Knardijk, Flevoland, Netherlands – Saturday night May 23th, 2015

Two things are beyond comprehension
three are too hard to grasp
A warrior grieving over one lost battle
after having won ten
A woman feeling bad in front of the mirror
while receiving loads of affirmation from her lover
And a stargazer being upset over missing one object
right after finding a dozen

After a family event in the east of the country I am driving home with my wife and kids. After a couple of days of rather unstable weather this would be the last opportunity to go stargazing before the moon takes over the night sky again. Therefore a lot of posting is going on at the forum concerning go or no go. The skies are currently filled with veil clouds but to the northwest the sky seems to be clearing up.
Once I arrive home I decide to take a chance on going. Most of the people I attend star parties with are either unable to go or unwilling to take the risk, given the weather conditions. However, one lady, whom I shall call Caroline (not her actual name) is willing to join me.

We both prefer to go to Closure Dike in the north of the country, far from the light polluted urban area that most of our country is, and having a free view of the southern horizon. However, since forecasts are not favorable for the north, we decide to choose a more southern location, in the middle of a rural area called Flevoland. Thus we seize the last opportunity this month, just in time.
As I am loading my scope and stuff into the car, my loving wife asks herself out loud how I can still have the energy for a night of star gazing after a day like this, and rightly so. After all, why am I doing this? What is my drive to go drive to a remote place without driving myself nuts? This is a peculiar hobby after all.

A few moments later I find myself on the road heading for another night of exploration of the skies. As the latest U2 album is playing I reflect on two people who are devout fans of the band, my best friend and my wife. While pondering about how they helped me take the right turn in life quite a few times, I find myself taking the wrong turn, having my navigation system’s display zoomed out too far. One should not be dreaming while driving. After making a U-turn at the next roundabout I am back on track and it is not long until I arrive at our observing location. While I am still unloading my car, my sister in arms arrives. Before long, both my 10” GSO and Caroline’s 12” Meade Lightbridge are ready for battle.

While Helios still casts a reddish glow over the western horizon and Selena bathes the treetops in her silverish light, Aphrodite is still high up. Unfortunately, the veil clouds turn out to be more stubborn than we had hoped for. Although the cloud bands make an awesome picture in Caroline’s camera, most of the sky remains shrouded in mystery. Between two bands though, the constellation of Lyra is clearly visible so my first target is the globular cluster M56 between Vega and Albireo. This is my first sight of the object and it appears to me as a fine cluster accompanied by quite a few neighboring stars. In spite of the weather conditions I am struck by the multitude of razor sharp background stars my scope is able to extract from the Milky Way. Besides M56, both my illustrious companion and I aim for a shot at the nearby Ring Nebula M57, both using our OIII filter. In both Dobs, Gandalf’s Smoke Ring displays itself as a beautiful, slightly ovally-shaped nebula.

Since the clouds are too heavy at the moment for more deep sky observing, both Caroline and I aim our instruments at Saturn, which shows itself beautifully in both scopes. For me, this is the first time to see the ringed planet in my own Dob, featuring both the Cassini division as some fine details on the planet itself. I am genuinely impressed by the sight. Caroline and I have different views of the nature of the detail on the planet. Whereas she presumes to see the rings’ shadow, to me the structure appears to be cloud bands.

Then the time has come for me to get down to business. Haze or no haze, I didn’t drive all the way to this place for no reason. Ophiuchus. For some reason, last year I unconsciously skipped past this constellation and its deep sky objects. Therefore Ophiuchus is still a white spot on my sky map. I am not sure how to pronounce the name but somehow it sounds to me like someone coughing and having hiccups at the same time.
After a brief exploration with the naked eye the roads in Ophiuchus turn out to be well paved with indicative stars so the star hops are surprisingly easy. My first target is the globular cluster M12. Its visibility is better than I expected under these circumstances and the glob is even resolved to a certain extent. Neighboring M10 is easily found and like M12, it is resolvable to some extent. The same applies to M14, but on my way there I run into NGC6366 in my Pocket Sky Atlas. Of course, I cannot resist the temptation to give this faint glob a try, and so does my sharp-eyed companion. Both of us are not able to make the glob out, however. A brief consult of Wikipedia afterwards tells me the glob’s magnitude must be about 10. Probably the hazy clouds are just too much for an object like this. I’ll give this one another try under better skies later, which will also be a good opportunity to redo the Messiers mentioned before.
For the first time I am making draft sketches at the eyepiece with the intention of finalizing them at home. Up until now, I dreaded the idea of sketching but encouraged by fellow astronomers I decided to take the plunge.

Going down south M9 and M107 cross my eyepiece. These globs cannot be resolved here anymore; the sky background is probably too bright here, close to the horizon. Both objects are clearly visible though as cometary fudges. From there, I descend down south even closer to the horizon in an attempt to catch M19. At 52 degrees of northern latitude, objects like M19 and especially M62 are a challenge from this country. From Sabik in southern Ophiuchus I descend toward to reverse kite-shaped asterism south of that star, consisting of ξ-o-θ-b Oph. These are barely visible in the finder. From there I turn west to 36 Oph. From that point, the stars are too faint and the background too bright to be able to use the finder anymore. I’ll have to star hop using my largest eyepiece. After quite some trying, retrying and checking of asterisms I reach the place where M19 is supposed to be. But alas, no M19. Clouds are too heavy here.

By this time it is about 2 am and Selena has sunk under the horizon while Aphrodite casts a reddish glow, low over the western horizon. The hazy clouds have not dissolved yet as we hoped, and Caroline decides to call it quits for this round. After loading her equipment into her car and saying goodbye my companion heads for home. I decide to finish what I started and in eager expectation the southern skies clearing up I make a sidestep to the north. In Bootes I aim my finder at another glob, NGC 5466. As a starting point I navigate to Nearby M3, which is wonderfully resolved in the eyepiece. A real beauty. From there I turn to the NGC, which is clearly visible but not resolved as far as I can see. I do see a clear glow, however, which reminds me of NGC 5053 which I saw last time from the Closure Dike. This is another object to redo under darker skies.

Going back to the hiccup cougher I aim for a shot at IC 4665. Although the name suggest a rather obscure object the open cluster turns out to be surprisingly bright and large, filling the entire field of view. After all, prefixing an object with IC seems to convey a certain extent of optimism about the ability to see the object before actually seeing it. Nevertheless, I sincerely wonder why this cluster was not assigned a big M in front of it. Inspired by a recommendation from a fellow astronomer I head for three other objects in these parts. NGC 6633 is another such bright and large open cluster that wouldn’t have been out of place on Charlie’s list and the same could be said about IC 4756. The latter cluster is slightly fainter than the former two but still it displays itself quite clearly. Contrary to the first two clusters, IC 4756 is quite irregularly shaped which gives it a distinctive look.
Finally, this sidestep brings me to the planetary nebula NGC 6572. At first sight, I don’t even recognize it at such. At low magnification the object appears like an ordinary star. Increasing the magnification, however, makes the object clearly live up to its name. Especially using my OIII filter the nebula reminds me of Uranus and Neptune: it is clearly not stellar but a tiny disk. Also, the nebula displays a clear blinking eye effect. Direct gazing makes the object nearly disappear whereas on looking slightly off-target, the disk clearly pops up.

Then the time has come to finish the job. By now, the skies have become clear even at the southern horizon and I repeat the earlier star hop from Sabik. Back at the place that I earlier identified as M19’s location, I am surprised to see the glob there loud and clear. The cluster cannot be resolved to any extent but it is a clear cometary smudge. Ironically, the glob now serves as a starting point in my star hop to M62. From M19, I follow the path of four stars indicated in the PSA and run into a treetop. Grmbl. In order to be able to look past the treetop I move my Dob a few feet but too bad. It’s too late, my target has sunk too far.
In a last desperate attempt to catch the horizon hugging glob I decide to place my rocker box on top of my car. Then, when I am about to place the OTA into the rocker box, I realize this is going to involve lifting the 33 pound tube over my head. This is the point where reason prevails over passion. I am not going to do this and risk damaging my telescope or car.
Eventually I place my Dob as far backward as possible in a final attempt to look over the tree tops, where I have to take care not to tumble backwards from the slope besides the road. Alas, no M62, I’ll have to take my loss this time. Even Antares is almost disappearing behind the trees, dew is taking hold of my finder’s eyepiece and dawn is already setting in. This is not going to work out anymore. I’ll have to aim for revenge at the Closure Dike next time.

Disappointed about this one object but satisfied about all the others I start loading up my equipment. By now it is 3:30 am and Helios already casts a reddish glow over the eastern horizon while Selena and Aphrodite have long been at rest down under. After removing the dew control from my car windows I head home, where I arrive at about 4:30. In the silvery glow of my Evenstar I lay down to rest after my March to the South.

After quite a brief night’s sleep, I receive a message from my neighbor across the street asking me to go sun gazing with him. This guy happens to be an outstanding astrophotographer. Before long I find myself in the playground in front of my house with my Dob equipped with Baader filter, next to my neighbor who borrowed a Lunt 35 from his astronomy club. The solar scope shows a couple of protuberances, two of which are pretty dramatic. One is very tall, while the other, at the opposite side of the Sun’s disk, is oddly tree-shaped. Some residents passing by take a glance at the eyepiece and are surprised and delighted at this sight of our Sun.

That gives my nocturnal observing session a sunny touch. But this M62 keeps bugging me. To be continued.