10th April 2008 was the peak crowning session in my life. There has not been anything unprecedented like this before, except once or twice (27-28 December 2005), and I was waiting for the next successful session to happen.
Observing on 16th October was something of crucial importance, and I was really really desperate, for few reasons. It was New Moon, it was the only planned session for this month after a stint of very cloudy and frustrating sessions all past months, this month being October meant skies clearing, which indeed were very much this time. Importantly, the next day was a conjunction of my 25th Birthday and Deepavali festive!
What's more...3 years ago on the very same date, 16th Oct 2006 I was out on a nostalgic session and observing with my old observing partner Neetesh Sharma. At the stroke of midnight on 17th, we celebrated my Birthday, with the sighting of a handsome comet (4/P Faye) plus some streaks from the Orionid meteor shower in a great outburst! The date and event combination was back once again...it was a Divine portent and I HAD to abide by the Heavenly commandment. (Now too, there was also a comet visible after midnight...!)
All the more that I kept planning for this, the event was simply NOT working out. There was no one to accompany me, due to Deepavali festival the next day, no telescope or car to carry it, and no location to observe from. Our Hosahalli and the good ole' 8" f/8 telescope was just unavailable due to a particular issue. Nor was my observing parnter Akarsh Simha available with his mega 17.5" f/5 Discovery telescope to offer.
The 15th, that is a day before, was spent in eternal depression. The extremely blue and patchless skies above were further inflicting excruciating anguish and mockery! And till 16th morning my trip wasnt planned. I wanted the Birthday + Diwali observing session to be a matchless one.
Aah..if will-power moves mountains, I had by now moved an equivalent of few mountain ranges! Beating all odds, and "creating" a session which was nearly washed out, I headed alone for the old site Hosahalli. Because, I had finally got permission to use the school telescope, as if a boon! It was me alone, with no disturbance, and the old 8" f/8 telescope at my observing site, all for myself. Later on at night, I had our BAS member Ravi Babu, with 3 old friends join along.
The skies, when I left were an overwhelming blue and spotless...for an extended period. This continued all the way till I reached the observing site. Here's an analogous scenario : A red carpet is always flown on the ground for a guest of honor. This time, I self-believed the indication, synonymously to a clean blue carpet being laid by Mother Nature, to honor the spirited being in me, who kept up in this very hard time. Finally, it was She who had planned everything, in compensation for all the past failed sessions for the big day...I was overwhelmed. :-)
MILKY WAY AND SKY CONDITION
The sky was not that great. This was the only drawback in skies this time were, they had lot of background glow, and did not appear as jet black over the course of night. Initially they were good by evening. However the transparency and seeing remained perfect.
Milky Way was great in evening from Sagittarius through Cygnus and further below. By midnight and onwards, the MW wasnt even visible, due to background glow. But stellar density kept maintained good throughout the night, the skies maybe just touching 6th mag.
I had a very limited agenda in mind to observe, apart the new comets. Few galaxies of the Aquarius-Capricornus-Pegasus vicinity. I had purposely resisted the temptation of going for the bulk of galaxies in the other major regions of South like Cetus, Pisces and Eridanus, Fornax and Sculptor. This time I didnt even remember to try anyone of the routine objects like of the Scorpius-Sagittarius region, Crab..Ring..Dumbbell Nebula, M13 etc!
Detailed observation log follows (hope have not forgotten any objects):
Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) - The third object of the day, but the first DSO after Jupiter and the comet (below). And it was right there, as a large ghostly circular glow. A central darkening (hole) was also visible. This indicated the visibility was good, since the previous times it's only been discernible as a very faint ghostly glow!
NGC 7606 - 10.80 mag galaxy. Observed after ~2-3 years. Visible as a small, faint, oval patch without any boundary and visible not very difficultly. Drawn star field exactly matches software.
NGC 7723 & 7727 - Observed after ~2-3 years. Two very faint smudges of light, of 11.20 and 10.60 mag resp. Drawn star field exactly matches software.
NGC 7479 - 10.90 mag. A new galaxy! Round or ovalish. Slightly moderately condensed, and visible not very difficultly. This object is close to a very faint and distant globular, Palomar 13. Drawn star field exactly matches software.
NGC 7184 - This is one object I could not confirm successfully with the star field in software as I have drawn. If I've observed this, it's the second new galaxy for today.
It was not an oval or roundish smudge like other galaxies. There was a considerable elongation discernible on one side. This is indeed an edge-on galaxy as seen in pictures, and the observation establishes its observation, if not the mis-represented star-field.
M30 - A bright, fuzzy and condensend smudge of light. Felt I could have resolved some stars in it.
Andromeda (M31) and companions (M110 & M32) - Very beautiful, as ever. M31 was very long and had a bright central core. M32 was condensed and fuzzy, very bright. Oh, even M110 this time was extremely bright and big.
Triangulum Galaxy (M33) - Extremely bright and big. A very large circular glow with considerable brightening towards the core. A slightly larger telescope could have revealed inner structure and details!
NGC 55 - I didnt aim the telescope at this region directly. Rather, used a longer star-hop method from memory. It was pretty bright this time, appearing very elongated and edge-on. It appeared as a sister version of the larger NGC 253.
NGC 300 - Faint and a circular glow, appearing as a halo from stars that were embedded within. Nothing else could be perceptible.
Sculptor galaxy (NGC 253) & NGC 288 - The galaxy appeared very bright and elongated, and with several features within. The nearby globular was a big and medium bright, circular glow of light.
Blue Snowball Nebula (NGC 7662) - As ever, a tiny but distinct non-stellar and non-twinkling blue glow of the planetary nebula. Disappears when direct vision is applied, best with averted vision.
I have many a times attempted for the nearby faint and thin, edge-on galaxy NGC 7640, but in vain. I've never till date got a glimpse of it, due to incorrect positioning.
Double Cluster (NGC 869 & 884) - Simply breath-taking...words cannot describe the density and multitude of colorful scattered stars existing here! Both the individual clusters appeared very beautiful.
Orion Nebula (M42) - As ever, resplendent with beauty. The front dust obstructed the light coming from the stellar glow behind. Appears like a large bird or a bat shape, with wings spread out.
NGC 2903 - Appeared as an irregular and ovalish, medium-bright haze, in the glow of morning twilight (zodiacal light?)
COMETS (my webpage link)
88/P Howell - The first object for the day...and a brand NEW comet! If only an event is scheduled by Nature, it will be executed accordingly. Try what you may. There have been several instances in the years, I have tried finding a comet low at horizon and failed, including this very one too. But this time, this one came in within 10 minutes of setting the telescope, and very easily!!
It was low in the sky and above western horizon, and I used the detailed finder chart to track this. After finding M19 first, I star hopped to the nearby small NGC 6293 globular. The comet was in a visual rendezvous with this..they were in the same field ! Wow..there were two-somethings distinct and fuzzy, medium faint that caught my eye.
It was around half a magnitude fainter than the globular, and similar size (3 arc minutes) But it appeared slightly elongated to one side, rather than a typical circular.
C/2006 W3 Christensen - An old pal. I was not sure how this one would be, since it was long I had a decent glimpse of it when bright. Anyway, even before dinner, I used the star chart and found Gamma Aquila, the bottom tip star. Star hopped to the desired location just a degree away, and here was something that caught my eye pretty easy, and better than expected.
It was small, 3 arc minutes in diameter, circular, pretty uniformly condensed and easily visible. Should be 9th mag visually.
217/P LINEAR - The SECOND NEW comet for the day! This comet just underwent an outburst a day or two ago, and my expectations were high, since images of it presented a different impression, and I was without its latest magnitude observation. I was only with a preconceived notion that the outburst must have brought it to some 8th mag, and it should be a cakewalk getting this, especially after inspiration from two other supposedly 'fainter' comets.
With a detailed finder chart, I star hopped to the precise location. At first glance, there was nothing there, and I would have run over it many times. With staring at the right place, a disappointing glow of light appeared. Averted vision suited better.
This was not perfectly circular, but appeared a very little extended on one side. There was some very mild streak appearing emanating from the center (maybe an impression formed after seeing it's images). It had an overall low surface brightness, for a 10th mag comet. I indeed wonder, I would have all the more not been able to spot it, if it wasn't for that small outburst of its.
Wow..its inexplicable! The event had rehearsed once again...I had seen a comet at stroke of midnight just like 3 years ago, this very date and time!! And got to observe 3 comets in one night, of which 2 new!!!
Jupiter - The first object of the day. A 32mm Plossl eyepiece on a 8" f/8 scope still gave lot of details. As soon as I aimed for it, towards the closure of twilight, I counted atleast 3-4 bands. I felt as if GRS was also visible right in the center. The band just above this, seemed to hint of another oval, parallel to GRS! However, I didnt have any higher power eyepiece to confirm this.
Mars - Just a small, bright red dot in the telescope.
Venus - It appeared full in phase. Very bright.
Saturn - Saw the as the last object for the day in morning twilight, and low at the horizon, above Venus. Its re-emerged in our skies again to grace us with it's rings visible as a think streak cutting across the yellowish planet.
I have in mind to sketch the following objects, from memory - Andromeda galaxy, Orion Nebula, Double Cluster and Helix Nebula. It is going to be a very complex trial to prepare them as per the view in eyepiece, even while observing, because of their beauty, size and diversity. Anyway, I will try my best.
It was great! I only thank, and pray to the Almighty Lord for granting such a procession of fortuitous sessions. :-)