November 30, 2010


The sky was thankfully clear and the best it can ever get from my city’s site. I could see 3.5th magnitude stars near horizon 5.5 magnitude stars high in the sky. The comet 103P Hartley was close to a rich open cluster M47 and its companion, rather faint open cluster M46. I saw this from my Planetarium Software Starry Night Pro. This was a nice opportunity for astro-photographers. I was ready to observe it visually but had no idea how bright the comet was! The software shows that it shines at 7 magnitude, so I decided to observe it through my 8-inch Newtonian.

I woke up at 2:10am and uncovered my telescope. The sky was really very clear. A Waning Crescent (23 days old) moon had just rose and was behind the hill. Dazzling Sirius was high in the sky (transit time 3:02am). I set the telescope on the pear stand but found that its plastic made poor rack-n-pinion focuser was broken!!! I have fixed this problem many times by sealing it using a tape!! But this was not the time for this operation. From my balcony, the region of the sky was just about to hide behind the building. So I quickly uncovered my 10x50 Olympus Binocular. I pointed it to Sirius and moved eastward unless I reach to some bright open cluster. M47 is some 12.5 degrees East of Sirius. After centering on the cluster I saw both M47 and M46 together in the Filed of View. In the next moment I saw a fuzzy object between the two clusters. The cluster M46 appeared as fuzzy object and the comet Hartley was fainter than M46. It was very close to the 5th magnitude star and was easy to observe using averted vision. Another open cluster NGC 2423 was also visible in the same FOV.

The above image is the drawing generated in computer using paintbrush and photoshop

November 27, 2010


On 17th night the members of the Kutch Amateur Astronomer’s Club decided to go for the Leonids Meteor Shower observation. Our venue was Makanpar-Dhosa, our regular place for observing Meteor Showers. Me, Mr. Narendra Gor and Kartik Pomal travelled through Kartik’s car. Two members joined us later. This year’s meteor shower was less fertile and we saw only 12 meteors from the Leonids and two meteors from Delta Monocerotids. We spent the night on the terrace of a Shiv Temple in the village. We all woke-up at 3:30am and started to count meteors till dawn. I carried my 25x100 binos without stand. As the meteor shower wasn’t showing a good number of Shooting Stars I decided to observe few known galaxies and other deep-sky objects through the binoculars holding by hands. Here is the list of objects I observed,

*NGC 2841
*NGC 2903•
* M35
*NGC 3077
*NGC 5195
*Saturn & Venus

I first pointed the binos to NGC 2841. This is a bright and easy object even from my city. The galaxy is located 1 degree 50’ S-SW from Theta Ursa Majoris star. This is a 10th magnitude galaxy with Angular Size of 7.7 Arc Min and Axis Size of 3.6 Arc Min. It appeared as a faint, rather elongated smudge in the Binoculars.

The next galaxy was NGC 2903, a very easy and bright galaxy in Leo. This galaxy lies within 4 degrees SW of Epsilon Leonis. This is a 9.6th magnitude galaxy with an Axis Size of 5.6’. The galaxy appeared beautiful with two 7.6th and 7th magnitude stars in a 3 degree FOV. Also a 4.3rd magnitude orange star Lambda Leonis appeared in the N-NW edge of the FOV. I missed my stand this time!

The third object was a Planetary Nebula M97 in the Big Dipper. I saw both the nebula and a galaxy, M108 in the same FOV. The nebula was very easy to identify even at first glance. This object is hard to observe from my suburban skies even through my 8-inch Newtonian Telescope. M108, the galaxy was also an easy object through my binos. M108 appeared as elongated fuzz next to two 8.5th and 9th magnitude stars. M108 is just 1.5 degrees NE of Merak or Beta Ursa Majoris.

Now at this time at around 4:10am The Beehive Cluster or M44 was high in the sky appearing through naked-eye as small fuzz. Through the 25x100 Binos it was a breath taking object, Indeed beehive! It filled the entire Field of View. The brightest star in the cluster is Epsilon Cancri shining at magnitudes 6.28. It wasn’t comfortable observing this beautiful cluster through my bulky 4-inch binos weighting 5kg holding on hands! Thus I couldn’t make the view study for longer time and counted 14 stars. There is a miniature of The Constellation Corvus in this cluster if you look carefully. The star Epsilon Cancri is the brightest star in this miniature version of Corvus making a 9’X7’ sized square of stars.In Cancer, there is another beautiful Open Cluster M67. The cluster is located within 2 degrees West of Alpha Cancri. M67 is also known as “King Cobra” and is one of the most ancient open clusters known making it to be 5 billion year old! It is a bright open cluster containing more than 500 stars, many of which were resolvable through my binos. In the FOV it shared view with 60 Cancri and 50 Cancri stars.

Now, even higher in the sky was constellation Gemini. I pointed toward even more rich Open Cluster M35. This cluster gathering of several hundred stars was a glorious sight in my 25x100s. The star, 5 Geminorum shining at magnitude 5.8 was 30’ from the cluster. After this observation, at around 4:25am I pointed the binos toward a beautiful pair of galaxies, M81 & M82 in Ursa Major. The pair is located roughly 10.5 degrees North-West of Dubhe, Alpha Ursa Majoris. M81 is a bright galaxy shining at magnitude 6.94. Its nearby, M82 is another bright galaxy with a apparent magnitude 8.41. Messier 81 and Messier 82 both can be viewed easily using binoculars. Through my binoculars in a 3 degree FOV, I observed another faint fuzzy galaxy, NGC 3077. This galaxy is a smaller member of the M81 group. The galaxy shines at magnitudes 10.6 and was rather tough to make it out through hand-held binoculars. However, after spending little time I could make it out as a very diffuse glow.

In the North-Eastern sky at around 5:15am, the galaxy M51 was well up and I aimed the binos toward its direction. Located nearly 5.5 degrees N-NW of Alkaid (Eta Ursa Majoris), M51 is a bright galaxy and can be easily observed in Binoculars. The galaxy is approximately 23 million light-years away. In my binos I think I had a glimpse of its companion galaxy NGC 5195.

At 5:30am, Saturn and Venus were well up in the eastern sky. I saw Saturn and it appeared as an oval disc. These days Saturn displays the disc of just 16 arc seconds. Venus was nearly 6 degrees above horizon and was within 4 degrees East of Spica. Mr. Narendra Gor somehow fixed the binos steady on the corner of the terrace and pointed toward Venus. It clearly showed the phase of Venus. All members could easily see the phase of Venus. I found from the planetary software that its disc illumination was 12%. I wanted to see the newly discovered comet C/2010 V1 Ikeya-Murakami but due to haziness in the horizon I couldn’t find it.

November 8, 2010


Here I have posted the finding charts of latest visually discovered comet C/2010 V1 Ikeya-Murakami. The comet will remain in the constellation Virgo till Mid-December. The comet is moving to the East-Southeast direction and its magnitudes are around 8-9. The comet rises with Saturn at 4:32am and is just within a degree SE of Saturn just before dawn on 9th November. The comet will be nearly 1 degree South of the 4.4th magnitude star Theta Virginis on the morning of 17th November (see chart 2). On November 26th the comet will be 2 degrees 20’ NE of Spica.

I am waiting for my first observation and will share in this blog whenever I will observe this comet.

Clear skies and happy comet hunting,
Rahul Zota

November 4, 2010


On 31st October I went to Devraj Farm House for comet hunting and sky observing. I carried my Panasonic DMC FS-15 Digital Camera. The camera has a particular mode called "Starry Sky" that allows us to give exposures from 15 secs to 60 secs to take starry sky image. During comet hunting I set exposure of 60 seconds and pointed the camera toward Aquila. After reaching home I processed the image in Picasa Image Viewer and brightened the image thorugh the software. It revealed a trail of meteor in the constellation Ophiuchus. This was my first shot of a meteor. 

November 3, 2010


I decided to go to Devraj Farm House, one of the observing dark sites around Bhuj city for comet hunting. The sky in the morning of 31st October was blue and clear. I called up my friend and our club member Ashwin Vaghela to come with me. Unfortunately after sunset the sky started to get hazy may be due to change of season. Because of dew in the atmosphere the lights of the city was spreading in the region of the sky at N-NW making the sky non-observable!!

We reached there at around 7:00pm. I carried my 25x100 binos and 10x50 binos. I also carried my Panasonic DMC FS-15 Digital Camera. The camera has a mode called “Starry Sky” which allows us to set exposure from 15 seconds to 60 seconds. Through 60 sec exposure the camera reveals stars down to magnitude 6.5 under excellent dark sky.

I wanted to scan in Hercules and Scutum so I began sweeping the sky horizontally from Hercules. Just when I started I stumbled upon a bright Globular Cluster M92. It was indeed very bright and easy object. The sky at West-Southwest was rather clear and dark so it forced me to pursue my work at Southwest.

western evening sky
After spending 15 minutes I decided to observe some bright deep-sky objects I memorized in the region of Aquila and Scutum. I pointed the Binocular to Scutum Milky Way and the next moment a very bright and rich Open Cluster entered the field of view. It is M11, one of the most famous clusters in the sky. This cluster is also known as “Wild Duck Cluster”. This is a very dense cluster of stars that it is hard to count individual stars at 25x magnification. It was discovered by Gottfried Kirch in 1681. This cluster contains about 2900 stars. Through my equipment in a 3 degree field of view, M11 appeared beautiful in a bright background of Milky Way stars.

scutum star field
In the same field of view I could also see a 9th magnitude Asterism Basel 1. Basel 1 is a faint asterism located 51’12” West of M11. Now I again centered on M11 and moved the binocular to the S-SW direction and stopped on a fuzzy object. I quickly identified that it was a Globular Cluster NGC 6712. This is an 8.5th magnitude globular located nearly 2.5 degrees S-SW of M11. This cluster was probably discovered by Le Gentil in the year 1749 and he described it as a “true nebula”. This was an easy object in my 4-inch Binos. In this starry field there is another beautiful Messier Object, M26, an Open Cluster located nearly 3 degrees 25’ SW of M11. This cluster is rather loose and fainter than M11.

Now I turned to Aquila and began sweeping the sky from Zeta Aquila star. I was doing stargazing and comet hunting simultaneously because this part of the sky is within the “Comet Haystack Region”. Just about 2.5 degrees SW of Zeta Aquila I noted small group of stars which was an open cluster NGC 6738 and 2 degrees 44’ West was another open cluster NGC 6709. NGC 6738 shines with a total magnitude of 8.3 with Angular Size of 15 Arc Minutes. NGC 6709 is a loose Open Cluster containing about 60 stars. The visual magnitude of this cluster is 6.7 with Angular Size of 15 Arc Minutes. After that I centered on a rich open cluster IC 4756 in Serpens Cauda. This is a 5th magnitude Open Cluster spreading about 39 arc minutes in the sky.

IC 4665

From here, about 3 degrees W-NW lies a beautiful cluster NGC 6633. This open cluster is about as large as the size of the moon and is located in Ophiuchus. The brightest stars in this cluster shines at 8 magnitudes. There is a blue, bright star (mag. 5.6) south of this cluster. The whole field was studded with many stars forcing me not to move away!!

There is another rich open cluster in Ophiuchus, IC 4665 located just 1 degree 20’ and 50” NE of Beta Ophiuchus star. The prominent part of this cluster is seven stars of mag. 7th and 8th making a nice view along with 2.7th magnitude star Beta. The angular diameter of this cluster is 41’. This cluster lies some 1400 light years away from Earth. This is an easy target in almost any sized binoculars and a naked eye object from a dark place.

After paying attention at IC 4665 I moved to Lyra and centered M57-The Ring Nebula in the field of view. M57 is a 9th mag Planetary Nebula located between Beta and Gamma Lyra stars. The nebula spans 1.7 Arc Minutes and is 2300 light years away from Earth. This is one of the famous and easy Messier Objects.

I have seen this planetary as a “thin dot” through my Olympus 10x50 Binoculars under dark skies. In the 25x100 Binos the nebula appeared rather bright, round and fuzzy, along with Gamma and Beta stars in the same FOV. Beta was an easy double with its 6.6th magnitude companion. About 1 degree NE of M57 is a wide pair of 6th and 7.6th magnitude stars. The 6th magnitude star is orange and its companion is whitish blue. The color correction from both eyes was excellent! I have never felt like this through a telescope.

There is another nice object in Lyra. This is an Open Cluster surrounded by the star Delta 2 Lyra. The name of this cluster is Stephenson 1, also known as “The Delta Lyra Cluster”. Through my binocular I saw few stars between the stars Delta 1 and Delta 2 Lyra. Delta 1 is a blue star. The orange star Delta 2 makes the view impressive. The cluster looks to be physically bounded with Delta 2, but actually it’s not. From internet I could learn that there are 19 members in the cluster and are located 1000 light years from us. The cluster can also be seen through small binoculars.
-Rahul Zota