The South Plains Astronomy Club is a small group of active astronomers who enjoy observing under the beautifully dark West Texas skies while being serenaded by coyotes and night birds. We’re a friendly bunch who enjoy showing newcomers the night skies and discussing the latest in telescopes, astro-imaging, astronomical discoveries and space exploration.


Observation Report — 10-Dec-2017
Posted by Collin Smith.

Gary Leiker 4.5" Orion Starblast
Darien Perla C8 fork mount
Your humble narrator 4" F/7 ED Chinese refractor
Mark Smith 10" F/5.58 dob

I arrived later than I’d have liked, but it can be difficult to make my wife appreciate astronomy anything like shopping at Lowe’s, but home improvement is a good thing, too.

I brought my Orion 102mm F/7 ED refractor (Kunming Optical OEM), Gary had his StarBlast 4.5” F/4, Mark had his 10” F/5.58 dob, and Darien had his C8 fork mount setup doing astrophotography.

I began the evening aligning my visual finderscope, tried to get my 8×50 RA to work, but it’ll take some fiddling with in the daytime. This evening I finally got the 6×30 RA aligned and the Double Double was a very difficult split that night. Unfortunately, that was the way it would be. Double star splits, in particular, were extremely difficult, and Epsilon Lyrae set the evening’s trend. With the 5mm Nagler T6, they both split, but just barely, and that was 144 power! Even then, the right pair split easier than the left, and one had to wait it out for the snowman to split in half with the left pair. So much for the seeing, but the skies, after a brief time of cloudiness at setup, revealed a glorious celestial dome of stars.

I tried to split Delta Cygni, a task I’ve easily done with my C102GT and 6mm BCO (almost 170 power), but try as I might, and I exceeded this power by quite a bit when I little wouldn’t do it, I saw no double. Folks, the seeing wasn’t so hot.

In the neighborhood, and a bit put off by high powered efforts, I switched to low power, 2" eyepiece viewing. I got a nice 25.5 power, 2-2/3 degree true field of view from the ES 28mm 68° eyepiece, and that’s what I used for a while, gobbling up Sulafat (Gamma Lyrae), the Ring Nebula (M57), and Sheliak (Beta Lyrae) with room to spare about them. It was a tiny Ring Nebula, of course, but was it in context!

At Darien’s calling, Mark put Caroline Herschel’s Rose Cluster, NGC 7789 into his 10" dob, and am I glad he did. The Rose really does have a blooming flower appearance, small dark linings amongst the stars that seem to outline petals on a rose. NGC 7789 is worth the effort, just off and up from Caph, as tho to continue the “W” zig-zag pattern in the sky.

On to Andromeda, and to no one’s surprise, Mark’s view of M31, with the distinct dust lane, like Bob Ross had taken an eraser to the galaxy across the top, like a hat’s rim. I rather liked my less detailed, but more dramatic capturing of M31, M32 and M110 all together in my refractor, still with the wide field ES 28mm 68°. Looks awfully nice in a 2-2/3 degree field.

Albireo was a beauty, as usual, the Orange and Blue pair never failing in splendor. I scooped up M27, the Dumbbell Nebula, and brightest of the Messiers while I was in the neighborhood. And the Double Cluster, NGCs 869 & 884, added to this wide field sweep. Even the ET Cluster, NGC 457 in Cassiopeia looked pretty nice at 25.5 power. He was smaller than normal,true, but still distinct and easy to pick out in the dense starfield that is this Milky Way constellation.

I tried for M1, the Crab Nebula, still somewhat low in the east, small, but visible as a cotton ball. Gary started talking about the 100 sisters of the Pleiades he had in his StarBlast, and indeed, he did have them. Couldn’t resist putting them all in my refractor, either.

At Eta Cassiopeia I believe I returned to 1.25” eyepieces. Another beautiful, colorful pairing. With the Pan 24, I went after M35, ghostly NGC 2158 behind it. This pair of clusters forms the “ends” of a set of open clusters, with M38/NGC 1907 its other end, and M37 & M36, in that order, in between. So they begin and end in order, with the middles “swapped”. Also, the beginning and ending have distant, ghostly clusters farther behind them. In M35’s case, some four times more distant; in M38’s case, a mere 300 more light years behind this 4,200 light year away Messier Object.

Attempting to torture myself, I put M33, almost at zenith, in the eyepiece of my refractor. It was nice, and there was almost an expression of “arms” in this most interesting of galaxies. The seeing was better near zenith, or at least it was when I was looking at M33. We went after Mirach and his “ghost”, elliptical galaxy NGC 404. Got ‘em, alright. I was done with groveling on the ground when I commandeered Mark’s dob (he was off talking to Gary and Darien anyway) and put Gamma Andromedae, Almach, in the eyepiece. Again, another pretty, colorful split.

We hurried back to the west to catch M15, off the end of Pegasus’ nose star Enif. We tried Orion targets, getting a rather poor M78. I really couldn’t make out the Flame Tree Nebula (NGC 2024), which was disappointing. My split of Rigel was just plain terrible, and the Trapezium yielded bloated, unfocused stars that could not be focused, and the focuser on my 102 ED, tho only single speed Crayford, is pretty world-class. But that was the seeing. No tight Trapezium (and you could forget E & F, since A-D were as ugly a stars a person could put in the eyepiece).

So not the best night for stars at high power, but a nice night of low power viewing. It was getting late for a “school” night, we were all getting quite cold, and the clouds started to roll back in. Mother Nature even wanted us to quit, so we packed up and headed back south to the city, and our respective warm beds.

Observation report — 22-Oct-2017
Posted by Collin Smith.

Darien Perla 8” SCT
Steve Maas
Dmitri & Katia Paniukov 130mm F/5 reflector
Charles Beaudoin 8” XTi
Jerry Hatfield 10” XTi
Ruben Saldana imaging with C150XLT
Your Humble Narrator 8” Zhumell dob

Although I’d hoped to arrive right at dusk, 7:30, having already packed my scope into the car by 7 PM, I managed to waste enough time puttering about the house to arrive at 8:15. Still a tiny bit of sky glow from the sun in the west, but definitely dark enough to be looking, even as I had to unload everything and set things up first. Oh well, by 8:30 I suppose I was aligning my Rigel illuminated reticle and Orion 9×50 right angle finders.

I used sinking Saturn to make all my finderscope adjustments, using a Nagler 16mm T5 for 77 power and just over a degree to provide a nice, wide field, but enough power for some definition. I tried the 7mm Nagler, but at that low altitude above the horizon, no go. So I backed off to the 9mm, but settled on the 11mm Nagler T6, for a 112x view. Small, yes, but as good as could be afforded so close to the heat-rippling, thick atmosphere of Mother Earth. Even lower in the west and north was the rather small crescent moon. I should have pulled out the 11 and gone back to the 16, shimmering in the low altitude heat waves as the image was.

I turned to the rapidly setting Sagittarian fare before they were spun below the horizon. Getting in the vicinity with the Rigel, I sleuthed about with the Orion 9x50RA and found the Lagoon, M8, easily. In my 9×50, I can even see M20 as well, but first things first. The Lagoon was a nice site in the 16mm Nagler. This is such a good eyepiece for framing things while still getting enough power to get a good idea of your target, and it proved this Sunday evening. Then off to the Trifid. Low as it was, and somewhat light polluted at the Gott, it was hard to determine the exact triple nature of the nebula, though a dark lane was evident in this dust and gas celestial masterpiece.

The Swan, M20, was next, and she was gracefully riding the skies as though on a placid lake, perhaps at a bit of an angle, yes, but stately, dignified and calm.

Still wanting to grab all the western targets I could, I rushed up to Hercules to pluck out that gem of the northern celestial skies, the globular M13. After finding it, I first put back in the 11mm for 112x again, then let everyone else take a peek, and what a nice peek it was. This is such a majestic object, or, as Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey exclaimed, “My God, it’s full of stars!” Indeedy do.

And speaking of stars and Hercules, Alpha Herculis, a.k.a. Rasalgethi, is a beautiful double star. This is a nice pair, with a rather orange primary and white secondary, at least tonight in my Z8 dob.

M11, the Wild Duck Cluster, was another wonderful site, followed by the Ring Nebula, M57 and the Double Double, Epsilon Lyrae. The Nagler 16mm at 77x was just enough to split the Double Double. It was just barely split, yes, but both pairs split just the same, and both genuine splits, not snowmen. I thought that was something nice, but looking at the Cloudy Nights website, I see it’s not so unusual.

By this time, Jerry Hatfield had arrived and encouraged Charles to put one of his nicer, newer eyepieces on M57. They had complained about the image, but when I went over and focused it, gosh, what was there to complain about? Looked great.

Getting lower, Jerry scooped up the Saturn Nebula, NGC 7009, just above the “bikini bottom” of Capricornus in southwestern Aquarius. I was determined to find this, too, and was eventually able to, 1 degree west of Nu Aquarii. A beautiful dim, fuzzy likeness of its namesake, the Saturn Nebula is an optical delight.

We were then off to the Dumbbell, M27, and what a nice showpiece this is, the brightest Messier Object in the catalog. The dual lobes coming off of this “side view M57” was quite nice, with the elliptical halo surrounding the whole thing clearly visible in my scope.

Then everyone went a little Andromeda crazy, and who can resist M31/32/110 in the eyepiece, the Great Andromeda Galaxy holding celestial court with his two attendant dwarf galaxies? A great view and in my ES 28mm 68*, the dust lane on M31 was visible. Very nice to behold in anyone’s telescope, the Andromeda Galaxy has got to be THE fall celestial spectacular. It’s not to be missed if you don’t get the chance to observe often.

I went after M33, the Pinwheel galaxy, but by this time, fortunately, Jerry’s scope was up and running. It looks good in my 8”, but this faint gem is meant for aperture, and Jerry’s 10”, combined with his above average mirror really turns up the quality of the image — like Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel said, “goes to 11” . The swirls of the arms, only hinted at in my scope, were there to behold in the XTi 10. Such a nice view!

Then we were off to the Double Cluster, NGC 884 & 869 betwixt Cassiopeia and Perseus’ helmet. Jerry preferred the view in his ES 20mm 100 degree eyepiece, and I had to agree the view was very impressive. I liked the view in mine with the 2” ES 28mm 68°, but Jerry’s seemed to encompass about the same area with higher magnification. Both views were good, but Jerry’s 10” XTi stole the show again, as it is apt to do with the extraordinarily good mirror that scope has.

At Cassiopeia, Darien, who was imaging a target in Cassiopeia, became the Ethiopian Queen’s advocate, evangelizing me to find other delights there, more than a couple I was unaware of. First, of course, I showed off Eta Cassiopeiae, the beautiful contrasting double my eye caught as white to orange — but everyone sees this beauty differently. BTW, this is a fairly close star in our night sky, only 19.7 light years away, with the primary being very similar to our own sun. So our own Sol would appear very much like Eta Cassiopeiae in the night sky on a planet around that star.

At Damien’s encouragement, I uncovered the haunting NGC 7789. This open cluster has a ghostly appearance because, though filled with many stars, it is 8000 light years away and somewhat dim, but rich. This is Caroline Hershel’s “White Rose” cluster, discovered by her in 1783 with her brother William adding to his famous Hershel catalog; definitely worth taking in. Thanks, Darien! Again at Darien’s urging, I was off to M52, another open cluster off Caph, Beta Cassiopeiae. Much brighter than NGC 7789, it’s another nice find in the neighborhood. These two are great fall fare, not to be missed, and rather easy to star hop to from Caph, which acts as a guidepost.

I finished my Cassiopeia course with NGC 457, the ET Cluster. This one lives up to its name, and everyone enjoyed seeing ET with outstretched arms, ready to visually embrace you! Katia, even got Dmitri to put this one in his 130mm reflector, one nice image! Their little scope puts up a nice, wide field, and does such a great job on this target, in particular, and other large targets, too, like the Andromeda Galaxy set.

After Cassiopeia, we put on our UHC/O-3 filters and dove into the massive Veil Nebula (NGC 6960 & 6995), a 3 degree wonder. 6 times the diameter and 36 times the area of a full moon in the sky, this nebulous remnant is what’s left of a star that went supernova sometime between 6000BC – 3000BC. It was glorious going over the filaments and textures, which wouldn’t fit in my ES 28mm 68°, and not even in Jerry’s ES 30mm 82° eyepiece, but what a beautiful journey to navigate through it with our relatively smooth moving dobs. Just south of Epsilon Cygni, the Veil is a hallmark of the Summer/Autumn skies.

I removed my O-3 filter and went back to regular light targets, while I let Jerry borrow my 2” filter, so he went after NGC 7000, the North America Nebula. “Florida and the Gulf of Mexico” were quite evident. A nice view from the Gott, which has a lot of stray light from our fair city to the south.

I dove into the Pleiades, a bit cramped in my ES 28mm 68° in my Z8, but just fits. This is a better target for a smaller, shorter focal length instrument, but it was there, and Jerry was finding NGC 7000.

Jerry made one more Cygnus effort pulling NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary, out of the inky darkness. The “blinking” quality of this nebulous star is quite striking! Don’t miss it.

After this, we went after Mirach’s Ghost, NGC 404. This happened to be the APOD (Astronomy Photo of the Day) for 27-Oct-2017! Rather appropriate for Halloween, the distant, dim 10 million light year elliptical galaxy haunts the bright Mirach, Beta Andromedae, a mere 200 light years distant.

From here it was a quick jaunt over to Gamma Andromedae, Almach, a beautiful, colorful double star not to be missed if you find yourself in the neighborhood. Somehow I forgot to split Delta Cygni, but it was getting late.

While I dug up M36 from the eastern muck — low, low in the east — Jerry and Damien put NGC 7331 in the eyepiece, a beautiful spiral galaxy, slender and seen not quite edge-on, but at a glancing angle, near Matar, Eta Pegasi.

It was quite late, and time for me to pack up and head home. Sunday evening is not when we typically observe, and getting up early and being at work is a rather sobering prospect as the hours click off, but it had been months since we went out last. That last time, Ruben and Mark and I were almost carried off by clusters of mosquitoes that molested us relentlessly the entire evening this past Summer at Emma. Although they were present, and Damien was attacked when he arrived much earlier, they decreased such that the night was substantially more enjoyable than my last outing so many months ago.

As we tore down and packed up, Jerry couldn’t resist dialing in Uranus’ location on his Intelliscope object finder. And find it he did! Near Omicron Piscium right now, Uranus was a beautiful aquamarine dot, clearly not stellar, in Jerry’s XT10i, which sent us off into a deep, peaceful place to prepare us for our beds.



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