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  • Anish Kumar

Observing with the 20 inch Telescope - 18 Feb 2023

As we had announced recently, we had organized an event meant for deep space observation using the 20-inch telescope in our inventory of equipment. We have been working on providing something for people who have already observed through the other telescopes that we set up, and were looking to take their astronomical observations to the next level. We had a couple of people who were first time observers as well but everyone else had some experience with this already.

Here is a picture of the telescope, after full assembly

As planned, we rendezvoused at Rocky Ridge Cafe by 4 pm or so. After a quick round of introductions and some coffee and tea, we went over to the brand-new observation deck that we made for the level 2 events.

On arrival to the new campsite, could see the tents were already pitched.

The participants were given a quick tour of the facility and our next order of business was to setup the telescope. I brought it out of car and started assembling it around 5pm or so. Sunil (partner in crime) and Girish (Rocky Ridge) had decided to drop in to say hello, on the momentous occasion.

After about 30 minutes, the telescope was collimated and ready to go. We took the opportunity to take some group pictures before the sun goes down.

Standing (left to Right) - Nitin, Shirish, Jalaj, Aditi, Sandeep, Sruta, Prashanth, Sunil, Deepak

Sitting (Left to right) - Anish. Ishaan, Bijal, Sanchi, Lakshmi and Ridhi. We missed Srikanth in this one!

At sundown, I pointed the telescope to the sky and found to my surprise that the brand new 8x50 finder scope had somehow lost its collimation and could no longer focus on a star! With support from the participants, I was able to change the finder scope shoe in failing light. I had to unscrew the finder shoe as the other finders on hand were of a different standard. It was unexpected but these things happen. The great part was, when I looked up, the sky was super clear with very little atmospheric disturbances.

Our first target was the Orion nebula. Everyone seemed to agree that there was more of a 'texture' visible to the nebula than we normally are used to seeing. We could also see the nebulosity around running man as well. After this we tried splitting the Rigel double stars. The apparent separation between the two stars surprised many who have seen it before with a smaller telescope. Just for giggles, we pointed the scope to Sirius and had a good laugh after being temporarily blinded by all that star light! Ouch!

Next stop was M41, which is a beautiful open cluster in Canis major. One of the brighter clusters and looks lovely, filling the field in the 18mm eyepiece. We then moved to NGC2362 an open cluster as well as HR2764, which is one of the more beautiful double stars and yet is usually ignored by most as it doesn’t have a fancy catalog ID to it. We had a camp style dinner but with multiple food options as always, aka our usual menu.

Then we stopped by Pleiades on the way to Crab nebula, which is a supernova witnessed by humans about 1000 years ago. This would have been one of the most spectaculars things humans have ever witnessed in the night sky. A star, about 6,500 lightyears away dies and you can read by its light at night, here on earth! Imagine that!

Of course, we couldn’t leave the Taurus region behind without taking a peek at our green comet, C/2022 E3, which looked majestic in the eyepiece even though it was 3 weeks past its brightest.

Since we were in the region of Auriga, we paid a visit to the beautiful clusters in that region including starfish and the glistening M37. The observation went on after this till about 130 am when most went to sleep. Before we slept we saw a couple of galaxies like M94 and Whirlpool, the latter is a great example of interacting pair of galaxies. Then the double stars which were in the vicinity like Cor Coroli, Mizar/Alcor. We saw the bright globular M3, before calling it a night at about 130 am. Most of us went to sleep for a couple of hours.

Just around 345 am we saw a bright meteor streaking across the sky. It was a large fireball which lasted at least a couple of seconds, which is an eternity for meteors. They usually disappear in much shorter time. This was one of the 10+ meteors we had seen overnight.

Most participants woke up to Vega saying hello, low on the north-eastern horizon. We saw the remnants of a star also known as a planetary nebula near Vega. It has a poplar catalog Id as M57 and we swore that we saw a hint of color in the eyepiece!

Now there is an interesting double - double near Vega, a star which looks like a single star, but actually is 4 stars – or in other words a double, double.

What always gets me is that the brightest star in this system is a magnitude 5 and yet, it was naked eye visible from a Bortle 4 location! In theory, this shouldn’t be possible.

What was possible was to see the milky way though – which we did see with the naked eye. A lot of us had setup our phones and cameras to take pictures of the Milky Way.

Now it was already past 4 am and we had to decide which portion of the sky to pick our targets. If we could have our way, we would see them all but practically that isn’t possible. We decided to go after the targets in the core of our galaxy.

A telescope with a focal length of over 2 meters means you must use a ladder. So, we decided to go after the Antares area before it climbs higher. This way, most of us could see these targets without a ladder!

Messier 4 is one of the brighter globular clusters in the sky, at about 7,200 light years from earth, it just happens to be one of the closest globular. A globular cluster is one that has thousands of stars packed in a relatively dense configuration. After that, we went a little higher to M80, which was another such globular cluster, except this one was more than 30,000 light years away, closer to the core of our galaxy and contains hundreds of thousands of stars!

Another beautiful nebula in this area is the Rho Ophiuchi Nebula around the star on which this is named after. As we climbed down to the area of the fishhook aka the tail of the scorpion, we decided to pay a visit to the beautiful Ptolemy’s cluster and another globular, NGC 6441, which is not too far away visually, from Ptolemy. We then went over the teapot to the usual suspects, M20/21 pair – a bright nebula and an open cluster in the same field of view at the eyepiece. We also looked at the lagoon nebula before going over to M28, yet another glob!

Since it was about to be dawn, we turned out attention to Centaurus and saw the bright Omega Centauri, which is one of the finest examples of globular clusters in the sky. We also saw NGC 5286, just a few degrees south of omega. As twilight had already started and the milky way was fading away slowly, we resorted to cap off the night by looking at the double stars of Alpha centauri and almost 180 degrees away, Polaris, our pole star

It was time to give the big telescope a rest and just take in the naked eye views of the stars.

Just when we thought that it was all over, we saw this sliver of a moon rising on the eastern horizon! (In the picture below, you can see mercury to the upper left of the moon). What a sight that was! And a befitting climax to a wonderful night under the stars with a beast of a telescope.

We then started packing everything back up into our cars and drove back to Rocky ridge café.

We had a sumptuous breakfast, again a buffet with multiple choices. The tea and coffee was refreshing and charged us for the ride back to Bangalore!

Overall this was a different experience for us as well as the participants. I will leave it to the participants to write a few comments for us in the comments section below!

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Anish Kumar

Founder, RiSa Astronomy

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