra / Centaurus
My first DSO of the evening was the galaxy M 104 near Corvus. Then I had a quick look at the globular cluster M 68 and decided to observe M 83 (another galaxy), which I have not viewed since last year. While getting oriented I identified the bright stars Menkent and Iota Centauri in the constellation Centaurus, which is far to the south from our latitude. I’m not sure I have observed a deep sky object in Centaurus, which would be a lark. I also came across W Hydrae, which was a fantastically fiery red-orange, though it is not a carbon star – it’s an M7e Mira-type variable. I had a fine view of M 83 with 120XL+20XWs (33.5x / 2.09 degree FOV). The galaxy was large and easily seen with an obvious core and a wide, irregular envelope.
I observed the M 101 supernova, which was easily seen from the darker location though not as bright as it was last Tuesday evening (13 June 2023). I had wondered if I might make a sketch of it, but one glance at the rich, complex star field (the transparency was so much better than it has been in months) I dismissed that notion entirely.
Here is a CCD image of the supernova made by Dave Hudgins Monday evening from Lewis-Young Park.
Draco / Canes Venatici / Coma Berenices / Virgo
Perhaps my finest galaxy view of the evening was M 51, in which I observed both cores with a wide envelope and even hints of the spiral arms. I had decided to concentrate on spring galaxies while they were still reasonably well positioned, wracked up quite a few, including M 102 (inspired by a Cloudy Nights friend — Nuge), M 85, and in Virgo M 60, 59, 58, 89, 90, 91, 88, 87, 86, 84, 99, 98, and 100. I navigated through the galaxy cluster with the help of the Sky Atlas 2000 B1 chart, smiling to myself about Stephen O’Meara’s comment that he didn’t really see anything wrong with Messier marathons, though it did rather strike him like running through the Louvre as fast as one could to be able to say one had seen all the pictures. The first time I read that I found it hilariously funny, and I still do.
I somehow overlooked M 49 and may try to spot it from my yard. I’m not sure I’ll make it back to Lewis-Young this year while it is still reasonably positioned for observation.
The ease with which the galaxies could be brought into view was enjoyable and to see them against the foreground starfield considering their vast distances added a lot. Other than basic shape and magnitude, however, not much detail could be seen – none showed the detail of M51, M101, or M 83 for example.
After the Virgo cluster I observed M107, finding and viewing it easily with the 120XL. Then moved up to M 10 and M 12 and was pleased to find many stars were resolved across both globular clusters with the 120XL even at 33.5x with the 20XWs. I look forward to observing them at twice that magnification with the 10s.
I also observed IC 4665, Cr 350, NGC 6633, and IC 4756 with the Nikon 18×70, which were marvelous thanks to the darker sky and generous field. Among the finest views one could wish of them, though I look forward to repeating the observations with the Nikon 10×50 WX, which I imagine will be close to best ever. And also trying them with the Kowa Highlander.
I had an astonishingly beautiful view of M 11 (the Wild Duck cluster) with the 120XL. I was tempted to try a higher magnification eyepiece (the Morpheus 14s or 12.5s) but decided to leave that for another night. The entire cluster was well-resolved even at the lower magnification and the view was captivating. Perhaps the highlight of the observing session, which is saying something.
Lyra / Cygnus / Vulpecula / Sagitta
I wrapped up my session with some favorites among these constellations – Stephenson 1, T Lyrae, M 57, M 56, Albireo, M 27, and M 71. All bright, sharp, and dazzling. I had a look at NGC 6791, which I could just see in averted vision. In a gorgeous, scintillating field. Another object which deserves more magnification. After viewing this ancient cluster, I returned to M 57 for a final look before packing my gear and heading home.