On the evening of April 14, I took my 55 mm Vixen fluorite refractor into my yard in Palo Alto for the third time. The sky was faintly hazy. I started hunting Messier objects, and found both M44 and M67 well resolved at 37x, with a 12 mm Brandon eyepiece. Passing clouds made galaxy hunting in Leo most frustrating, but at that same magnification I not only detected M104, well down in the light dome of the cities to the south, but was able to see its elongation. Perhaps a darker night would have revealed the dark lane.
After the telescope had settled down, I put in an 8 mm Brandon and a 2x Celestron Ultima Barlow, for 110x, and took another look at gamma Virginis, which I had just barely split last time out. The seeing was better, and it was again split, but again just barely. Polaris was a cinch at that magnification -- no clouds dimmed out the companion this time.
I am hoping for good weather this weekend. It will be fun to go through the Messier galaxies in Virgo and to the north with the little fluorite, from a site with less light pollution.
I sound like a broken record: Again this evening -- April 15, 1998 -- I observed with my Vixen 55 mm fluorite outside my home in Palo Alto, California.
It was clear! The sky was transparent! The seeing was good! And my soul is no longer my own -- but it was well spent...
Having been frustrated by clouds while Messier-hunting last night, I took out some decent charts and star-hopped carefully. The Leo Messier galaxies were not trivial for a 55 mm telescope in suburbia, but at 37x (12 mm Brandon) I found M65, M66, M95, M96, and M105, and for bonus points NGC 3384 (near M105) and NGC 3628 (near M65 and M66).
Corvus was prominent above the light dome of San Jose, so I decided to try something more ambitious. The finder field for M68 is easy, southeast of the quadrilateral of Corvus, and what do you know, there it was. At 37x, the globular showed not a trace of incipient resolution. Beta Hydrae glowed further to the east. Using it as the jumping-off point, I navigated well down into the light dome of San Jose, where a slight thickening of the brightness revealed M83. I worked back north to find M61, and then M49, which was much easier than any of the objects mentioned earlier.
By this time the rising Moon had reached that awkward stage where it was significantly lightening the sky, yet not high enough to be worth looking at. Besides, it was behind a tree. So I abandoned my Messier hunt for some ongoing eyepiece comparison tests, using Spica and Polaris as targets. I had looked at Polaris previously with the 55 mm, finding it resolved with difficulty through thin haze, but the clear sky revealed it well and clearly split at only 42x (Meade 10.5 mm Research-Grade Orthoscopic). Funny, I always used to think Polaris was tough for only 50 or 60 mm of aperture.
I had anticipated taking the 55 mm out to dark sky to complete a Messier survey with it, but tonight's experience makes me think that will not be necessary. Note, however, that the keys to the evening's faint-fuzzy observations included good charts -- no object was obvious, and several required averted vision -- and a notably smaller exit pupil than many people would use -- only 1.5 mm.