In the late hours of Thursday night until about 2AM Friday morning, I put my two scopes to work in tandem. I had one main goal of finding two planetary nebulas in Cygnus and a secondary goal of viewing the Veil, both Eastern and Western. Beyond that, it was up to me to decide whether or not to chase down other targets.
In a previous outing I chose not to blog about, I hunted down NGC7026, triggered in part by a photo posted on Instagram of NGC7027. My eyes were not functioning as intended and instead of a 7, I read 6. I found NGC7026 in my new 4.5″ Orion Autotracker, but soon realized I made the mistake of confusing the two. I suspect I am not the first to make this mistake, however.
The first pass on NGC7026 was interesting. I used the opportunity to learn to starhop with the new scope using a 13mm eyepiece that gave approximately one degree field of view. Using the degree circle in SkySafari, I was able to starhop my way down from Deneb to NGC7026. In that observation, the planetary was a faint fuzzy with some less than circular borders surrounded by an arc of stars, the first of which shined orange in color. I could easily discern an adjacent star to the small planetary, but I knew that in order to really get a good look at the thing, I would have to use the 8″ scope.
That brought me to this night. The Clear Sky Chart was decent. Seeing and Transparency values were very good for this kind of hunt. Mag 4.5 to 4.7 stars were my faintest Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude and M31 was visible to the naked eye. I set out around 9pm to find NGC7027 first, making use of the grab-n-go nature of the 4.5″ Autotracker. After about 20 minutes of dark adaptation and casual Veil Nebula watching, I spent a fair amount of time bouncing off of Nu Cygni in the approximate direction of NGC7027. I thought I had the right area, but I couldn’t quite line things up with the star chart in front of me. I found a pair of stars with a triangle next to them, but the chart said 7027 was within a degree of that and a planetary nebula, I did not see. I decided to starhop from Xi Cygni instead. That put me in roughly the same area, but this time, for whatever reason, I picked up on a fuzzy looking star.
I must take a moment to emphasize the value in learning to spot a planetary nebula like this. Once you see one at low power, you’ll never again lack confidence in hunting down small objects like this, even in a small aperture scope at low power. You want to train your eyes to see that halo. It won’t be as obvious as the Eskimo Nebula, for example, but once you learn to spot the halo, you won’t have much trouble spotting a planetary as long as you are searching in the right spot in the sky.
The fuzzy star I saw had a bluish tint and a subtle flicker at around 38x and slightly more of a bluish tone at double that magnification (13mm/2x barlow). I declared the object found, but that also meant I had to add this one to the list of things to see in the XT8.
Fast forward about two hours.
I set up the XT8 without my leveling board, put my 4.5 on the tripod, and set up my iPhone in a cradle mounted on another tripod. The Thermacell was turned on and the stargazing commenced.
I went for NGC7027 first since I had only viewed it hours prior to that moment, starhopping down from Nu Cygni, landing on the planetary nebula at medium power (17mm/70x). I centered the object and applied more oomph (17mm/3x barlow = 211x). The first glimpse was interesting. Instead of a fuzzy ball, I saw a fuzzy nebula with a diagonal line across it from 7 o’clock up to 2 o’clock, an appearance akin to the astrophotography of this X shaped object. The halo was nondistinct and no central star was visible, although with averted vision, something popped out a couple times for me. Couldn’t verify that was a central star, though. At 8mm/2x (300x), I could see a second line across the planetary, this time with a vertical appearance, forming the X I had seen in the photos online. That line was not as long as the first, only extending out from end to end about half the length of the other line. UHC/OIII filters made no difference in the view. In fact, they blurred the image too much. Urban Skyglow filter made the view slightly more crisp, but not by much. The filter made it easier to visualize the second line across the nebula.
Here’s a vague digital sketch of the planetary nebula from memory:
I decided to go ahead and swing around to NGC7026 again. I oriented myself to Cygnus, which was still upside down relative to the mental picture of the constellation, situated at the Zenith, which made starhopping a little cumbersome with the XT8. I decided to make a pass over the area once to refamiliarize myself with the star field before doing any serious starhopping. I assumed I could find the arc of stars the planetary is located in just by panning over the right spot, but I was wrong. I had to starhop from Deneb again, down to 55 Cygni and then to f1 Cygni, the same orange star I had seen the other night. NGC7026 was in the same view as f1Cygni, although it helped to push its brightness out of view to better see the PN.
I switched to my 8mm TMB, refocused, and centered NGC7026. The PN was obvious. Instead of an unimpressive faint fuzzy, the clarity improved and it was distinctly separate from the adjacent star I commented on previously. The surrounding halo was an obvious gray patch. At 8mm/2x (300x), I made a new discovery. There was a central notch and two bright symmetrical spots on either side, almost like a butterfly or a moth. The angle of the planetary respective to those two spots made a line almost tangentially below the neighboring star to the left. OIII/UHC made the view worse, however, likely because I was pushing too much on power.
Here’s a very basic digital sketch of the 300x view.
After that, I decided to look at the Veil. It wasn’t spectacular, but I spent some time learning what I could get at different magnifications. In the XT8, I started with the 32mm and fit most of the Eastern Veil in view using an OIII filter to bring out the nebulosity. I upped the magnification with a 17mm and the OIII and the intensity of the nebulosity shot up. I couldn’t pull out much detail, but the improvement in nebulosity gave me hope that in more ideal conditions, I could use the 17 to view structure. I didn’t try a 13mm eyepiece, but it might be worth using in better conditions (like at Okie Tex).
The Western Veil was crap. I couldn’t see much of it at all. It has been notoriously difficult for me to view the Western Veil lately and this bothers me. I saw it plain as day in someone’s 10″ Astro Tech a while back using my eyepiece and my OIII filter.
I quickly viewed M31 and was able to see M32 and 110 without difficulty. Since I was in the area, I tried hunting down two Caldwell objects, both galaxies, NGC185 and NGC147. After lots of painful eyepiece switching and star chart references, I pulled out the 38mm eyepiece. I thought I saw both of them at low magnification, but zooming in showed one fuzzy area to be a cluster of stars and the other, nothing at all.
I won’t call these found just yet. I know how small galaxies like this appear in my scope, so a nice dark sky should give me the view I need.
After that, I waited for Perseus to get some altitude before zeroing in on the California Nebula with the 4.5. I was able to see a very faint section of it in the 32 with my HBeta filter. I’ve seen it before, so I know that time is on my side. It just needs some altitude to clear the atmospheric muck, but then again, dark skies would be quite helpful too.
Oh yeah. I’m ready for Okie Tex.