This was my first real observing session for a while.. For the past month it'd either been cloudy, or i'd been getting up early to view (and try to image) Saturn. So with a clear, moonless, calm sky, it was time for a proper sit down observing session where I enjoy the sky through my own eyes, and not bother with the hassle and stress of trying image with my less than suitable imaging equipment.
Conditions were great, one of the best viewing nights in a month.
The night started at around 8:15pm, with a printout from heavens-above showing the details of the upcoming Iridium flare, my wife and I headed out to view our first Iridum flare (Iridium 64). It caught us by surprise at first as we were watching the wrong way, but we saw it get brighter and brigher (-3) before disappearing. It gave my first a taste for more, so we've pencilled in the times for the next nighttime flares to try and catch one on photo next time :)
While the scope cooled down, we went back inside. I came back out at around 9:15pm, and decided to be much more structured with the observing session than usual. I had the observing chair, the red headlamp, the binoculars+tripod, writing pad for note taking, and newly installed milk-bottle washers.
Standing outside, gazing at the dark, clear, moonless sky deciding what to look at first, 3 more satellites popped out at me within a 2 minute period. I could tell it was going to be a fun night.
I started with 47 Tuc (NGC104) just outside the SMC. I used both the 32mm @ 39x and 15mm @ 83x magnification. The core was very bright at low magnification, but resolved to hundreds of visible pinpoint stars at the higher magnification, filling the FOV with stars.
I scanned the SMC with the 15mm, found a much smaller, fainter globular NGC362. It was less than half the size of 47 Tuc, and nowhere near as spectacular. While viewing this glob, another satellite whizzed by through the eyepiece. I manually tracked it through the eyepiece for a while, it was a faint one and I couldn't spot it with my naked eye.
I didn't bother referring to star charts or anything, was just content to trip over the various globulars and open clusters as I scanned through the SMC.
I took my head out of the eyepiece and looked up for a while, and was pleasantly surprised to see Orion rising over the roof of the house. Zoom.. there goes another satellite.. 6 and counting.
The LMC had now risen over the trees blocking my view to the South , so I turned my attention there for a while. Again I just scanned the area with the 32mm and 15mm eyepieces, viewing various globulars and open clusters and nebulosity before NGC2070 the Tarantula rose above the trees. As usual this was a magnificent sight, showing clear structure in the "legs" of the nebula.
Looked up again and used the binoculars on the tripod to view M45 the pleaides, Taurus and the magnificent Orion. I tried my widest plossl (32mm) on M45, but still couldn't fit all the stars in the FOV. Until I get a proper widefield EP, M45 is still a much better target through the binoculars.
M42 in Orion was as spectacular as I remembered. In both the 32mm and 15mm the grey nebulosity filled the FOV. Detail and structure was clear and crisp. M43 could just be seen as a haze around the star.
As Sirius started rising over the house, the temperature started dropping. It was now 11pm and time to call it a night. All in all a great night, and the more structured approach to observing, complete with all the tools and toys, definitely makes for a much more rewarding experience. I'll be sure to be much more structured again for future sessions.
A night of satellites and clouds - 7 satellites and 2 magellenic clouds! :)