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Old 07-07-2015, 12:02 PM
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Benjamin (Ben)
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Binocular night and dark sky

Location: Suffolk Park, NSW, Australia
Time: 6:30pm to 9:00pm
Seeing: Excellent
Transparency: Generally excellent with a patch of passing cloud
Equipment: 10x50 Pentax PCF WPII Binoculars

While clouds threatened to make it an early night I managed to ride them out and get a good two and a half hours in on the binoculars before moon rise. My goal was to get through the Astronomical League's Southern Sky Binocular Observing List. I'd researched the list a little and worked out that NGC1261 and NGC1851 would be below the horizon and I came up short on what was meant by the objects called H5, H6, H10, and H13? The list seems designed for an autumn sky but given I was standing (no chair available) it was great not to be leaning a long way back. Except for these objects I got the remaining 67.

The list wasn't as straightforward as I first thought. While I mostly had excellent seeing and transparency (LMC easily visible with the naked eye) there were still quite a few faint fuzzies that needed a bit of averted vision to nut out.

One of the real joys at this dark site was being able to see all the constellations in context with the Milky Way Galaxy and to navigate the sky this way. I don't get anything close to this in my backyard. The binocs consistent wide field of view meant navigating was through them was quite straightforward and I could clarify my location in the sky by quickly tracing out the bright stars that made up each constellation. On the whole I didn't need to keep referencing my iPhone planetarium app to star hop, one look was enough. I did need to reference the map at times though just to make sure I had the correct object in the center (often there were two or three possibilities in the one FoV).

I'm very determined to use the binocs a lot more. There were certainly objects that I'd loved to have viewed at much higher power but the binocs versatility and simplicity make them a great observing tool. I often found that once I'd located an object I'd go back to the previous find and trace the path to it again, noticing all the wonderful background stars and asterisms.

The list can be found here (https://www.astroleague.org/al/obscl...o/ssbinoc2.pdf). The highlights for me were:

NGC104/47 Tuc (Glob): This large globular cluster is always a highlight of the southern sky. It's bright core dissipates more quickly than NGC5139/Omega Centauri (Glob) which is also easily detectable with the naked eye. It's nice to see the 47 Tuc in relation to the SMC.
Small and Large Magellanic Clouds (Galaxy): Both these miniature galaxies fit in the view of the binoculars (or what's visible at this low altitude) and allow some sky around their slanting appearances. The LMC is brighter (naked eyed detectable) and includes NGC2070/Tarantula Nebula in its view. Knowing the detail it's possible to get on the Tarantula in my 12" it did make me long for the scope but even through the binocs you get a hint of its complexity.
NGC2451 (Open Cluster): This asterism has a lovely bright red central star
NGC2546 (Open Cluster): Many of the open clusters look like fuzzy patches through the Binocs, with various degrees of resolution and size. This particular fuzzy patch was located to the left of a lovely rich star field, which made a great pairing.
IC2391 (Open Cluster): A bright distinct asterism which can be seen with the naked eye. It became something of a reference point.
IC2488 and NGC2910 (Open Cluster): These two clusters were largish fuzzy patches and made a nice pairing tonight, aligned at the same altitude in the same FoV.
NGC3293 (Open Cluster): A nice dense fuzzy cluster next to Eta Carina
IC2602/Southern Pleiades (Open Cluster): While I prefer the Northern equivalent these very bright stars are also visible with the naked eye, although less as distinct stars. They are also a great point to navigate from.
NGC3372/Eta Carina Nebula: I longed to use a UHC filter but this nebula is one of the largest and shows its major dark lanes and dense star regions through the binocs. Even better you get to see it in context with the surrounding clusters. An amazing patch of sky.
NGC3532 (Open Cluster): Tonight this resolvable cluster sat right above Eta Carina and had a slightly oval shape.
Mel 105/NGC3766/Pearl Cluster (Open Cluster): I'm not sure which designations define which elements here but there is a beautiful string of similarly bright stars which have in the middle a dense fuzzy/partly resolvable cluster (very much a necklace arrangement). Other strings of fainter stars also sit below the main line.
NGC4609 (Open Cluster): A small fuzzy patch right next to a bright star made this tricky.
Coalsack/C99: Loved this impenetrable dark area next to the Jewel Box and took note of the Dark Doodad below it.
NGC5128/Centaurus A: So easy to locate with binocs hoping across from Omega Centauri which is almost in the same FoV. Can just get the dark lane and in the clear fuzzy patch.
NGC5617 (Open Cluster): Another faint fuzzy that almost looks like glare from the nearby bright star. This is often what made detecting the fainter clusters difficult, particularly when they weren't isolated from denser star regions.
NGC6134 (Open Cluster): The surrounding stars framed this particular fuzzy patch very nicely.
NGC6397 (Glob): This clear, dense big Globular surprised me. While it's not as bright as Omega Centauri or 47 Tuc its size is compelling. One for the scope later.
NGC6752 (Glob): Almost a bit of colour here. It was tight and dense and looked split in two (one a star, one the glob?). Again something to work out with the scope later.

Final thought. Having my binoculars handy meant, when I visited the Byron Bay Lighthouse, I got an awesome view of humpback whales breaching just off shore as they headed north. Beaut times all round.
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Old 07-07-2015, 12:36 PM
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Tinderboxsky (Steve)
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Excellent report Ben. Thoroughly enjoyed the tour with you. I am a visual only observer and you have inspired me to get the binoculars out more often.
Cheers
Steve
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Old 07-07-2015, 10:38 PM
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dannat (Daniel)
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thanks for the report, great work
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Old 08-07-2015, 08:12 AM
N1 (Mirko)
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Great report Ben. Binoculars can be so good and can provide hours of observing fun.
I recall seeing Omega Cen and Cen A in the same view, but that was with a pair of 7x50s which probably took in slightly more sky.
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Old 09-07-2015, 06:51 PM
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goober (Doug)
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I really enjoyed that. I was out with 10x50's two nights ago, in a paddock between Interloch and Cape Patterson. Skies were lovely and I had a blast.

NGC 6397 in Ara is a wonderful object - just jumps out at you through the binos. I too was surprised just how easy Centaurus A was - it was a bit of a neck strainer as it was right overhead, but very easy to pick out. I spent a lot of time trying to pick out M24 - I've never been able to tell exactly what the star cloud is, and with nice dark skies it was so easy to get distracted by the surroundings.

Lot to be said for a nice dark sky and binoculars. Wish I'd had room to pack my scope though!
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Old 09-07-2015, 07:17 PM
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Benjamin (Ben)
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Thanks all for your kind comments. I really should get to dark sites more often. In light pollution you strain to get detail in some of these objects and end up buying more gear (bigger, better) in the hope of wheedling out the most basic features. A dark sky on its own can show you more interesting things than an Ethos in a 12" Dob in light pollution! I was however lucky enough to get the scope to a dark site the very next night and, my word, a 12" Dob can show you remarkable things :-)

Last edited by Benjamin; 09-07-2015 at 07:28 PM.
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Old 11-07-2015, 06:58 AM
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Benjamin (Ben)
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I regards to the H objects I was unable to track down I've recently been informed (thanks John Bambury) that these are Harvard Objects: http://home.comcast.net/~lsmch/cluster-harvard-info.htm
Initially I thought I was searching for the wrong designator but it seems this varies slightly. In the current Uranometria they are designated Ha and in Stellarium (desktop version) they are found by searching the full name Harvard. The coordinates are very slightly askew if you look at the Astronomy League Southern Sky Binocular list but they are close enough to find what you're looking for. Some of these objects also have a Collinder designation.

Harvard 5 (Crux) = Collinder 258
Harvard 6 (Musca) = Collinder 261
Harvard 10 (Norma) = Collinder 299
Harvard 13 (Ara) = No other name

While I'm sure these objects are well known to many more experienced than I, I did find it challenging at first to get information on them. A big reason I couldn't find them on the night I was out observing was that I only had my smartphone planetarium apps available and none of these show the H objects with any kind of designator (Redshift, Stellarium mobile, Star Walk 2, Sky Safari 4).

Again thanks to John Bambury for providing all the information.
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