Around 11:15 PM I headed out with a goal of seeing one deep space object – M81 also known as Bode’s Nebula a magnitude 6.9 spiral galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major.
I lined up my finder on Dubhe, the tip of the bowl of the Big Dipper and tried star hopping to M81 but I quickly got lost. While I’m sure it can be done, I found a faster way. The star just below Dubhe, h Ursea Majoris is a double with one of the stars being a magnitude 3.65. I easily lined it up in my finder and took my time star hopping up to M81. Any time I got lost, I’d backup to a star or pattern I recognized and retraced my steps. My patience was rewarded when I moved the scope slightly and M81 came into view.
At first, it simply looked like a grey smudge. The more I looked at it, I could see the brighter core. I was using a Celestron 8-24mm Zoom, borrowed off the Library Scope at 24mm for the widest FOV possible. I found that averting my vision, gave the 12 million lightyear (Mly) away galaxy a definite shape.
A slight nudge of the scope and M82 a magnitude 8.4 spiral galaxy came into view. It looks like a vertical fuzzy strip whereas M81 is more of an oval.
At this point I was pleased with myself for having met my goal but decided I wanted to try for one more object on the Messier list. Next was M97 Owl Nebula a magnitude 9.8 planetary nebula also in Ursa Major. Being relatively close to Merak, the bottom front edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper, it took only a few minutes to get within two degrees of M97. Interestingly, I stumbled across M108 a magnitude 10.0 spiral galaxy within about one degree of M97. Like M82, it looks like a vertical fuzzy strip. I expected to see the tell tail “eyes” of the Owl Nebula but couldn’t quite make them out even at 8mm.
It started to get colder so I called it a night.
I have to mention that all of this star hopping and knowing exactly where I was in the sky was due entirely to Sky Safari 3 Pro for iOS. It is an amazing application but my favorite feature is the ability flip the view both horizontally and vertically to match what I’m seeing in my eyepiece. It was trivial and actually fun to hop from star to star, knowing exactly where I was in the sky.
To recap, tonight I saw M81, M82, M97, and M108.