After a solid two weeks of rain and clouds the sky cleared up tonight for a couple hours of good viewing. The moon was a 57% full waning gibbous but stayed low in the sky for the two hours I was out. My targets tonight were a few Messier objects and a comet that has been in the news recently.
I started with M101 a magnitude 7.9 spiral galaxy in Ursa Major. This particular object remained elusive my first time out so I figured I’d give it another try. Starting at Mizar and Alcor in the handle of the Big Dipper, I tried to follow the nearly 3.5 degree line from 81 Ursae Majoris (UMa) to 83 UMa to 84 UMa and finally to 86 UMa. Somewhere between 84 and 86 I kept getting lost! Even though 84 and 86 are about 1.4 degrees apart, I still could not find 86 with confidence. Not wanting to get frustrated, I set M101 aside and continued to the next object on my list.
My second target was M94 a magnitude 8.2 spiral galaxy in Canes Venatici. I started at Cor Caroli A the brightest of the two recognizable stars in the constellation. Looking closer at Cor Caroli A revealed it is actually a variable double star! From there it was a simple 3 degree star hop over to M94. At the moment I only have a 25mm Plossl and even with a 2x Barlow M94 looked like a faint fuzzy smudge. No matter, this galaxy is about 14 million light years away. I’ll have to try again with a more powerful eyepiece in the future.
My third target was M63 – Sunflower Galaxy a magnitude 8.6 spiral galaxy also in Canes Venatici. Again, I started at Cor Caroli A and star hopped about 5.3 degrees until I found M63. This fuzzy smudge had more of a disk shape to it with a definite core. At 34 million light years away, it is a member of the M51 Group although being 6 degrees south of M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy.
My fourth target was a comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) that has been in the news for the past several months. I started at Yidun – the sixth brightest star in Ursa Minor and star hopped just over two degrees to the comet. I was expecting to see a defined tail but all I saw was a fuzzy slightly visible line. I can’t wait until I have a couple higher powered eyepieces to choose from.
To recap, tonight I saw M94, M63, and comet PANSTARRS.