|For in my backyard, tonight was a moderate night for around here. I could make out all 7 Little Dipper stars and could faintly see the northern half of the Milky Way band making it's way from Cassiopeia to Cygnus, then it gets lost in the wash of Portland.
I was inspired tonight by the fact that there are 3 comets in the night sky right now. I thought I'd go looking for them. Here is a recap of my journey.
I started a bit too early as the sun was still fading out and there were only a handful of stars in the sky. I pointed the 12" Dob in the general direction of all three of them, but nothing came into view except a few faint stars. I poked around the sky a bit, looking for extra bright objects that I was aware of to pass the time. It finally began to get dark enough to begin the comet hunt and I was fortunate to have my neighbors turn in early and soon every light around me was quenched. Cool. Since the horizon was still somewhat blue, I decided to try for K4 in Bootes nearly straight overhead.
LINEAR C/2003 K4 - Comet
For a 7 magnitude comet, this was surprisingly bright. It's currently in Bootes and was very easy to find. No discernible tail whatsoever tonight. Perhaps because it's so far away, or perhaps because there's a bit too much light pollution. Since the comet is actually getting closer to the earth, maybe I will see it's tail another night.
NEAT C/2001 Q4 - Comet
Relatively bright. In Ursa Major these days, it was obvious in the sky, but for being a 5.9 magnitude, it was dimmer than I expected. Also, no tail.
LINEAR C/2003 T4 - Comet
What a dork. I spent at least an hour trying to find this one. Starting at Muscida in Ursa Major, I traversed the sky degree by degree comparing what I had in my eyepiece with what I saw in Starry Night Pro. I finally reached the point where I knew I was looking right at K4, but there was no sign of a comet at all. At first I thought for sure that SNP was simply off on where this comet is. But alas, I read a little more detail and learned that the object is Magnitude 15.19 at this point. Doh! I can't see something that dim from my backyard! The best I can get on a night like tonight is Mag 12.5. Now... that's still pretty awesome, and makes for some decent observation sessions without leaving the driveway. But the reality is I can't possibly see anything 15.19 from here. So that was a big fat lesson in magnitude!
In light of a good hunt and looking for new objects, I decided to go for two very small planetary nebulae. NGC 7662 (Blue Snowball) in Andromeda and NGC 6826 (Blinking Planetary) in Cygnus. So I put on the UHC filter and the 25mm eyepiece and began a gaseous safari.
NGC 7662 (Blue Snowball) - Planetary Nebula
Very small. Difficult but not too terribly hard to find with the 25mm and the UHC filter. Though this very small planetary nebula is only about 4 times larger than the stars around it, with the UHC filter you can just make out that it is larger, brighter and fuzzier than the other objects in the field of view. It is also slightly blue. This is one of the few objects I can see a hint of color in. In looking very closely with a somewhat high powered eyepiece (9.5mm at 167x) I could just make out the slight hole in the middle making it a bit more of a ring than just a dot.
NGC 6826 (Blinking Planetary) - Planetary Nebula
Whoa! Even smaller than NGC 7662, it is less obvious than the other small planetary nebula. This one I would say is only twice as big as the stars around it, though it is also brighter and fuzzier with the UHC filter clearly identifying it as the nebula. I looked at it for quite some tme and it never blinked. Perhaps it doesnt actually blink, I'll need to read up on that. This one had no distinctive ring shape at all, but just looked like a bright, fuzzy, large star.