SSPM14. April / May New Moon at Wiruna

By Scott Mellish, 1998

After the star party in March, most of the Ilford regulars were looking forward to the usual good weather of April, such was not the case though, as dismal cloud cover pervaded the entire weekend. Fortunately there was not too much rain involved to add to the torment.

One bright spot was around 35 minutes of observing on Saturday evening. During this time, I managed to sketch one object that was a nice planetary nebula in Vela (sketch 1). This object was very interesting to observe - with two bright slightly curving patches either side of the nebula, a bit like two buns of a hamburger. The central region was very soft in appearance and somewhat diffuse with no central star apparent. NGC 2899 appears to take high power reasonably well, as the 9mm Nagler at 210x gave a very crisp and fine image. Vela is a constellation that has a very diverse range of objects to observe and NGC 2899 is one of the most interesting.

After a dismal April weekend it was soon time to look forward to the May New Moon, as the Star Party was not held in May this year. On leaving Woy Woy at 11am with a beautifully clear blue sky it was looking promising, but by the time I got to Lithgow grey clouds were in abundance.

After arriving at Wiruna and setting up camp, some hope of the clouds clearing by evening was evident. But such was not to be, the cloud cover was total and it stayed all night.

Friday morning was pretty good all day with lovely blue sky with just a few passing clouds. By the time night fell the clouds had moved in again and it was a bit of a lost cause for the rest of the night, except for a few sucker holes that sucked a few in, including myself!

Saturday was yet again quite sunny and mild, and by early afternoon it was looking quite promising. The local scout group arrived late in the afternoon which put paid to an afternoon siesta I was having in the tent, so I went and made a bite to eat.

By dark it was fairly clear so a few of us had a look at the comet in Orion before it got too low. The scouts were not particularly interested in anything other than burning and pillaging which I guess was fair enough - I was like that when I was in the Scouts too. But what did worry a few, was the looming white torches, if indeed it did clear up completely.

I thought I might sketch the Tarantula Nebula while waiting for the scouts to settle down, so I spent the next hour doodling away. As luck would have it, just as I finished the Tarantula some pretty dismal cloud had converged upon us and it stayed like that for a considerable time. A few chucked it in, but I decided to lie on the back seat of the car and dozed on and off until a clear patch presented itself. After watching the sky through the car window for some 15 minutes I thought it may be time to move. By this time, it was around 1am the Scouts were asleep and there was not a white torch to be seen. The only other person up was Steven Amorongen slaving away at his 25".

I looked around the sky for some inspiration and noticed Pavo positioned just nicely, so I thought I might have a look at some of the galaxies in that region which I have previously observed some time ago, but have never really got around to sketching all that many of them.

Sketch 2 shows an exquisite cluster of galaxies of varying shapes and brightness, from the left of the 23' field we start with IC 4970 a tiny reasonably egg-shaped object tucked in close to the much larger NGC 6872 a cigar-shaped edge on spiral of around mag 12. They both make a nice comparison pair and their soft halo's appear to slightly merge. This pair appear to be linked and I would guess that the much smaller IC 4970 is a satellite of its big brother.

About 5' further to the right of the field is PGC 64439 (at least I think it is), another tiny rotund galaxy of around mag 13. Not a great deal to report about this object only that it contrasts well with NGC 6872 to its left and the bright NGC 6876. Whether this is interacting slightly with the group I don't know, though it is highly unlikely that it is a much more distant object.

About 6' above the bright NGC 6876 in the centre of the field is the faint elongated IC 4972 at around 14th mag. A fairly easily defined streak of brightness around 1' in length is all that is visible of this object in the 16inch at 210x. With averted vision a faint halo around the streak is easily visible - a very ghostly object and possibly the faintest member of the cluster.

Over to the dominant member now. NGC 6876 is a lovely bright round galaxy of around 11 mag, it appears vividly in the eyepiece, though it is not as interesting as its varied companions. NGC 6876 looked to me to be an elliptical galaxy of considerable size, though it would not surprise me if it was a face on spiral. There was no dominant core region as the whole galaxy was one lump of brightness with just a slight wispy halo, that sort of fused with its close companion NGC 6877. In the eyepiece both NGC 6876 and NGC 6877 seem to be associated with each other, with 6877 appearing, ever so slightly, to be somewhat distorted. By looking at the two, there has to be some interaction here, with 6877 looking pretty pale in comparison to 6876 I'd say the smaller and fainter object appears to be getting stripped of matter by the larger and brighter 6876. Both these objects will be the focus of some follow up reading as they are quite fascinating.

At around 6' to the East of 6876/6877 lie NGC 6880 and IC 4981 which just made it into the 23' field. These two objects yet again appear to be an interacting pair with NGC 6880 being ever so slightly brighter than IC 4981.

A pin point core is surrounded by a milky halo with 6880. And the whole object would be no more than 13th mag. A bright star some 0.1' to the West of the core is also a feature of this galaxy and the object contrasts quite well with it, especially with IC 4981 in close as well. Both galaxies appear in the eyepiece as elliptical. I would rate this cluster as an exceptional group of galaxies and a treat to observe.

The last objects I observed during this session were two further galaxies in Pavo. To top off a quite good observing run are IC 5053 and IC 5054 two quite apparent edgewise spiral galaxies. IC 5053 in the eyepiece seems to be inclined on a sharper angle than IC 5054, though they are both not too dissimilar in appearance. Both have reasonably bright central elongation's which are the usual cigar shape, although IC 5054 is the more rotund of the two. I could not discern any core points and the outer halo's are very compact and almost non-existent. These were two very quaint and easily observed galaxies of around 13th mag and topped off a nice 3hr observing session which was quite a surprise considering the cloud cover earlier on, which almost spelt doom for any serious observing.

Alas Sunday morning it was pack up time. But at least it was cloudy which always makes it easier when it is time to go home.

Clear Skies.