The Friday forecast promised a good night for stargazing. Northern Vermont seems to have little in the way of nice weather at this time of the year, so with night temps in the mid 50's I had to take advantage of the opportunity.
It had been quite a while since I was able to use the scope for night observing. I'm just a beginner and this is only the second time I've had my 10" SCT out for a deep-sky observing run. I dragged out the case containing the optical assembly, blew the dust off, spent the next few minutes gagging and coughing, and brought it to the middle of the field in front of my apartment. An estimated limiting magnitude of 5.5 in the absence of the moon and any perceivable haze promised a good chance at locating faint fuzzies. Despite the fact that the scope wasn't fully acclimated I jumped right into my objective list. This was the first time I've seen any of these objects.
My locating technique can best be described as taking note of the object and surrounding stars as indicated on my printed charts, centering the suspected region in my 8x50 finder, and moving the scope while looking through the eyepiece in the hope that I'll find what I'm looking for. It worked with nine out of the ten objects on my list. All observations were made at 166x with a 15mm Meade Plossl unless otherwise indicated.
NGC 2841 - galaxy in Ursa Major. This was the first object I found, just as the last hints of twilight faded. The round core was just out of the reach of my direct vision, and I could barely detect the thin glow on either side of the core with a long averted gaze.
M101 - galaxy in Ursa Major. Given the reports I read I was surprised I was able to find this one at all. Since it has such low surface brightness I used 63x magnification with my 40mm Meade Plossl. I was only able to confirm I had found anything here because it moved when I moved the scope. What I believe was just the core appeared as a large amorphous glow, barely detectible with averted vision.
Ikeya Zhang - comet in Serpens. I had read a lot about this comet but this was the first time I had a general idea of its location. I was surprised to find it easily as I did, just about five degrees below and to the right of the serpent's head. It was the most impressive of any object I saw tonight. It was a large, shapeless, relatively bright glow (visible with direct vision) with no tail.
M83 - galaxy in Hydra. I was rather disappointed to only see the faint roundish nucleus, fairly bright with averted vision. The fact that it was only 17 degrees above the horizon probably didn't help the view much. By the way, while searching for this I noticed that I couldn't focus so well on stars when the scope is pointed near the horizon. Any other SCT users have this problem?
Delta Corvi - double star. The white primary has a well-separated, fainter, violet-grey companion.
NGC 4216 - galaxy in Virgo. Of all the galaxies I saw tonight this one impressed me the most. The elongated core was detectible with direct vision and an elongated surrounding glow was easily seen with averted.
SS Virginis - carbon star. I had no problem finding this one. It appears colorless with averted vision but with direct vision shows a deep reddish-orange tint.
Pluto. I spent an hour Friday evening preparing to find this 13.8 magitude dot in Ophiuchus. SkyMap Pro printouts were vital in helping me to zero in on the region containing this planet. I had no problem finding the 7th magnitude star within a few arc minutes of the planet, but upon looking through the eyepiece I only saw a handful of the brighter stars indicated on the map - the fainter ones were nowhere to be found. After spending several minutes going back and forth between the eyepiece, finderscope and charts to be sure I was looking in the right area I finally concentrated my gaze on the bright star in the center of my view. Not sure if my eyes were playing a trick on me or I actually saw what I thought I saw, but in one brief moment I saw the exact pattern of stars I had been looking for all along, and just as it registered in my mind that I was actually looking at Pluto my moment of good seeing disappeared. I'll have to try this again sometime!
NGC 6866 - open cluster in Cygnus. This beautiful cluster of 50+ stars seemed to resemble an eagle in flight: a central condensation of stars with smaller groupings on either side where the wing tips would be.
NGC 6384 - galaxy in Ophiuchus. I spent a good 30 minutes combing the region where I thought I should find this 10.5 magnitude galaxy before I reluctantly chalked it up as "not found." I later learned that it has a surface brightness of 14/sq arc min, which is probably why I couldn't find it.
By this time dew was beading up on the scope case and was making the charts difficult to use, so I reluctantly decided to pack up the scope before condensation formed on the front plate. It was an awesome night to be out and I can't wait to do it again!