Monday 16 January 2012

Astronomy, rum and no lash

After a couple of quiet drinks in the pub, where the legendary bass playing of Jaco Pastorius was discussed and Oliver Reed's cinematic and TV antics, I headed home under what even through sodium streetlight haze was a glittering sky. Bitterly cold though it was, I slipped outside with my 10x50s for a lookaround, happy that I wouldn't have to contend with the downstaris neighbors security light.

I looked at the usual suspect objects first - the Orion Nebula always being a fine sight even in binoculars, you can only see half the Trapezium! So that would be a straight line I guess! I always find sweeping through Orion a pretty sight, there are so many faint stars like pinpricks in a backlit velvet curtain you just lose yourself following the rivers of starlight round and about.

This night I was able to just about fit Messier 37,36 and 38 in Auriga into the same field of binocular view, all of them looking like hazy patches of nebulosity, with 37 the brightest looking and 38 the largest. M38, I remember, was an attractive sight in my 6 inch reflector.

I then scooted across through Perseus, through the Alpha Perseii cluster, and on to the Double Cluster, the Sword Handle. How Messier missed these pair of beauties I don't know, because they are easily visible in Binoculars and even resolve into a few stars in my 10x50s, one of the clusters being markedly more open than the other.

I always forget to look for Messier 34.

Coming back through Orion, I turned left at Betelgeuse, an angry vermillion beacon in my binoculars, and found a small but slightly resolved star cluster. Investigation reveals this to be conclusively the Christmas Tree cluster NGC2264. It looks look nebular behind the resolved stars, but this will be starlight, rather than the nebula that surrounds the cluster.

Finally I stopped off at Messier 35 in Gemini, another fine telescopic sight, before heading off into Cancer.

The Beehive Cluster M44 looks like a mini Pleides in binoculars, smaller and somehow prettier! All it's individual stars are resolved in 10x50s, and I found that once you know where you are looking, it's easy to see with the naked eye.

A little lower is Messier 67, which is easy to find with the 10x50s when you relaise the way to find it is to look  above and a little to the left of the head of the Hydra, the deadly Herculean watersnake that forms the largest constellation in the sky.

It just looks like a nebular patch in 10x50s.

I had another look for the Crab Nebula, I thought I had it with averted vision, but it is so difficult! Really dark skies, it should be plain to see, it's certainly easy to find near Zeta Taurii. Will keep trying! Not that I want to catch a crab on a night out.

Too freezing to stay out for long, my hands were a fetching shade of dark blue. It took a double slug of Havana Club rum to revive me! But a worthy reward indeed, another warm glow to end the evening.

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