While learning to operate the club’s older 8 inch Meade LX200 which was donated to us, I came across a section in the manual about touring the night sky. There is an option in the hand controller to select from the various kinds of deep sky objects and go on something of a tour, bouncing from one object to the next at whatever pace you choose. It allows a user to view galaxies, planetary nebulae, globular clusters, nebulae, open clusters, or any combination of those five as long as the object is in the telescope’s catalog. The problem with that is, the LX200’s catalog is small and we cannot find the upgrade chip for that model.
Our club had a scheduled session for members which didn’t get the turnout I had hoped, but our goal was to introduce telescope designs and show people how to operate those telescopes afterwards, beginning with dobs. I chose to come out to teach people how to use the LX200 in hopes that I would expand the number of available members competent enough to operate it for a public star party.
Like I said, the turnout didn’t meet my needs, so after most of those people had left, I went about learning how to set up this “tour” via the hand controller.
Once I figured it out, I selected planetary nebulae and globular clusters to keep it simple. The Meade selected its first NGC target, NGC650. NGC650? I had no idea what NGC650 was and I’m usually fairly good at remembering common NGC numbers. For instance, if I need to find the Cat’s Eye Nebula, I know it’s NGC6543. But NGC650? Never heard of it.
So I let the scope slew to 650 and it stopped. I looked into the eyepiece and saw a dim fuzzy object that didn’t really show much of a shape at first. It appeared somewhat lobed, albeit small.
Skysafari to the rescue!
NGC650 is actually Messier 76, aka the Little Dumbbell Nebula.
I looked back into the eyepiece. Yeah. That was the Little Dumbbell. The hand controller did not show the object info in Messier numbers. Instead, it displayed things as they are in the NGC (New General Catalog), even though it can show me all 110 Messier objects by inputting Messier numbers.
Another club member came up and I explained what I had learned. I slewed to the next NGC object, NGC6853. No idea, right? He looked into the eyepiece and was impressed by the view. Nice one. I looked at where the scope was pointed. Dumbbell? He said it wasn’t. I had a look. Yep. Messier 27.
Next? NGC6205. Not a clue. Which one was it? Messier 13, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules. Of course, it was. NGC6207 is the small galaxy right next to it. I should’ve known!
Some amateur astronomers are quite particular when it comes to object naming schemes. Some turn their nose at common names, giving preferential treatment to Greek terminology. Some don’t know there’s a whole world outside of Messier objects nested away in the vast NGC or IC catalogs. Others aren’t familiar with Collinder, Trumpler, Stock, or Mark catalogs. Still, it is time for me to learn the NGC numbers for Messier objects because, as far as I can tell, most of us don’t have it saved in that format.