Tales from the Golden Age: A Short Commentary on Walter Scott Houston’s,”Deep Sky Wonders.”

A Distillation of observing notes from the late Walter Scott Houston(1912–93).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between 1946 and 1994, the noted American observer, Walter Scott Houston, wrote the Deep Sky Wonders column for Sky & Telescope magazine, entertaining several generations of amateur astronomers across the English speaking world. His great personal knowledge of the deep sky and enthusiasm to share his experiences were downright infectious. With beautiful prose and just the right amount of technical detail, Houston’s writings presented delightful ‘word pictures’ of the many deep sky objects that adorn the night sky. The present work, first published in 1999 by Sky Publishing Corporation, represents a distillation of his writings which appeared a few short years after his untimely passing in December 1993.

The copy of the book discussed here refers to the paperback edition (309 pages), containing a preface, followed by 12 chapters covering all the months of the year, and ending with source references, a bibliography and index. The selective writings are edited by the noted observer and former Sky & Telescope columnist, Stephen James O’ Meara.

The Preface

This is divided into three distinct sections with commentaries from O’ Meara, Brian Skiff and Dennis di Cicco, who provide interesting biographical details of Houston’s life and observing philosophy.

Born in Tippecanoe, Wisconsin, on May 30 1912, Houston developed an early interest in optical instruments, constructing his first telescope as a preteenage boy: a 1 inch aperture refractor from salvaged spectacle lenses, and mounted inside a cardboard tube, which provided a magnification of 40 diameters. But we also learn that ‘Scotty’ was far more knowledgeable about microscopes than telescopes. Growing up in an era where good telescopes were very expensive by modern standards, Houston, like so many of his contemporaries, resorted to grinding his own mirrors in order to sate his growing aperture fever. This resulted, we are further informed, in a badly made 6 inch primary mirror he finished in 1930, but it was soon improved upon when he apparently produced a first rate 10 inch silver on glass mirror which formed the heart of Houston’s first serious telescope, an instrument that consolidated his lifelong love for the treasures of the deep sky. The interested reader will note that Scotty’s 10 inch mirror is on display at the R.W. Porter Museum of Amateur Telescope Making, Springfield, Vermont.

After leaving school, Scotty studied for a degree in English literature at the University of Wisconsin and it was here that he made his acquaintance with a one Joseph Meek, who stoked his interest in observing variable stars. Indeed, after joining the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) in 1931, he went on to contribute an astonishing 12,500 observations throughout his long life!

Scotty was quite the scholar, securing teaching positions at various public schools and universities across the American Midwest. During World War II, he served as an instructor for pilots at the Army Air Force’s Navigation School, at Selman, Louisiana. Finally, he moved to Connecticut, where his skills in the written word were put to good use as an editor for American Education Publications, a post he held until his retirement in 1974. He and his wife, Miriam, were inveterate travellers, visiting astronomical conventions and star parties across the United States, where he endeared himself to the community, which had so admired his Deep Sky Wonders column over the years and decades since its inception back in 1946.

Observations made with this homemade 10 inch f/8.6 reflector formed much of the basis of Scotty’s earliest astronomical forays, conducted under the dark skies of rural Kansas throughout the 1950s. That instrument must have been a best of a ‘scope, but it served as his workhorse for many years. Scotty was also very enthusiastic about using binoculars, as we shall discover. His association with the AAVSO introduced Houston to arguably his favourite telescope;a 4 inch f/15 Clark achromatic refractor. On page 84 of Deborah Warner’s book, Alvan Clark & Sons, Artists in Optics, we learn of more details about the instrument:

William Tyler Olcott, the author of several popular books on astronomy, used a 4 inch aperture Clark refractor made in 1893. A wooden tripod supported the brass with nickel tube and a hand driven work wheel. Olcott later gave the telescope to Phoebe Haas (q.v), who then gave it to the American Association of Variable Star Observers, which in turn loans it to its members. The Olcott instrument is now being used by Walter Scott Houston.

pp 84.

A neoclassical 4 inch f/15 refractor, similar to that used by Houston, and once used by this author for several years.

Later in his life, Houston acquired a 5 inch Apogee ‘Moonwatch’ rich field refractor delivering a fixed power of 20x, which he used to sweep the skies, and which features in many of his later monthly columns. He also had in his possession a 5 inch binocular, which is occasionally mentioned in the text.

Scotty eschewed the growing number of amateur astronomers who were becoming increasingly obsessed with their equipment. He was an observer, not a ‘gear head’. Brian Skiff explains:

Scotty had a light touch and avoided being distracted by technical details. You don’t find any invidious comparisons of different telescope or eyepiece brands in his writing or much about the nitty gritty of equipment at all, because Scotty knew that the most important piece of equipment was the eye, and its training the most important activity; all else was trivial in comparison. Time wasted arguing the virtues of one eyepiece over another was time not spent honing your observing skills.

xiv

How times have changed!

It was with this modest cache of instruments that Walter Scott Houston created his literary magic; word enchancements that we shall explore in this essay.

Houston invited many of his readers to comment on the more speculative commentaries he made in the course of making his observations, and accordingly invited them to write him with their findings. In this way, Houston built up a formidable correspondence base with fellow observers across the United States, Canada and further afield, and when he attended star parties he would get to finally meet his admirers in person. Back in those days before internet, Scotty corresponded with his fans via snail mail. Specifically, they’d receive a small blue postcard with a personalised message. In these and other ways, he endeared himself to his readers and inspired many to take up the gauntlet to explore the riches of the deep sky.

One of his greatest admirers was W. H. Levy, of comet fame. Indeed, according to Skiff, it was ‘Twinky’ (aka Houston), who provided the essential push to him becoming the celebrated comet discoverer he subsequently became:

David Levy tells the story of meeting Scotty at a Deep Sky Wonder Night in northern Vermont in late August 1966. He had just begun comet hunting some months earlier. In the middle of the night, David took a break and began telling Scotty of his hopes to discover a comet someday. Puffing slowly on his pipe, Scotty asked David what the sky was like outside. He answered that it was pretty clear, dark and moonless. Scotty then asked if David’s telescope was out there, to which the answer was “yes.” Scotty took another puff on his pipe, looked up quizzically and said, “Well, David, you sure aren’t going to find a comet as long as we’re inside talking about it!”

xiv

In 1980, Scotty underwent surgery to remove a cataract from his observing eye. As we shall see in his discourses, this greatly increased his sensitivity to shorter visual wavelengths as well as ultraviolet radiation. We will also discover a wealth of information concerning what ordinary individuals achieved using modest instruments, thereby providing yet more historically relevant documentation on what experienced individuals saw under the starry heavens. The individual chapters cover the entire observer’s year, parsing the sky up into twelve slices, with each fully two hours of right ascension in width. So, why not pull up a chair and enjoy some of the highlights of this charming and inspirational work from memory lane.

The Great Nebula in Orion, the majestic furnace of winter. Image credit Wiki Commons.

Chapter 1: January

I learned my constellations in Tippecanoe, Wisconsin, a town that long ago vanished into the urban sprawl of Milwaukee. Back then Tippecanoe was a rather treeless tract of farmland bounded by the great clay buffs of western Lake Michigan. The sky ran right down to the horizon, with an almost irresistible force, called for you to look at it. In January 1926, after a midnight walk home from ice skating, I wrote:

Snow crystals like blue diamonds, but with a dreamy gentle radiance totally unlike the harsh gem. A rail fence as black as Pluto himself runs along the road. The forest is black in the distance. The landscape is a masterpiece in ultramarine and sable.

As if in contrast, the heavens above blaze with a thousand tints. Incomparable Orion leads the hosts with blue Rigel, ruby Betelgeuse, and bright Bellatrix. His silver belt and sword flash like burnished stellar steel. And more advanced is the dark and somber Aldebaran, so heavy and gloomy. In fitting contrast are the delicate Pleiades, who sparkle “like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.”

How can a person ever forget the scene, the glory of a thousand stars in a thousand hues, the radiant heavens and the peaceful Earth? There is nothing else like it. It may well be beauty in its purest form.

pp 1/2

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Author’s note:  Few books make an entrance like Scotty’s opening lines of chapter 1. Recalling the days of his youth, when the skies near his home were sublimely dark and crystal clear, and when light pollution was simply non existent, Houston thrusts us headlong into the starry universe of a freezing January night. Such a scene reminds this author of the sable skies of his own youth, when he’d sit on his back on a windswept sand dune on the south coast of Ireland during summer holidays, where the stars, too numerous to count, would stretch all the way down to the horizon! The brilliant luminaries of January, coupled to the naturally darker sky experienced as our planet faces away from the hustle and bustle of the down town Milky Way, would have certainly bewitched the young sky gazer and instilled in him/her a great yearning to explore its cavernous reaches with optical aid.

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On page 2 through 5, Scotty introduces us to the glories of the Great Nebula in Orion, a most fitting place to start Deep Sky Wonders. He describes how the nebula was first ‘discovered’ in 1611 and informs us that Sir William Herschel turned his first homemade reflecting telescope toward it in 1774 in the aftermath of some two hundred failed attempts to fashion a decent speculum mirror! Scotty’s mind wanders, as he discusses the drawings made of the Orion Nebula by telescopic observers prior to the advent of astronomical photography;

Drawings of the Orion Nebula made before the influence of photography raise more questions than they answer. Only superficially do the sketches bear any resemblance  to one another. The bright section of the nebula drawn by Bindon Stoney using Lord Rosse’s 3 foot reflector in Ireland doesn’t begin to match what I saw in 1935 with the 36 inch reflector at Steward Observatory in Arizona. Trouvelot’s 1882 lithograph based on observations with the Harvard 15 inch is a reasonable match to my view through a 3 inch. On the other hand, John Mallas’ drawing in the Messier Album, made in the 1960s with a 4 inch telescope shows features that most observers need a 10 inch to see.

pp 4

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Author’s note: It is difficult to see the precise point Scotty is making here. Certainly, the visual acuity of the observer has a role to play, and it is certainly true that a good observer with a small telescope will probably see more than a poor observer using a larger instrument. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that for observing the Orion Nebula (or, indeed, the vast majority deep sky objects) that a good observer will see more in a larger instrument than the same individual will see in a smaller one, provided the optics are working as they ought to.

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The Nebula, as Scotty ably reminds us, responds well to all magnifications. “Its chaotic form gives a strong impression of twisting and turbulent motion,” he writes, “that are too slow to follow….. and its green tint is obvious to most. …… With low powers and a field wide enough to include the whole nebula, it becomes an object compelling enough to draw exclamations of delight from even the most disinterested bystander.”

pp 5.

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Author’s note: Scotty is dead right! Seeing the Orion Nebula through most any telescope, large or small, is sure to knock your socks off and is arguably one of the best outreach objects to enthral beginning observers.

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On pages 5 through 6, Scotty discusses the elusive Barnard’s Loop, an enormous, faint emission nebula running for several tens of degrees east of the Orion’s belt asterism.  He informs us that E.E. Barnard did not, in fact, discover the structure. It was the harvard astronomer, W. H. Pickering who first picked it up on photographic plates made at Mount Wilson in 1889; a full five years before Barnard’s own wide field astrographs confirmed it.

The beautiful but visually challenging Barnard’s Loop in Orion. Image credit: WIki Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In all his years of searching with instruments of all shapes and sizes, Houston admits that the structure had eluded him, until one night at his Connecticut home, he saw it with his naked eye when he placed a OIII filter up to his eye! The sighting of it drove him wild:

My wife says I jumped clean over the observatory (it’s a small building).

pp 6

Sticking with elusive objects, Scotty then moves onto the Horsehead Nebula, which, although discovered photographically in 1900, had eluded the most seasoned deep sky observers for generations. It’s found very close to 2nd magnitude star, Alnitak, the southermost luminary in the Hunter’s belt. Even to this day, the Horsehead has evaded most deep sky observers, generally requiring large aperture telescopes and excellent seeing conditions. A Hydrogen beta filter (unavailiable in Scotty’s time) also helps make this nebula pop.

Scotty provides his own findings with the Horsehead:

From Connecticut my 4 inch refractor failed to reveal the Horsehead, but my notebook indicates that it was visible from Kansas with a 10 inch reflector. I have since fished it out using a 4 inch Clark, a 4 inch off axis Newtonian telescope made by Margaret Snow, a 5 inch Moonwatch Apogee telescope under the same circumstances as Mr. Wooten, immediately after the passage of a cold front.Scattered light from 2nd magnitude zeta foils many attempts to find the Horsehead, since the two are seaprated by only 1/2 a degree.

pp 8

Less challenging is the Flame Nebula (IC 434), located a mere 15 arc minutes to the southeast of Alnitak. Scotty reports that the Flame has been observed in instruments as various as a 60mm classic refractor as well as small reflecting telescopes. Scotty received reports that the Flame was exceptionally well observed at high altitude.

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Author’s note: Many years ago, during my brief forays into astrophography, I captured a reasonable image of the Horsehead and Flame Nebula using a 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope on Kodak ektachrome. Visually, it remains an elusive object to my eyes. The Flame Nebula can be glimpsed at powers of about 200x in a good 8 inch reflector and of course, one should not neglect Alnitak itself, which presents as a wonderful triple star for backyard telescopes.

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Scotty made it very clear from his writings and correspondences with amateurs across the country that the sighting of many deep sky objects depend more on the condition of the sky from which it is observed than the visual acuity of the individual. This is brought into sharp focus whilst discussing his next January target, M33, the Pinwheel Galaxy in Triangulum, which is presented on pages 9 through 11. Good seeing conditions and clean air swept clear of particulates render M 33 visible without optical aid. Scotty also informs us that it can prove a difficult target to pin down telescopically, owing to its low surface brightness:

With a diameter of 1 degree, the 7th magnitude spiral more than fills the field of view in high power binoculars and presents an almost featureless glow that is easily missed. Therefore, very low powers or even small binoculars give the best view.

pp 10.

The Pinwheel Galaxy, as imaged in a 10 inch Newtonian reflector. Image credit: Alexander Meleg.

With careful study in a moderatey large back yard telescope, Scotty  says;

“M 33 is usually smooth, but on one night I saw the whole surface surprisingly mottled, with the southeast part considerably brighter than the northeast….. Most observers settle for for locating NGC 604, a bright knot in one arm 9.1′ east and 7.6′ north of the galaxy’s nucleus….. One night in an 8 inch, a congested mass of bright patches was seen superimposed on an overall spiral pattern.

pp 11

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Author’s note: The Pinwheel is a fascinating object to study in telescopes of 8 inches or larger aperture. It is very well presented in my 8 inch reflector at 30x, where a roughly ‘S’ shaped structure is seen snaking its way from a slightly brighter and more condensed centre. If you crank up the power to over 100x or so, one can make out NGC 604 as a distinct blob at the extreme tip of the galaxy’s northern spiral arm.

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On pages 11 through 15, Scotty fleshes out details of an interesting correspondence with a one Pat Brennan, of Regina, Saskatchewan, an avid deep sky obsever who used a homemade 6 inch f/7 Newtonian to carry out his own observations of more obscure NGC objects and who was struck by the disprepancy between their description in Dreyer’s New General Catalogue (and its revisions) and how he found them at the eyepiece. As Scotty points out, the all sky photographic surveys, recording as they do a bewildering number of faint and bright objects, would often overwhelm well defined clusters as seen in a small amateur telescope. A few such objects (loose open clusters) are discussed, including NGC 1662, NGC 2180 and NGC 2184 in Orion, NGC 2251 in neighbouring Monoceros and NGC 7394 in Lacerta. The moral of the story here is that until one actually observes such systems for oneself, descriptions can be next to meaningless.

The magnificent Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) in Perseus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On pages 16 through 19, Scotty discusses one the most beautiful deep sky treasures in all the heavens, the celebrated Double Cluster (also known as Xi Persei) in the constellation of Perseus. Although known to the ancients, the Double Cluster’s true majesty could scarcely be revealed until the age of the telescope was upon us. And while anyone evenly briefly acquainted with the night sky can find it without much trouble with the naked eye, Scotty is nonetheless careful to provide his readers with good directions on how to find it from less than ideal skies.

Scotty reveals that many of the great telescopic observers of past centuries recognised its splendour, including W.H. Smyth, T.W Webb and W.T. Olcott. Serviss’ Astronomy with an Opera Glass, published in 1888, described it thus:

With a telescope of medium power, it is one of the most marvelously beautiful objects in the sky; a double swarm of stars, bright enough to be clearly distinguished from one another, and yet so numerous as to to dazzle the eye with their lively beam.

pp18.

A composite drawing of the Double Cluster by the author conducted with a 32mm Plossl coupled to an 18cm f/15 Maksutov Cassegrain.

Houston provides his readers with some historical references to observers who first coined the term ‘Double Cluster’, with a number of individuals using the phrase beginning around the latter part of the 19th century. From here, Scotty wastes no time in providing his impression of the system as seen through a medium sized telescope:

Each of these two open clusters would stand well on their own , but they are even more spectacular because, less than a degree apart, they are visisble in the same low power field. I see h Persei (NGC 869) being slightly brighter and more concentrated of the two. Becvar’s Atalas catalogie gives the star count in NGC 869 as 250. Just 1/2  a degree east, Chi Persei is said to contain some 300 stars. However, anyone who looks with a 10 inch telescope will certainly consider the catalog values to be conservative.

pp 19

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Author’s note: Scotty declares that the finest views he has personally enjoyed of the Double Cluster was with a 6 inch refractor equipped with a special 4 inch focal length ocular designed by Art Leonard. This author has observed these clusters with all manner of instruments, including opera glasses, a three draw spyglass with a one inch diameter objective, binoculars of various sizes, as well as a plethora of astronomical telescopes. Arguably the best view was enjoyed with a rather specialised 8″ f/6 doublet achromat (utterly useless at high power though), but these days he is completely sated with the medium power views served up by his workhorse instrument, a 8″ f/6 Newtonian reflector.

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The final pages of this opening chapter discusses a number of NGC objects in the far southern constellation of Fornax. On page 23, Houston discusses the visibility of the planetary nebula, NGC 1360:

A short notice on this object was in Deep Sky Wonders for 1972, and it surprises me now. I wrote that NGC 1360 was not seen in a 4 inch reffractor but glimpsed with a fast 5 inch refractor; a sad testimony to the murk of my Connecticut skies that evening…

pp 23.

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Author’s note: This is an intriguing statement, and one that flies somewhat in the face of much contemporary ‘wisdom’. Afterall, a quality 4 inch long focus refractor (his beloved Clark) ought to see things ‘better’ than a fast achromat only an inch larger, right? Wrong! Scotty had little reason to prevaricate. The larger instrument showed up this magnitude 9.4 Robin’s Egg Nebula, where the 4 inch apparently could not; and under the same conditions!

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Chapter 2: February

The chapter begins in the rather lacklustre constellation of Camelopardalis, to an oft overlooked galaxy that presents as quite a spectacular sight from a dark sky site; the barred spiral galaxy NGC 2403. Scotty comments that it was,

too bad Messier missed this spiral while hunting comets. If it had been included in his list, it would certainly one of the better known galaxies in the northern sky. Sky catlogue 2000.0 lists NGC 2403 as about 1/4 of a degree and shining with a total light of an 8.4 magnitude star  values similar to famous Whirlpool Galaxy, M51. Indeed, NGC 2403 is the brightest galaxy north of the celestial equator that does not have a Messier number. pp 28

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Author’s note: One can find NGC 2403 about 7.5 degrees northwest of the third magnitude star Omicron Ursae Majoris (Muscida). My observations indicate that it is somewhat larger than Scotty’s quoted size; more like 25 x 13 arc minutes and thus covering an area roughly half that of the full Moon.

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NGC 2403 featuring supernova 2004DJ as imaged by Rochus Hess using a 25cm f/5 Newtonian astrograph.

As Houston rightly points out, this remarkable non Messier object is well seen in large binoculars and is a ” lovely gem” in his 4 inch Clark refractor. He also points out that the famous American comet hunter, Leslie C. Peltier, included NGC 2403 in his list of galaxies used for testing out the suitability of a telescope for comet hunting. Through his 10 inch reflector the view was transformed into “an ocean of turbulence and detail.” This is more like the description this author recognises in his 8 inch f/6 Newtonian at powers of 100x or so.

Scotty then goes on to describe another galaxy in the celestial Giraffe; IC 342, first discovered by the great English amateur astronomer, W.F. Denning in the 1890s. Houston quotes this galaxy as a 12th magnitude spiral galaxy and is very much more faint than NGC 2403. Scotty was unsure about whether it constituted a bona fide member of the Local Group. Today, we know for sure that it is. This author has not seen this faint galaxy personally, but it shouldn’t present as too much of a difficulty in an 8 or 10 inch telescope with averted vision and low powers.

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Author’s note: The integrated magnitude of IC342 is quoted as between 8.4 and 9.1 depending on the source; both of which are considerably brighter than the magnitude 12 figure quoted by Scotty on page 29.

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Intriguingly, Scotty mentions that despite several attempts to see IC 342 with a number of 4 inch refractors, he never managed to see it with such instruments, but does go on to say that, “using a 10 inch reflector I noted it as easy and even stands 100x once located.

I wonder what you see?

Kemble’s Cascade. Image Credit: Wayne Young.

On page 30, Scotty presents his wonderful word painting of one of the most striking asterisms in the entire heavens; Kemble’s Cascade:

Despite more than half a century of peering into nooks and crannies and looking where the guide books were silent, I missed one of the sky’s more beautiful asterisms. In 1980 a letter from Lucian J. Kembe, who lives under the clean skies of Alberta, Canada, told of a fine grouping he had come across.While sweeping  with 7 x 35 binoculars in Camelopardalis, kemble found a “beautiful cascade of faint stars  tumbling  from the northwest  down to the open cluster NGC 1502.” I called the asterism Kemble’s Cascade when writing about it in this column. The name has stuck.

pp 30

It was Houston who honoured Fr. Kemble with this discovery; a remarkable feat in itself as was apparently unnoticed by earlier observers. Kemble’s Casacade runs for about 2.5 degrees all the way from Cassiopiea right down to the open cluster NGC 1502 in the Camelopardalis. My 80mm f/5 achromatic refractor frames the entire line of some 15 stars (the brightest of which is magnitude 5) using a 32 mm Plossl delivering 13x. The magnitude 5.7 cluster, NGC 1502 is also worth scrutinising with binoculars or a small telescope, where some four dozen members can be made out with a concentated gaze.

Gaius; the author’s 80mm f/5 refractor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotty also points out that the cluster is home to two interesting multiple star systems for small telescopes; Struve 484 and 485. The former is a pretty communion of three suns, with the two fainter members separated from the primary by 5.5″ and 22.5″. The latter is a wonderful amalgam of nine suns, seven of which have magnitudes in the range  7 to 13th magnitude and according to Scotty are, “within reach of a good 4 inch telescope” pp 31. The remaining two members, he says, are within range of a 8 inch telescope.

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Author’s note: I can confirm that a good 8 inch reflector can tease all of the Struve 485 members fully apart and is quite a sight for sore eyes, as one might imagine.

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During the early 1980s, new filter technologies were coming to the fore that would soon render objects previously considered all but invisible plainly seen. This would come about with the invention of broadband and narrow band filters and it is noteworthy that Scotty lived during this era;

At the 1982 Texas Star Party, I was asked what was the best new challenging deep sky object after the large aperture Dobsonian revolution had dispatched most of the test objects from the 1950s and ’60s. I suggested the california Nebula, not knowing that a piece of modern technology would soon remove it from the the list of challenges; a skyglow piercing nebula filter. In fact, I remember saying that it is the ultimate test object for visual observers. So much for that wisdom, for little did I realize when I made the comment that before I returned to Connecticut I would see the nebula with my naked eye through an O III filter. In the winter of 1992, in Mexico, the same filter showed the California nebula as bright.

pp 34.

Scotty informs us that this extraordinarily elusive object (prosaically referred to as NGC 1499) in Perseus was discovered visually by the young E.E.Barnard in 1885 using the 6 inch Clark refractor at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. Barnard is well known for possessing incredibly acute vision, especially for faint objects on the precipice of vision. On page 35, Scotty offers his regal advice to observers wishing to see this object;

A low magnification should be used so that the field of view shows plenty of sky to contrast with the object. the telescope’s optics should be well collimated and free from dust and dirt that would scatter light and reduce the image contrast. The eyepiece also should be clean , and all air to glass surfaces antireflection coated. While a number of things affect the visibility of Low Surface Brightness (LSB) objects. I suspect that seeing them depends more on observer experience and eye training than on specific telescope f/ratios and magnifications.

pp 35

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Author’s note: From a dark sky, away from the artificial lights of towns and cities, cast your gaze immediately north of xi Persei. NGC 1499 spans a whopping four full Moon diameters (two angular degrees) in extent. If you can’t spot it with the naked eye, try holding up a Hydrogen beta filter (which transmits at 486.1nm), which should greatly help in the visual discernment of this emission nebula. A regular Deep Sky filter should also help. The hydrogen gas that constitutes the bulk of the nebula is excited by  xi Persei, which is itself a member of the Perseus OB2 association of hot, young stars. Telescopically, one ought to choose a small rich field telescope offering as wide a field as possible, and again, one should couple this to an appropriate filter. Good luck in your endeavours to see this amazing structure!

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Page 35 recounts a number of ways amateurs have seen the California Nebula over the years. Perhaps the most endearing is that described by a one Alister Ling from Montreal, Canada, who wrote Scotty with this tale. He was visiting his friend, David H. Levy, and took a small boat out upon a lake near his cottage where the air was exceptionally tranquil (think Big Bear Solar Observatory):

I made a monocular from my 400mm telephoto lens by attaching a 28mm orthoscopic eyepiece to it. This gives a magnification of about 14x and a field several degrees in diameter. No sooner had I located xi Persei than the extended nebula was quite obvious. It was about 1.5 degrees long with two fairly bright stars embedded near its edge. Roughly near its midpoint there is an obvious kink in the nebulosity. It appears more like a mass of unresloved stars than a gas cloud; very much as the Milky way appears to the naked eye. Later, a crescent Moon rose in Gemini, and rendered the California Nebula invisible.”

pp 35

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Author’s note: Those were the days eh! Fun with a makeshift telescope! I can’t imagine many folk doing something like that now. Note also how the nebulosity completely vanishes in moonlight!

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In the clear, cold nights of winter, the dazzling constellation Perseus stretches its silvery fishhook high in the northern sky. The Milky Way narrows considerably in Perseus, being partly veiled by interstellar dust, and we are looking well away from the center of the galaxy, in Sagittarius. Star charts show that the open star clusters which abound in Cassiopeia and Auriga are noticeably fewer in Perseus. But the constellation does offer many objects that will reward the observer who braves the cold weather to observe them.

pp 36

With words such as these, how could anyone resist the opportunity to venture outside on a clear winter’s night to observe the glory of the firmament? Scotty understood that the stars offered a kind of comfort that could not be found elsewhere. He was drawn to them, like a duck to water.

We move from Perseus briefly to explore a splendid telescopic object; M27 (NGC 6853), the Little Dumbbell, in the diminutive constellation of Vulpecula, the Fox, at the head of Cygnus. One of the brightest of the planetary nebulae, it is easily seen in binoculars as a 8th magnitude misty glow. Scotty says it’s hard to find though, and he’s right! Thankfully, he offers the reader an easy way to locate it;

Start with Phi Persei. This star and a dimmer one just to the south from a pointer, with Phi at the head that directs the observer to a diamond of faint stars, within which M76 is dimly perceptible.

pp 36.

The Little Dumbbell (M76) in Vulpecula. Image credit: Robert J. Vanderbai.

A telescope transforms the binocular view immeasurably. In my old 4 inch f/15 achromat, it appeared as a roughly boxed shaped object, greenish in hue, and about twice as long as it is wide. It responds well to high magnification. 200x is the order of the day. Two lobes of this planetary nebula are seen projecting out at either end with a pretty smattering of faint stars strewn across its face. Scotty decribes it thus:

With a small aperture or in indifferent sky conditions, M76 shows only a dim irregular oval with ragged edges. But one night, with an 8 inch reflector in the hills of the Golden Gate in san Francisco, M76 was a most exciting object.It appeared more than 2′ by 1′( large for a planetary) and high magnifications brought out an intricate network of tubulent celestial clouds.At Stellafane in Springfield, Vermont, M76 appeared as a marvelous object in George Scotten’s 12 inch f/5.7 Dobsonian reflector. The nebula seemed to float between us and the starry background, its edges appearing  even more faryed than when smaller telescopes are used. Its curled twists and streamers seemed to show the whole mass in turmoil. At the 1992 Winter Star Party in the Florida Keys I had a chnace to view M76 through a 36 inch Dobsonian reflector built by Tom and Jeannie Clark. To reach the eyepiece required climbing a stepladder half as high as the surrounding palm trees, but the view was worth it. it made anything I had ever seen in my old 10 inch reflector just a dusty memory.

pp 37.

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Author’s note: Scotty vividly describes what amateur astronomers refer to as ‘aperture fever.’ That said, though he most certainly enjoyed and appreciated the views through giant light buckets, there is no evidence that he ever personally succumbed to them. Evidently, he was completely sated by much smaller, simpler kit.

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From Vulpecula, we venture back into Perseus once more, where Scotty discusses the bright open cluster M 34. Situated about half way between Algol (the Demon star) and the famous double star, Gamma Andromedae (Almach), this magnitude 5.2 open cluster is an excellent target for binoculars or a small telescope.Scotty was of the opinion that the best views of this cluster were to be had with 15 x 65 binoculars, although I think the view is equally compelling at 13x in my 80mm f/5 refractor. A 4 inch telescope shows up a few dozen stars loosely associated with each other and varying in brightness from the 8th to the 12th magnitude.

Many observers, including Scotty, have noted additional structures inside the cluster more reminscent of that seen in globulars than any other type of object. Scotty also mentions the interesting double star at its heart.

I see three noteworthy curved rays of stars running out from the center which are very  evident in my 4 inch Clark refractor at 40x. Indeed, they even show in binoculars. Near the center of the swarm  lies the double star Otto Struve 44, which my 4 inch refractor splits nicely at 100x, especially when the heater is turned on to remove any trace of dew  from the objective. The primary star is of magnitude 8.5 and 9.2 companion is 1.4″ distant at position 55 degrees(toward the northeast)

pp 39

One of the great charms of reading the work of historical figures is the thrill of discovering new information about how our hobby has changed over the years and, just as importantly, how it has not changed! Such knowledge is valuable. On page 40, Houston says that until the 1970s, most deep sky charts never listed objects fainter than about 13th magnitude. The reason he says is because truly big telescope mirrors were hard to come by because they rapidly became too heavy and unwieldy. Back then, mirrors were made with a diameter to mirror thickness ratio of 6:1. A 6 inch mirror was already one inch thick and a 12 inch would have to be 2 inches thick!  And those big mirrors didn’t come cheap either:

Such mirrors larger than 12 inches cost a fortune.

pp 40

And yet, Scotty was an accomplished ATMer:

In 1932 I made a 10 inch reflector from 1/2 inch plate glass. The mirror had to be carefully supported or else it made every star in the field appear double; pretty but hardly suitable for astronomy.

pp 40

Indeed, Scotty goes on to say that during the early 1930s, the largest telescope dedicated to serious amateur observing was a 13 inch reflector donated by Cornell University to the Milwaukee Astronomical Society.

By the 1980s, advances in manufacturing technology ensured that virtually any good sized star party across the United States had good telescope mirrors 20 inches or larger in size, allowing the 13th magnitude barrier to be broken. As a test for this 13th magnitude + limit, Scotty offers the galaxy trio, NGC 1130 (magnitude 13.0) and NGC 1129(+14.5) and finally NGC 1131 (+15.5). According to Scotty, these should all be visible in a good, modern 10 inch reflector from a suitably dark site.

The remainder of the chapter discusses the huge and winding constellation of Eridanus, the celestial River. Alas, owing to my own far northerly location (56 degrees) only the northernmost tip of this constellation (to the southwest of Orion), is on view and thus I’m not in a position to comment on many of the objects Scotty discusses here, which are better suited to those observing at more southerly latitudes.

As darkness settles on the February landscape, the mighty Hunter Orion stands high over the southern horizon. Now is a fine time, however, for observers living in northern temperate latitudes to explore the backwaters and eddies of the the River Eridanus cascading westward from brilliant, blue white Rigel. Eridanus meanders in graceful loops and bends before disappearing below the southern horizon, where it ends at Achernar deep in the southern sky at declination –57 degrees.

pp 42.

The majestic barred spiral galaxy, NGC 1300 in Eridanus. Image credit: Hubb;e Site Images

Scotty goes on to inform us that Eridanus offers no star clusters to the observer but does have a profusion of galaxies. One good target for small telescopes is NGC 1300, a rather fetching barred spiral galaxy, with a visual magnitude of 10.3. Houston says:

It is within reach of a 4 inch, and I have seen it easily with a 3.5 inch Questar telescope.Though photographs  of NGC 1300 with larger telescopes reveal a central bar with two thin but tightly wound spiral arms, smaller amateur instruments show only a blurred spindle. A 4 inch f/12 oof axis reflector suggested some detail in the glow but fell short of showing any spiral structure. A 10 inch or larger will give a more diatinct image, about 6′ x 3,’ and may even reveal the faint companion to the north, NGC 1297.

pp 43.

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Author’s note: This is arguably one of the most accessible galaxies in Eridanus even for those living at high northern latitudes. You can find it by panning about 2.3 degrees north of third magnitude Tau Eridani. An 8 inch or larger reflector and power of about 200x gives quite a good view of its main features.

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In discussing NGC 1232, found just 3 degrees southwest of NGC 1300, Scotty mentions something curious;

In my 4 inch refractor it seems to be better seen with a 150x eyepiece than with a 50x used in combination with a 3x Barlow lens. This is curious, for usually a Barlow and a long focus eyepiece give a view a view superior to an eyepiece of shorter focus that is used alone.

pp 44.

What do you think?

On page 45, Scotty commences a fascinating discussion on the ‘natural tools’ deep sky observers employ in order to see faint objects on the edge of visibility. In particular, he mentions averted vision, long known to experienced observers, but stresses that it is not equally effective for all observers. Some folk get more out of it than others, as it were.

And, like any other human endeavour, visual astronomy is not an exact science. There are exceptions to every rule:

In experiments at the Naval Research Laboratory in the late 1950s, one subject actually saw less as the image approached the edge of his retina. However, one exceptional individual’s sensitivity increased steadily in both colors; the gain in red light was three magnitudes in a direction 40 degrees from the fovea. These experiments, by J.L. Boardman, were done with scotopic(dark adapted) vision……. Until the tyro observer acquires the skills needed to ferret out fainter deep sky targets, there is often a period of frustration at the eyepiece.

pp 45.

The moral of the story here is that no book or instruction manual can ever reveal the optimum method of visualing faint fuzzies. Personal experimentation is the only sure way of getting ahead.

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Chapter 3: March

Walter Scott Houston was the complete observer. He was as happy looking with his naked eye, as he was with the help of various optical accoutrements, particularly binoculars and telescopes. Curiosity drove him.

It is in this vein that Scotty opens his topics for discussion for the month of March, and in partcular, to a beautiful, though quite elusive object in the wilds of Monoceros.

On a trip to a high altitude site in Northern Mexico he recalls:

The first target was an old favorite of mine, the Rosette Nebula( NGC 2237–39) to the east of Orion in the stellar wilderness we call Monoceros. Without a filter only a tiny glimmer of light was visible, but with an ultrahigh constrast (UHC) filter the nebula burst forth in specatcular fashion. I know of no other object in the sky where flicking back and forth in front of a naked eye produces such a wonderful effect.

pp 49

It is true indeed true that the Rosette Nebula, or that “elusive wreath of winter”, as Scotty referred to it, is often better seen in a finder ‘scope than the main instrument. Binoculars allow one to easily centre the open cluster embdeed at the epicentre of this highly complex structure; NGC 2244 easily found about two fifths of the way between ruddy Betelgeuse and brilliant white Procyon. My 80mm f/5 achromatic telescope shows up about two dozen stellar members at 50x, but larger telescopes show even more stars in the hinterland. Finding the surrounding nebulosity, of course, is an entirely different matter. Its fairly low altitude in my winter sky renders it exceptionally challenging and I’ve only glimpsed the brightest (western) edge at low power in the same telescope in the wee small hours of the morning (when the glow from Glasgow, 25 miles to the south is minimised, or ‘Glasglow’ as I disaffectionately refer to it), after a cold front has swept the air clean of particulates. Inserting a nebular filter (and powers below 50x or so) to dim the stars of NGC 2244, immeasurably improves the visibilty of the brightest parts of the associated nebulosity.

Imagers have revealed the Rosette to be enormous in relative terms; fully 1.3 square angular degrees in extent. And what a photographic spellbinder it is too!

The beautiful Rosette Nebula in Monoceros, as imaged by Andreas Fink using an 8 inch f/4 GSO imaging Newtonian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From page 49 through 52, Scotty launches into a wonderful discussion about the Rosette Nebula, detailing how this object was discovered piecemeal. Sir William Herschel, for example, discovered the open cluster NGC 2244 but entirely missed the nebula. Neither was it seen my Charles Messier or Admiral W. H. Smyth. William Lassell however, observing with his splendid 48 inch speculum reflector from the pristine, dark skies of Malta in the 1860s, described the same cluster with the nebulosity!  And while seeing parts of the emission nebula once took on the mantle of a test object, the arrival of modern nebular filters have long removed that distinguished status from it.

From Monoceros, we move northward into the constellation of Gemini, the Heavenly Twins, where Scotty waxes lyrical about arguably one the finest Messier Objects in the northern sky; the enormous, tumbling chaos that is M35:

M35 is my favorite open cluster. Located about 2.5 degrees northwest eastward of Eta Geminorum, it is an an impressive frame of bright stars with a softly flaming background of fainter ones, seemingly containing hundreds of members. William Herschel did not include the cluster in his general catalog of deep sky objects. It was his way of honoring Messier as the man who, through his earlier catalog of about a hundred deep sky objects, had inspired him to conduct his own sky survey.

pp 52

I agree wholeheartedly with Scotty in considering M 35 to be the most visually stunning open cluster in the starry heaven. It has the uncanny ability to induce gasps of delight each time I run my telescope through this region, situated at the northern foot of the constellation.

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Author’s note: Eta Geminorum (Propus) mentioned in passing by Houston is also a most challenging binary star, consisting of a marmalde orange giant star (possibly variable owing to its advanced age, and first noted as such by Julius Schmidt back in 1865) with a much fainter bluish companion that is seen to ‘bleed’ from the primary under high magnifications. Very tough for a 4 inch telescope, this author has enjoyed his finest display of the rather elusive secondary using a 8 inch f/6 Newtonian on the frosty evening of December 12 2015. See here for details.

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M 35 (lower right) as imaged by the 2MASS all sky survey.  Note also the fainter cluster NGC 2158 just off centre right. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

M35 is so large that its glory is often lost in rather small, restricted fields of view offered up by large telescopes. Yet, every increment beyond binoculars causes M35 to increase in majesty. My 80mm achromatic telescope shows it well, but the view is greatly improved in my 5.1 inch f/5 reflector at 20x. But it is with my largest telescope, an 8 inch f/6 reflector, equipped with a 40mm wide angle eyepiece delivering 30x, that I drank up my finest views of the system in recent years. Scotty seems to have enjoyed a somewhat similar viewing experience to my own;

To me, M35 seems most lovely in a 6 inch at 40x; though I must admit that, through a 36 inch telescope and a wide field eyepiece, this blaze of interwoven stars is an awe inspiring sight. But I have probably viewed M35 the most with my homemade 10 inch reflector. This was my workhorse telescope years ago on Louisiana and Kansas. Wide field eyepieces were rare during the 1940s and ’50s so, using a pair of achromats and fooling with the spacing between them, I made a wide field eyepiece with passable quality. It was a copy of what 19th century photographers called a landscape lens, and it wasn’t far removed from the design now commonly called a Plossl. ….With this eyepiece on the 10 inch I could get all of M35 into a single field. The view was too beautiful to describe with mere words. Bright stars were scattered with cosmic recklessness across the field, and it was difficult to establish where the cluster’s edges dissolved into the stellar background.

pp 54.

After enjoying the sheer magnificence of M35 through the telescope you’d be forgiven to have totally overlooked the fainter open cluster located a mere 0.4 degrees to the southwest of it. But once you ‘discover’ this other system, NGC 2158, it’s like the icing on the cake. Doubtless, were it located in some other, less extraordinary patch of sky,  this rich but faint open cluster would be more often cited by deep sky observers. It is thus easy to see why, historically, it was all but overlooked by early telescopists. NGC 2158 is poorly rendered in my 80mm f/5 refractor but is quite prominently displayed in my 5.1 and 8 inch reflectors at low and moderate powers.Here’s Scotty’s description of the cluster;

The dim, arrow shaped cluster lies right on the outer edge of M35 and is a pitfall awaiting careless observers. In my youth NGC 2158 escaped my attention until one exceptional night. From the 1920s on I had looked at M35 many times, mostly with 4 and 6 inch telescopes, but occasionally with the Milwaukee Astronomical Society’s 13 inch reflector. Then while observing with a 10 inch f/8.6 reflector in 1952 under the excellent skies of Manhattan, Kansas, I accidently discovered a peculiar wedge shaped object. For a few heartbeats I thought I had discovered a comet! Fortunately, before announcing my “comet” to the world, I checked the Skalnate Pleso Atlas Catalogue and found that it was the small star cluster NGC 2158.

pp 55.

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Author’s note: Scotty’s ‘discovery’ of the ‘comet’ near M35 is par for the course for any experienced deep sky observer. And while NGC 2158 seems for all the world like it is physically associated with M35, it actually lies some 10,000 light years farther away than its more illustrious neighbour!

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Pages 57 through 62 are devoted to two rather special ‘deep sky’ objects, multiple stars to be more precise; Castor( Alpha Geminorum) and Sirius (Alpha Canis Majoris). Scotty recounts his own personal history with both systems, how their brighter companions have changed their orbital distances and position relative to their primaries over the decades and centuries, as well as some of the historical personae associated with them. Castor presented Scotty with one of his earliest visual feats; resolving it into two components in the 1920s using a “1 inch homemade refractor.”

Sirius B, first seen by accident by Alvan G. Clark in January 1862, whilst testing a new 18.5 achromatic doublet objective for Dearborn Observatory, Illinois, was actually deduced to exist some 18 years before it was observed by the German astronomer, Friedrich W. Bessel (not mentioned in the text by Scotty). The system also caught Scotty’s attention as a young man, where he managed to split the pair with a truly famous instrument:

I first split the pair in 1932 with the same 6 inch Clark refractor used earlier by the famous double star observer Sherburne W. Burnham.

pp 61.

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Author’s note: Wow! What an honour that must have been! S.W. Burnham was a gifted (and entirely self taught) double star obsever. He saw things that still stretch credulity!

The brighter companions to Castor (B &C) and Sirius B can currently be enjoyed in very modest backyard ‘scopes. A 3 inch refractor and moderate powers ought to easily bag both.

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And it was Burnham’s equally famous colleague and friend, E.E. Barnard, who, Scotty reliably informs us, discovered a whopping five new nebulae within one angular degree of brilliant Castor in 1888!

NGC 2410 lies 1 degree north of the star, whilst the others ( IC 2194, IC 2193, IC 2199 and IC 2196) lie even closer in, off to the southwest of Castor. All are in the 14th and 15th magnitude range.pp 61.

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Author’s note: I have never searched for, yet alone seen any of these objects, but they’d make an interesting project for a dark, moonless, winter’s evening in a moderately large telescope.

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Appropriately enough, Scotty dedicates the next couple of pages of the book to another Messier showpiece, M41, located just 4 degrees south of the Dog Star. As always, delightful words stream from Scotty’s thought flow:

In contrast to Sirius, the field below is dark and vacant, allowing the eye to regain some of its sensitivity. After a minute or two this mighty galactic cluster rides into view. Its stars shine with  the total light of single 4.5 magnitude sun, which puts the cluster well within range of the naked eye. It would probably be better known as a naked eye target were it not so low in the sky as seen from northern temperate latitudes.

pp 63

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Author’s note: From my far northerly latitude M41 is always very low when it transits the meridian, making it a considerably more difficult object to see visually (though it certainly can be seen!). A good binocular object, my 5.1 inch reflector at 60x shows the system well, revealing about three dozen stars spread over an area slightly larger than the full Moon, though I suspect that were it higher in the sky I might be able to divine still more members.

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Messier 41 in Canis Major as imaged by NASA’s 2MASS survey. Image credit: Wikicommons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotty also mentions two faint open clusters discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh (about whom this author will have much more to say in an up and coming chapter) located about four degrees east of M41 (pp 63 to 64).

Did you know that the month of March offers up more 1st magnitude stars than any other from northern latitudes? Trust Scotty to notice and with great literary poise:

During March evenings eight 1st magnitude stars sit in solemn conclave in the sky above my Connecticut home. Two are in Orion, while the others are arranged in orderly grandeur around the great Hunter. Three naked eye star clusters; the Pleiades, Hyades and Praesepe; are strung along the ecliptic carrying with them a wealth of ancient folklore. Near the meridian beams the Great Orion Nebula, also visible to the naked eye. Galactic clusters are legion in the winter Milky Way, and overhead Capella shepherds a profusion of them in Auriga.

pp 65.

You can tell where Scotty is going to venture next; that splendid trio of open star clusters in the celestial Charioteer: M36, M37 and M38, as well as a few other systems of lesser splendour.

The stellar storm that is M37. Image credit: NOAO.

Scotty says M37 is the prettiest of these, and I would agree. It’s easy to find a little southeast of the midpoint between Theta Aurigae (itself a good double star for small telescopes) and Beta Tauri. First described by Hodierna back in 1654, it was independently discovered by Messier over a century later. My 80mm f/5 glass shows up a respectable 50 or so members at 50x. There’s also very pretty 9th magnitude orange star marking its epicentre, which only adds to the great natural beauty of the system.

Here’s how Scotty describes M38:

Moving “down” the Milky Way, we run into such variegated sar fields and clusters that it almost impossible to know where to halt, but this might very well be at M38. Although this cluster is well within the star strewn, it is usually visible to the naked eye without much effort.It is certainly far easier than M33(the Triangulum Galaxy), and probably easier than M11, the Scutum cluster. Evenly compressed into a glowing ball two thirds the diameter of the full Moon are over a 100 softly blazing suns. M38 is a magnificent in any sized instrument.

pp 66

Houston then calls our attention to paths less travelled, beginning with the magnitude 7.5 open cluster, NGC 1893, located just 3 degrees west of M 38. My 8 inch reflector at 100x unveils about four dozen stars arranged in a wedge shape some 12′ in size. The cluster is enveloped in a cocoon of gas and dust, IC 410, a sure indicator of its very young age (of the order of a few million years). This creates the somewhat hazy appearance of the cluster as seen in small telescopes, but Scotty raises some interesting questions all the same:

In small apertures the cluster does show a haze of unresolved stars, but, as mentioned, NGC 1893 is involved with the nebula IC 410. Like many observers, I have looked at the cluster but not seen the nebula. Could the glow we attribute to stars just below our telescope’s limit really be due to the nebula? Has anyone examined this group with a nebula filter? The results might be startling.

pp 66

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Author’s note: You can indeed see traces of the IC 140 nebulosity by employing an OIII filter coupled to a moderately large aperture ‘scope. My 8 inch reflector shows up the most prominent whisps toward its northwestern edge, but a 12 inch will transform the view into something quite spectacular. NGC 1893 is an active region of star formation.

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Scotty discusses other, less well celebrated open clusters in Auriga on pages 67 through 68 for those who enjoy a faint fuzzy challenge. In the remaining pages of this chapter, he covers a few objects of note in the southerly constellations of Columba and Lepus.

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Chapter 4: April

This chapter opens with a discussion of the novel constellation of Lynx, introduced by Hevelius in the 17th century to fill the space between the cluster rich constellation of Auriga ad the galaxy rich Ursa Major. Scotty’s first target is NGC 2419, found by panning your telescope about 7 degrees north of Castor. Shining at magnitude 10.3, this globular cluster is of particular interest owing to its great distance from the solar system; 330,000 light years, by the best estaimtes. That places it about twice as far from us as either of the Magellanic Clouds.  Yet, all the while, though its remoteness is truly mind boggling, NGC 2419 is well seen in a small telescope;

Despite its great distance, NGC 2419 shines at about 10th magnitude and appears a little less than 2′ across. Under good observing conditions the cluster should be visible with a 3 inch telescope. I once saw it from Kansas with a 4 inch refractor stopped to 2 inches and 100x. The cluster should always be within reach of a 6 inch glass, and a 12 inch may start to show some hint of individual stars around the edge. It is a beautiful object for a 17 inch. More distant globular clusters have been discovered on photographs made with the 48 inch Schmidt telescope on Palomar Mountain. However it is unlikely that any would be within the visual reach of amateur astronomers.

pp 77

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Author’s note: Scotty, like virtually all of his contemporaries, thought that NGC 2419 was a true intergalactic ‘interloper’ unhinged from the gravitational influence of the Milky Way but the latest research suggests it is indeed bound up with our galaxy taking approximately 3 billion years to complete one orbit.

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Scotty concedes that while Lynx is home to about a dozen galaxies, most are very faint. The exception he says is NGC 2683, which is an unexpectedly bright spiral galaxy (magnitude 9.8). Scotty accurately describes it as “cigar shaped” about 3 times as long as it is wide. While discussing this, he brings up some interesting points about the merits of having a stable mount and the relative efficacy of ‘sweeping’ as opposed to studying a ‘steady’ view:

In general, a loss of 1.5 or 2 magnitudes occurs when a rigid stand is not used.I was amazed at how much better my 20 poer Apogee telescope performed after a solid support was made for it.  Experienced observers know that bright objects can be seen during a sweep, while those near the telescope’s magnitude limit require the field of view to be steady. It helps to know exactly where to look. In this way I was able to locate NGC 2683 with a 3 inch aperture at 60x……..yet it is an easy object in a 4 inch telescope on just about any night.

pp 77.

NGC 2683, a magnificent spiral galaxy in Lynx and easily in reach of small backyard ‘scopes. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Author’s note:  NGC 2683 can be a spectacular object in a large telescope. Arguably the best view I have personally enjoyed was with a 12 inch Dob at 150x, where I was able to see clear signs of mottling. The northwestern edge of the galaxy is also seen to extend further from the core than its southwestern counterpart.

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Scotty briefly discusses several other moderately bright galaxies in Lynx, including magnitude 10.9 NGC 2859 just west of Alpha Lyncis, followed by NGC 2500, NGC 2782 and  NGC 2844 (see pages 78 and 79). From here, Scotty turns his attention to one of the finest galactic sights visible in the northern sky, the ‘dynamic duo,’ M81 and M82, which are exceptionally well placed high in the sky on April evenings.

Both M81 and M82 are easily found about 2 degrees east southeast of the 4th magnitude star, 24 Ursae Majoris. Visible in a 50mm finder from a dark sky site, the view improves with every increment in aperture. Morphologically though, they could hardly be more different.;

While M81 is a textbook example of a spiral galaxy, its companion, M82, is anything but. It is in fact, one of the most unusual galaxies within the range of small telescopes.At magnitude 8.4, it is also within the grasp of binoculars.

pp 81

M81 ( bottom) and M82 (top) ; a sketch made by the author using his 80mm f/5 achromatic refractor on the evening of March 14 2015.

 

Scotty draws our attention to a number of less celebrated galaxies within easy reach of this pretty galaxy pair. Indeed, they are all part of the so called M81 galaxy group, including the magnitude 10.2  NGC 2976, which is well seen in my 8 inch reflector at 150x. You can find it just 1.4 degrees south southwest of M81. Scotty says he got a good view of this galaxy with a 2.4 inch (60mm) classic Unitron refractor.pp 81.

On pages 82 to 83, Scotty embarks on another discussion about some interesting double stars, in particular, Beta Delphini, which he says, “never gets more than 0.7″ apart.” What comes next is fascinating:

Typical is the report of Charles Cyrus of Baltimore, Maryland, whose 12.5 inch f/7.2 reflector has no clock drive. At 572x he saw the components clearly separated.

pp 82

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Author’s note: Scotty is a breath of fresh air! Here is yet another account of a reflecting telescope splitting sub arc second pairs! And Mr.Cyrus evidently didn’t even use a clock drive! This is in perfect agreement with my work with two reflectors; a 130mm f/5 and a 204mm f/6; both of which have been shown to be excellent double star instruments.

The interested reader will also find some tips on page 83 on how best to tease apart the closer pairs with various telescope types.

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On pages 84 through 87, Scotty discusses one of the finest and accessible open clusters in the northern heavens; the famous Beehive Cluster (M44) and its interesting hinterland. Spanning a region of sky fully 1.5 degrees wide, M44 is a mesmerizing sight in a small, richfield telescope at low power. You can find it by pointing your telecope to a spot midway between Castor & Pollux in Gemini and Regulus in Leo.

My 130mm f/5 reflector presents the entire star cluster beautifully at 20x and, unlike many other deep sky objects, it closely resembles the nickname bestowed upon it.

The celebrated Beehive Cluster (Praesepe) in cancer. Image credit: Miguel Garcia.

Here’s how Scotty describes the Beehive:

In low power fields, finders and binoculars, M44 is a brilliant show object. It has no sharp boundary. No one can say for sure where the cluster’s faint glow merges into the placcid sjy background. And the center is hardly brighter than the edge.The cluster appears as a ghostly sheen of cobwebs at least a degree in diameter, sometimes maybe two. Through a large telescope, the view is not particularly impressive, because the stars are widely scattered. But the cluster is an exciting object for binoculars and rich field telescopes. the best instrument for viewing M44 is one that has a field of at least 1.5 degrees across with the largest aperture that will still give an exit pupil no more than 7mm in diameter. I had an excellent view of an object with my 4 inch Clark refractor and a special eyepiece of 4 inch focal length designed by Arthur Leonard.

pp 86 to 87

For the remainder of the chapter Scotty calls our attention to various deep sky objects in Hydra, which snakes its way below the ecliptic, from Cancer in the west to Libra in the east.

In the introduction to this section, we gain valuable information concerning the origin of the Messier Marathon:

The idea of a Messier marathon; an all night session to view as many of the Messier objects as possible; sprung up independently in several locations. According to Harvard Pennington, president of California’s Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers (PVAA), the first marathon dates to the late 1960s and a group of observers in Spain. On this side of the Atlantic, it was the mid 1970s before amateurs in Florida and Pennsylvania took up the challenge. Unaware of the earlier efforts, California comet hunter Don Macholz suggested a Messier marathon in an article published in the San Jose Amateur Astronomer’s newsletter in 1978.Pennington claims that the cat got out of the bag when I wrote about the Florida and Pennsylvania projects in my March 1979 column. After that, marathons became inceasingly popular.

pp 89.

Perhaps the most celebrated Messier object in Hydra is M48, found by moving your telescopic eye about 3 degrees south southeast of 4th magnitude Zeta Monocerotis. Binoculars reveal a few dozen members with a somehat triangular shape, and with a steady hand and my 130mm f/5 Newtonian and low power shows up at least 70 members arranged loosely over a field just shy of one angular degree. What ever item of equipment you have, M48 is well worth a gander under a dark sky.

Scotty offers some interesting background information concerning this beautiful open cluster:

The open cluster M48 was long believed to be a “missing” object until Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich linked it with NGC 2548, which Caroline Herschel discovered in 1783. If Gingerich is correct, the original published position for M48 was about 5 degrees in error. Seemingly Messier made a mistake of 5 degrees in declination, but his right ascension is correct. But this identification seems pretty certain since there is no other nearby candidate matching Messier’s visual description of M48.

pp 90

Over the next few pages Scotty deals with a number of fainter objects in Hydra, as well as the far southerly spiral galaxy, M83.

The wonderful Planetary nebula in Hydra, NGC 3242. Image Credit Wiki Commons.

As previously mentioned, Houston underwent cataract surgery on his right eye in the summer of 1980. Many of his fans became concerned that he might give up observing all together, but their fears were soon allayed when he declared that it actually gave him a new lease of life! In particular, because a cataract selectively absorbs shorter wavelengths of visual light over longer ones, it can induce a colour bias to the objects one sees through the telecope. Scotty disclosed how his new, artificial lens perceived the bright planetary nebula, NGC 3242:

Ron Morales found NGC 3242 easily with a 6 inch f/5 telescope at 50x. Recently I looked at it with my 5 inch Apogee telescope and a 20x eyepiece. It appeared slightly oval but without the pointed ends so prominent in photographs of the object. The central star was easily seen with my eye that had its lens removed during cataract surgery. The star appeared almost as bright as the entire planetary in this eye, while it was hardly visible at all in my normal eye. This was surely due to a greater amount of ultraviolet (UV) light reaching the retina of the eye without its natural lens. Central stars in planetaries are generally strong emitters of UV.

pp 95.

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Author’s note: Scotty reminds us all that growing old need not inevitably lead to reduced observing activity. His artificial lens allowed him to see objects in new ways, enhancing rather than hindering his enjoyment of all things astronomical. I wonder whether he also saw that little bit more chromatic aberration through his beloved Clark achromat?

Younger individuals usually report a bluish tinge to planetary nebulae, becoming more green as one matures in age, but there are always exceptions.

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Chapter 5: May

The magnificent Omega Centauri. Image credit: ESO.

When the jet stream bulges soutward, it allows Canadian air to pour across the United States and cover all but the far West with a stable mass of cold dry air.Amateur astronomers benefit with dark nights of crystalline transparency and better astronomical seeing. Under these conditions it is no problem viewing 5th magnitude stars only 1 degree above the horizon. Globular cluster fans should wait for that special evening to try for Omega Centauri, the finest of all globulars. The search must be done when the cluster is at its highest point in the sky. On May evenings the cluster lies near the meridian. It culminates at the same time as Spica; just look for the cluster 36 degrees below the star.

pp 99.

Shortly before his death in 1993, Twinky ventured south to the Florida Keys to make his maiden observation of Omega Centauri, the finest globular cluster in all the heavens. In many ways, seeing this outstanding natural beauty was the icing on the cake for this humble man who truly loved the heavens.

Unfortunately, owing to its extreme southerly latitude, it never rises anywhere near the horizon from my far northern latitude. But it is one object that I long to see. Those lucky enough to have seen it inform me that with a telescope of 8 inches aperture about 1,000 stars can be made out at high power. And with larger telescopes, red supergiant stars can be distinguished within its seething mass.Of course, one doesn’t have to travel below the equator to see this wonder of the heavens, as Scotty explains:

In theory, an observer in the Northern Hemisphere can see into southern declinations as far as the corresponding colatitude(down to 90 minus the latitude of your location). From geometry alone we can calculate that Omega Centauri should be visible from as far north as 42.5 degrees north latitude. In practice that value is too small, because atmospheric refraction at the horizon lifts starlight by 0.5 degrees, so Omega might be viewed from 43 degrees. The challenge is to see it through terribly dense and contaminated air. Ordinarily horizon mists, smoke, and dust take a good 10 or 15 degrees off this figure.

pp 101.

What follows is a fascinating discourse on what a number of amateurs have experienced while observing Omega with various telescopes.

Progressing further through the May chapter, Scotty returns to more familiar territories, partcularly the subject of galaxy visibility. On page 103 through 105, he describes an interesting experiment carried out by a few enthusiastic amateurs concerning the factors that affect the visibility of faint galaxies in Leo Minor, specifically NGC 3414, NGC 3504 and NGC 3486, all of which hover around the 11th to 12th magnitude. The results, unsurprisingly, were far from clear cut, involving aperture, magnification and interpersonal variation.

Scotty learned from experience that two eyes are better than one:

Lately I have become increasingly aware that more can be seen with two eyes than with only one (Microscopists have known this for centuries).

pp 103

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Author’s note:

The author’s fine old binocular compound microscope by Vickers (formerly Thomas Cooke & Sons, York, England)

Although I certainly appreciate the value of two eyes when using a microscope, I have still to explore fully the advantages of binoviewing in astronomy. Unfortunately, though my (limited) experiences of using them have been exercises in frustration more than anything else, I don’t doubt that they would enhance my observing experience. Binoviewers are on my future ‘to buy’ list.

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On page 105 through 106, Scotty, now entering the 1990s, reminisces about how the world of astronomy has changed from the time he was young.

As we begin the last decade of the 20th century, I’m flooded with the realization of how much astronomy has changed in my own lifetime and how rapidly it continues to change. In the 1930s I remember when the first photoelectric measurements of starlight were made using an electronic amplifier. Back then we only dreamed of space rockets. But today those rockets loft telescopes into space with detectors thousands of times more sophisticated than that crude photometer of the 1930s……Amateurs work very differently now than they did only a few decades ago. For example, in the early years of deep sky observing  I would set up a small refractor near my home in Milwaukee’s Bay View. With a copy of Norton’s Star Atlas in hand (the only deep sky reference commonly available  at that time), I would sweep the sky. Today’s beginners are likely to have an 8 inch or larger telescope and access to detailed charts showing hordes of galaxies.

pp 105/6

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Author’s note: Times have certainly changed, and for the better. Indeed, amateur astronomers have never had it so good! High quality items are now available at very reasonable prices, allowing most anyone with a modest income to enjoy the night sky. Other things have deteriorated though; light pollution, for example. Many amateurs(perhaps the vast majority) live in cities, where the glory of the night sky is a mere shadow of its true self. Amateurs are forced to travel further and further to seek out truly dark sanctuaries.

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The next target on Scotty’s list is Leo I; a 10th magnitude dwarf galaxy in the constellation of the Lion. It’s very easy to locate, yet quite a challenge to see details in! Locate 1st magnitude Regulus in a medium to high power eyepiece and cast your gaze just 20 arc minutes north of it. If your sky is good and dark, you’ll spot a ghostly glow roughly 10′ in size. Now move Regulus just outside the field in order to increase the contrast with the background sky. Quite a challenge, undoubtedly, but worth chasing up in a moderately sized backyard ‘scope.

On pages 108 through 114, Houston discusses that happy hunting ground for galaxy observers spread across the face of Leo. Scotty provides a sense of the scale of this richness for the reader:

While the deep sky objects in Leo might seem a little drab compared with the brilliant star clusters scattered across the Winter Milky Way, there are some remarkable sights here for 8 inch and larger telescopes. Burnham’s Celestial Handbook lists over 70 deep sky objects in Leo. All are galaxies from the 9th to the 13th magnitude. I wouldn’t even try to guess the number a 17 inch telescope could find. Within the boundaries of the constellation there is not one open or globular cluster or planetary nebula suitable for amateur telescopes. This is interesting because Leo is the 12th largest constellation, covering just under 947 square degrees of sky.

pp 108

The amateur equipped with a modest telescope will thoroughly enjoy these pages on the galaxies of Leo and Leo Minor, as Scotty’s expertise walks you through them. You can enjoy many of these deep sky objects with a small telescope, as he exemplifies. Indeed, some of these galaxies don’t look all that better even when a very large telescope is employed to study them. For example, concerning NGC 3245, Scotty has this to say:

The galaxy is not difficult in my 4 inch Clark refractor at 100x. I once viewed it with a 20 inch Clark refractor at Wesleyan University, and, while it appeared larger and brighter than in the smaller telescope, I did not notice much additional detail.

pp 116.

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Author’s note: Fishing out faint galaxies takes patience. A good dark sky is a huge bonus. Once you see one, the eye has the uncanny ability to pick out several others in rapid succession.

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The last few pages of this chapter are dedicated to one of the sky’s brightest galaxies; NGC 3115 in Sextans. More famously known as the Spindle Galaxy, this bright lenticular galaxy can be tracked down a little over 3 degrees east of 5th magnitude star, Gamma Sextantis. Scotty prefers to let the sky do the work;

Select an eyepiece which shows at least a Moon’s diameter of sky, and place the 5th magnitude Gamma Sextantis near the southern edge of the field. If you leave the telescope stationary for 12 and a quarter minutes(turn the drive off if the telescope has one), the galaxy will be centered near the northern half of the eyepiece field.

pp 120

Houston seems well smitten with this galaxy, referring to it as a “splendid” sight in his small telescopes(pp 120). Indeed, he reckons it looked pretty much the same in his 5 inch Apogee telescope as it did in a 12 inch instrument!

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Author’s note: In my 5.1 inch reflector at 100x, NGC 3115 is clearly tear shaped, about four times as long as it’s wide. My 8 inch Dob shows just a little more detail, with a highly condensed core and a slightly fainter outer ‘halo’. All in all, a marvellous Island Universe to track down and observe on a dark and moonless Spring evening.

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Chapter 6: June

One of the nicest pieces of celestial real estate for hunting down cosmic treasures is the area around the Bowl of the Big Dipper. Aside perhaps from Orion, the Big Dipper is the sky’s best known objects. And what a wonderful selection of objects there is, for it is here in the polar region that the great stream of galaxies reaching northward from Virgo and Coma comes to a brilliant conclusion. Severla bright galaxies from the Messier catalog bedeck the Dipper amind scores of others that are easy targets for 6 inch telescopes.

pp 123/4

With these beautiful words, Walter Scott Houston opens his June chapter, turning his attention to the famous asterism of the Big Dipper, which is better known in Europe as the Plough. And rightly so, for this ‘flower basket,’ as Scotty refers to it, dominates the sky near the zenith during June evenings and thus is very well placed for exploration with binoculars or a backyard telescope.

The first object he addresses is M97 (a.k.a the Owl Nebula), one of the faintest in Messier’s famous catalogue. From my northerly vantage, June is arguably the worst month to see this object, as our skies are filled with seasonal twilight at this time. Nonetheless, you can find this planetary nebula just less than 2.5 degrees southeast of Beta Ursae Majoris(Merak). Scotty says it can be picked off in 15 x 65 binoculars and is easily visible in a 4 inch telecope. The Owl responds well to increases in telesope aperture. My 8 inch reflector coupled to an OIII filter at 120x reveals a colourless, rotund object some one tenth the diameter of the full Moon. A little scrutiny will show the nebula’s two ‘eyes’ staring back at you. Seeing the central white dwarf star is another matter though. While some astronomers claim it can be seen in apertures upwards of 16 inch, I have never laid eyes on it with a telescope of this size.

The Owl Nebula ( M 97). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Scotty mentions how Admiral W. H. Smyth, observing in the 19th century with a 5.9 inch Tulley refractor, referred to this object as a “pale uniform disc about the size of Jupiter” (pp 124).

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Author’s note: Surely this is a gross underestimate of its true size! More like three Jove diamters. Smyth was right on the money about its hue however, as something this faint will not yield colour to the eye in all but the largest telescopes. Photographically, that’s a different matter however, as the image above illustrates.

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“It’s only a short hop,” Scotty says, “of 0.8 degrees northwest from M97 to the spiral galaxy M108, which can be seen in the same low power field.”

Yes indeed! Both objects are perceptibe in the same field of view of my 80mm f/5 refractor charged with an ocular delivering a one degree field. My 8 inch f/6 reflector at 150x shows 10th magnitude M108 to be a delicate sliver of light about four times as long as it’s wide. It also picks up the 12th magnitude star bleeding forth from near the centre of this edge on spiral galaxy.  This star, which is actually located well in the foreground of the galaxy, has doubtless fooled many an observer over the years into thinking it’s a supernova.

From here, Scotty describes how to find M109 and M106, together with interesting historical titbits, well worth reading(see page 125).

Scotty then focuses his attention on the sky inside the Bowl of the Big Dipper;

The Dipper’s Bowl also contains a fair number of 11th magnitude galaxies and fainter galaxies which generally go unmentioned in amateur observing guides.

pp 125

While Scotty mentions several NGC objects I have not personally observed, the one exception is NGC 4605, which is easy to see as a fuzzy oval in my 80mm refractor at 50x. Shining with an integrated magnitude of +10.9, it presents as rather mottled at 150x in my 8 inch reflector. Here’s how Houston describes it:

This 10th magnitude spiral lies nearly on the extension of a line joing Gamma and Delta Ursae Majoris. It is obvious in 65mm binoculars , and a large telescope makes it a fine sight, extending across a 5′ x 1.2′ area of sky.

pp 126.

On pages 127 through 129, Twinky discusses the curious mystery of M102, and specifically how it was misidentified as a duplicate obsservation of M101. Or, if you were to believe Admiral W.H. Smyth, it is to be identified with NGC 5866. Irrespective of what version of history you agree with, NGC 5866 is easily seen in my 5.1 inch f/5 reflector at 85x as a beautiful sliver of light with a highly condensed centre. You can find it manually by moving your ‘scope about 4 degrees south of the magnitide 3 luminary, Iota Draconis. My 8 inch reflector at 200x shows a very prominent dust lane coursing through its midplane.

NGC 5866 is alovely sight in a modest backyard ‘scope at high power. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

The memory of winter begins to ebb in June as mild but crisp nights complement the celestial riches now in the sky. Arcturus shines overhead, and Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, is at its dainty best. Draco coils its pinpoint stars about the ecliptic pole, and the great globular cluster M13 is climbing up the eastern sky. It doesn’t matter if you use binoculars or a 20 inch telescope, there is so much to see that you wish for an impossible succession of crystal clear nights; but where to begin?

pp 129

Scotty clearly thought of everyone when he wrote his monthly deep sky observing columns. There’s enough for each and everyone to enjoy, using whatever equipment one chooses. Where Scotty lived, Arcturus passes overhead. But at 56 degrees north, it can never reach such heights.

Scotty next calls our attention to a curious triangular patch of sky, the vertices of which are marked by three stars; Eta Ursae Majoris, Alpha Canum Venaticorum and Gamma Bootis. Wiithin such a triangle, more or less, three prominent Messier galaxies can be found; M51, M63 and M94.

He begins appropriately enough with the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), easily located by panning your telescope a shade less than 2 degrees southwest of Eta Ursae Majoris. Scotty presents this wonderful face on spiral galaxy in curious terms;

The Whirlpool offers challenges for any telescope. For example, what is the smallest aperture required to reveal the spiral structure? Lord Rosse first detected spiral structure when he turned his giant 72 inch reflector on the galaxy in the spring of 1845. Today, with our vision sharpened by knowledge, the spiral features of of M51 are visible in instruments as small as 10 inches , and some observers have glimpsed them in a 6 inch telescope in very dark skies. An 8 inch is sufficient for me, but John Mallas needed a 12.5 inch in a dark desert sky. He correctly noted that experience and exceptional transparency are important for success. In 1936, I had a very good view of the spiral structure using the University of Arizona’s 36 inch reflector in Tucson.

pp131

The wonderful Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) in Canes Venatici. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Author’s note: I fully concur with Houston’s comments on this fascinating object. By far the finest view I have personally experienced of the spiral structure of M51 was through a good 16 inch reflector at an altitude of over 8,000 feet in the White Mountains of northeastern California. It was an amazing sight in those dark and crystal clear skies; it embodied a somewhat translucent appearance, more like living protoplasm than anything else. Such a memory is very hard to erase from the mind’s eye!

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On page 132 Scotty discusses M63, famous for its weird and wonderful spiral arms, found by moving the telescope about two thirds of the way from Eta Ursae Majoris to Alpha Canum Venaticorum. The latter system is better known as Cor Caroli, a splendid double star for the large binoculars or a small telescope. My 80mm f/5 refractor at 50x thows up a beautiful scene consisting of a blue white primary, magnitude 2.9, separated by about 19″ of dark sky from its yellowish secondary (magnitude 5.5). Nature is full of beautiful things that are easy to see and find!

On pages 134 through 135, Houston presents an excellent overview of what he calls, “the Wonder of M106.” To locate it, I find it easiest to start at Chi Ursae Majoris and then move 5.5 degrees or so eastward into Canes Venatici. This is a big (20′ x 9′) and bright galaxy (magnitude 8.3). My 8 inch reflector throws up a wonderful view of this grand spiral at powers of 150x or so, and even shows distinct signs of mottling (owing to prominent dust lanes, I suppose) in its spiral arms with a concentrated gaze.

The magnificent spiral galaxy M106 as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit; Wiki Commons.

Concerning M106, Scotty declares:

Ronald Morales viewed M106 with his 10 inch Newtonian reflector. Using a power of 87x, he described it as “extremely large; very bright with a bright, compact center; extended in a north to south direction with a large, fuzzy outer envelope.” Years ago in Kansas  I viewed the galaxy with a 10 inch reflector at about the same magnification and saw a “very bright parallelogram shape with fragile spiral arms at the end of the major axis.” The nucleus appeared uniform with little variation in brightness,. Other observers using 8 inch telescopes have reported M106’s appearance as long and needle like, and one saw a dark area near the nucleus. So much for consistency!

pp 135.

Scotty wanders into the constellation of Coma Berenices for the next section of this chapter. Bereft of stars brighter than about the 4th magnitude, the eye is naturally drawn to its northeastern corner where one can make out a very extensive haze of celestial light covering about 4.5 degrees of sky. This is Melotte 111, or the Coma Berenices Star Cluster. Scotty says opera glasses, providing a magnification of just 2x or 3x (pp 136) work wonders with this bona fide cluster of stars, where about three dozen luminaries can be made out, ranging in glory from the 5th to about the 10th magnitude.

From here, he continues to discuss the three globular clusters present in Coma. M63, he says, is unimpressive in a 3 inch telescope, but magnificent in a 12.5 inch. Then there’s 11th magnitude NGC 5053 about which he says, “in large instruments it is a little gem of woven fairy fire.”

What a wonderful turn of phrase!

Moving into Virgo, Scotty preserves a curious project that dates to the time of Sir William Herschel:

There is a strip of sky here near declination +02 degrees where several galaxies and a beautiful globular cluster can be readily located by means of a technique that dates back to William Herschel. The procedure is simple; set your telescope on a prearranged starting point, leave it stationary, and watch celestial objects drift through the field according to a timetable. For this purpose, select a low power eyepiece with a field not much less than 1 degree across. To check the field size of an eyepiece, time the drift of an equatorial star centrally across it, and count one minute of arc for every four seconds of time.Once that’s completed select a star lying west of the desired galaxy, but having the same declination. The telescope is then left stationary, allowing diurnal motion to carry the object into the center of the field.

pp 138

Scotty goes on to show how this age old technique, involving little or no modern technology, can enable you to see the edge on spiral galaxy NGC 5746 and a globular cluster in the same field! See pages 138 through 140 for more activities of this ilk.

There is never a shortage of deep sky objects. Whatever the season, the sky holds more than enough of these delights to keep you busy all night, every night; if you take the time to search them out with good charts and reference books……

pp 140

Scotty clearly believed that an amateur astronomer was responsible for his/her own entertainment, however unusual or off the beaten track it might seem to others. Enthusiasm (and not necessarily elaborate equipment) is the key to unlocking such treasures; activities that can keep a star gazer happy for a lifetime.

The interacting galaxies in Corvus known as the Antennae. Image credit: ESA.

The final pages of the June chapter discusses a number of objects in Corvus,  a constellation this author is not familiar with owing to its low position below the ecliptic upon culminating the southern horizon as well as the full blaze of twilight experienced during the summer months. Nonetheless, on pages 140 through 145, Scotty discusses a number of interesting objects within the sky enclosed by the stars of the celestial Corbie. Arguably the most interesting is the famous Ringtail Galaxy, or the  Antennae. Here’s how Scotty describes it:

Several times amateurs have sent descriptions of what they believe is this galaxy, but I’m sure they believe they have mistaken another galaxy for the Ringtail. My 5 inch 20x Apogee refractor shows the pair as a bright blob. An observation made with my 4 inch Clark refractor under the indifferent skies of my old home in Haddam,Connecticut, revealed NGC 4038/39 to be alittle more than an assymetrical 11th magnitude blur. However, at a campsite near Big Sur, California, I viewed a wealth of detail in the Ringtail with a borrowed 12 inch reflector. Other reports in my files support this…

pp 145.

At the end of this chapter, Scotty returns northwards into Virgo, where he discusses the Sombrero Galaxy (M104), a far lovelier sight in April than in June at my location. My 5.1 inch reflector at 100x can just begin to show me the dust lane in this edge on spiral galaxy, though Scotty claims that the experienced deep sky observer, John Mallas, couldn’t detect it in a good 4 inch refractor (pp 146). It’s obvious in my 8 inch reflector though at similar powers. And while you’d be mistaken for thinking that it’s a bona fide part of the Virgo cluster of galaxies, M104 is actually located some 25 million light years closer to the solar system.

The inspiring Sombrero Galaxy ( M104) in Virgo. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

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Author’s note: Scotty’s claim of Mallas being unable to clearly see the dust lane in a fine 4 inch f/15 refractor (that’s what he used!) resonates quite well with the author’s experience on another target; the faint double star, Pi Aquilae. In other work, it was shown that this pair of stars (magnitude 6.3 and 6.8), separated by 1.5,” was a challenging target for a 4 inch f/15 refractor (illustrated earlier)  but was considerably easier with a 130mm f/5 Newtonian. The reason was simple; the 4 inch runs out of light earlier than the 130mm, so at the magnifications employed (approximately 270x) it’s just easier to see these stars as separate in the larger aperture Newtonian. The same is probably true of the Sombrero.

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Chapter 7: July

By now, the shortest nights have passed away and Scotty gets his teeth stuck into the wealth of wonderful objects on view during the longer nights of July. Personally, this is one of my favourite chapters from the book,  as it covers such a wealth of familiar objects I like to visit as a casual (read non serious) deep sky observer.

The opening pages (131 through 134) of this chapter are dedicated to a seasonal favourite and, historically speaking, a very important celestial treasure in the sheme of things; the famous planetary nebula in Draco, NGC 6543, more affectionately known as the Cat’s Eye Nebula. This 9th magnitude object is fairly easy to track down about 5 degrees east northeast of the third magnitude sun, Zeta Draconis.To my eye, this is one deep sky object that actually resembles the name bestowed upon it; a blue green feline eyeball staring back at you from the depths of space. In my 5.1 inch reflector at 100x, it is quite large; about 18″ in diameter. The central star is clearly visible; quite a feat when you think about it, as it is a hot and highly luminous white dwarf star much smaller than the Sun, and shining with an equivalent brightness of an 11th magnitude star. I find the view at 200x in my 8 inch reflector to be nothing short of stunning!

The famous Cat’s Eye Nebula in Draco as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Scotty describes what NGC 6543 looks like in all sorts of equipment, including the homemade 1″ refractor he first spied it through as a boy. It also includes a description of the view experienced by a one Michael  Gardner through the 60 inch reflector atop Mount Wilson in California(152/3). Scotty also informs us that the English amateur astronomer, Sir William Huggins, examined this planetary nebula with a crude spectroscope attached to an 8 inch refractor back in 1865, finding it to be quite distinct from any stellar body he had previously examined!

In the next few pages Scotty turns his attention to two varibale stars in the constellation of the Northern Crown; Corona Borealis (T CB and R CB).

At his location, at mid northern latitudes, July is an excellent month to track down some of the finer globular clusters in the summer sky and Houston wastes no time discussing these fascinating objects in detail, including M13 and M92 in Hercules, the ‘rival of M13’ in Serpens, M5 as well as a string of globular favourites down in Ophiuchus (pages 157 through 165). The reader is warmly encouraged to sift through this excellent literature and put some of Scotty’s suggestions to the test.

It’s always nice when Scotty includes a double star of note in his monthly columns (the ‘deep sky’ objects I am most acquainted with). In this capacity, he mentions the charming little binary system, 70 Ophiuchi on page 166;

In 1989, the 4.3 and 6.0 magnitude components were near a minimum separation of 1.5″

pp 166

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Author’s note: 70 Ophiuchi is a beautiful colour contrast double star system, consisting of a yellow primary and orange secondary, orbiting their common centre of gravity in 88 years. A perennial favourite, the pair is currently widening towards their maximum separation, which will occur around 2025, after which time they will slowly close in on each other again. Currently, they are easily separated in a 60mm refractor but will require something closer to 80mm as they close in over the years (minimum 1.5″).

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While you’re at it, Scotty recommends scouting out the bright (magnitude 8)  planetary nebula, NGC 6572 (a.k.a The Emerald Nebula), discovered by the famous double star observer, Wilhelm Struve, back in 1825. About the same size as the Cat’s Eye Nebula (18″) discussed previously, it’s a good target for a medium sized backyard ‘scope at high power. You’ll find this object in a low power field about 2 degrees south of the star 71 Ophiuchi.

Warm summer nights are a fine time to relax under a dark sky. As you lie back and scan the ghostly band of the Milky Way and its environs, see how many globular clusters you can detect with the unaided eye. If you observe from mid northern latitudes and can detect 6.5 magnitude stars, there are eight globulars to try for this month in the evening sky; M2 in Aquarius, M3 in Canes Venatici, M4 in Scorpius, M5 in Serpens(Caput), M13 and M92 in Hercules, M15 in Pegasus and M22 in Sagittarius.

pp 168

From a good, dark site, such globulars all seem observable with the naked eye but, as Scotty reminds us, the above assumes they are point sources. And that is not the case, as even through a finder telescope, they present as distinctly non stellar. But what a challenge nonetheless!

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Chapter 8: August

The regions near the north celestial pole are usually neglected by amateurs, who seem more attracted to the spectacular sights farther south. But sometimes we overlook the obvious. Polaris, for example, is a variable star. In fact, it is the brightest Cepheid in the sky.  Sky catalogie 2000.0 gives its range as 0.15 magnitude over a 4 day period, but studies done during the 1980s show that the range is decreasing, leading some astronomers to speculate that the star may cease to vary altogether. Currently Polaris varies by only a few hundredths of a magnitude and is thus well below the range detectable by the eye.

pp 173

With these words, Scotty opens his chapter on the August sky. He takes us to the Pole Star, around which the great vault of heaven rotates, in this epoch at least.  He does mention later (but not here), that Polaris is a multiple star system; with Polaris B being easily accessible to a small backyard telescope. The companion is a lovely sight in my 80mm f/5 achromatic telescope at 50x.

That said, having explored the book’s content thus far, one comes away with the distinct  impression that Scotty wasn’t an overly enthusiatic observer of double stars. Instead he quickly alerts us to a very faint (13.5 magnitude) spiral galaxy, NGC 3172, discovered by Sir John Herschel in the early 19th century, which he christened, “Polarissima”. Needless the say, I’ve not seen it, nor looked for it. Scotty recommends an 8 inch or larger instrument to bag this bounty from the sable depths.

Sticking to far northerly targets, Scotty then moves into Cepheus, and to the open cluster, NGC 7380. You can track this 10th magnitude target down fairly easily, as it lies just a shade under 2.5 degrees east of that most famous of Cepheids; 4th magnitude Delta Cephei. In an area of sky about the size of the full Moon, my 8 inch pulls in about 20 or so stellar members of the 10th magnitude. Inserting a nebula filter will help bring out the brighter parts of the nebulosity associated with it; Sharpless 2:142

NGC 7380 and its associated Nebula imaged using narrow band filters. Image Credit: Hunter Wilson.

In my 8 inch Newtonian at 100x it shows up as a faint, misty fog on a dark night with good transparency.

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Author’s note: Insert a low power eyepiece and revisit Delta Cephei. It has a magnitude 6.3 companion wide away which contrasts beautifully with the rich yellow hue of the primary. It makes a very fetching site in my 80mm telescope at 50x and is also an excellent binocular double.

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The most northern galactic cluster in the sky, NGC 188, is also one of the oldest known, 14 to 16 billion years. It is located just 4 degrees south of Polaris and 1 degree south of 2 Ursae Majoris;

pp 175

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Author’s note: In Scotty’s day, astronomers were not nearly as sure about a lot of things. NGC 188 is now believed to be of the order of 6 billion years old. There was also more unceratinty about the age of the cosmos back then. Today, thanks to refinements in the Hubble Constant (Ho), we are far more sure of its age; 13.799 billion years with an uncertainty of just 0.15 per cent.

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To real meat in this chapter is presented on pages 179 through 184, where he discusses some of the finest planetary nebulae in the northern heavens;

To some people, the ethereal gas bubbles of planetaries have a compelling pull all their own. They float on the foam of the Milky Way like the balloons of our childhood dreams, so delicate they appear. If you want to stop the world and get off, the lovely planetaries sail by to welcome you home.

pp 179.

What a sweet sentiment; to ” stop the world and get off.” Stargazing certainly can do that!

Scotty starts with by far the most famous and well known planetary nebula, easy to find about midway between Beta and Gamma Lyrae; the famous Ring Nebula (M57). Accessible to most any telescope, it’s an enjoyable sight at 100x in my 80mm shorttube refractor, but far more compelling in my 8 inch reflector at the same power.

The magnificent Ring Nebula( M57) in Lyra. captured here by Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Appearing a bit more than 1′ across, M57 looks like a 9th magnitude star in finders. The Apogee telescope shows the ring as very bright, but no other detail is visible. At powers of 250x and up, a curious effect takes place. The oval outline of M57 takes on a lemon shape with the ends of the oval appearing rather pointed. They also appear more diffuse and wispy. A power of 600x, however, is none too great if there is sufficient aperture to support it. Even at high magnification, the interior of the nebula retains a thin film of haze that can show some structure.

pp 180/1

Scotty’s comments about this planetary are spot on. M57 looks better and better in larger and larger telescopes. You need large apertures to sustain the very high powers required to discern some of the features he describes. Small ‘scopes just run out of light on this object, limiting the magnifications one can profitably adopt. 200x is a nice place to be with M57 in my 8 inch reflector.

On a top class night, a 12 inch or even a 10 inch telescope can show the planetar’s central star In moments of exceptional atmospheric conditions a 12 inch or larger instrument may reveal a scattering of stars across the central vacancy and even amid the ring itself.

pp 181

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Author’s note: Despite having many, many goes, I have never been able to see the central star in M57 with telescopes of the size described by Scotty. I suspect you’d need a telescope of 20 inches of aperture in this country, and great weather to boot, to have even half a chance to bag this baby!

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On pages 182 through 184, Scotty switches subject to discuss the equally interesting Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula.  Scotty offers a neat way of finding it without setting circles or GoTo:

Set your finder on Gamma Sagittae, the head of the celestial arrow. Sweep about 5 degrees north and you should see an M shaped pattern of stars composed of 12, 13, 14, 16 and 17 Vulpeculae; this group is more conspicuous to the eye than most star charts lead you to believe. M27 is just 0.5 degrees south of the M’s central star.

pp 183.

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Author’s note: M27 is a fascinating telescopic object! It’s huge; fully five times larger than the Ring Nebula but because its light is spread over much greater area it has much lower surface brightness. My 5.1 reflector at 20x easily shows the two bright lobes in an eerie greenish hue. It looks even more compelling in 8 or 10 inch aperture ‘scopes but I find it doesn’t respond well to over magnification;150x to 200x seems about optimal to me. Nebula filters (particularly an OIII)  also work well with larger apertures. Its 12th magnitude central star remains elusive in all but the largest backyard ‘scopes.

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The Dumbbell Nebula ( M27). Image credit: Mohamad Abbas.

Scotty seems somewhat ambivalent concerning the ‘optimum’ sized telescope to view M27 but rightly recognises the importance of aperture;

It is hard to assign a “best” type of telescope for viewing M27. My 5 inch Apogee telescope with a fixed power of 20x shows it as a bright sphere with the dumbbell shape rather mild. My 10 inch f/8.6 reflector shows M27 much better at 300x by means of a Barlow lens less than at the same power with a short focus eyepiece. The latter left the sky gray, and contrast with the nebula was poor.

pp 183

Where Scotty lived out much if his life, the Milky Way in August must have been a wonderful sight, with Scorpius, Scutum and Sagittarius riding a respectable height above the horizon at midnight. Up here on the ‘edge of the Arctic Circle’ only the glory of the northern Milky Way manifests itself. Houston had a habit of asking questions, which at first seemed trvial, but upon reflection, were quite difficult, if well nigh impossible, to answer.  Once such question is this? Where does the Milky Way’s Way edge lie? On pages 186 if discusses this strange question but seems to conclude that, like everything else, it’s dependent upon the kind of ‘filter’ one’s local conditions impose. Whimsically, he calls it ” Houston’s Uncertainty Principle.”

To be continued in Part 2

De Fideli.

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