Observing comet 46P/Wirtanen

Date: 05./06.12.2018
Time: 23:00
Observing site: Preiviiki, Pori, Finland
Instrument: N250/1200 mm

NELM: 5.4
SQM: 20.65
Darkness of the background sky: 3
Seeing: –
Transparency: –
Weather: clear sky, fresh western wind, no Moon, no snow, +3 C

Objects observed: comet 46P/Wirtanen

Finally I was able to observe comet 46P/Wirtanen after several unsuccessfull attempts! I had been searching the comat for a couple of times before this, but then I realized, that I had been looking for in in a wrong place! I realized, that I hadn’t updated the orbital elements of the comet to my Skymap Pro, and because the orbits of comet change from perihelion to perihelion, my orbital elements were outdated. But after updating them, I was finally able to locate the comet!

In the before Finnish independence day (6th of December) me and couple of other active members of Porin Karhunvartijat went to Preiviiki, a couple of kilometers west from Pori city to observe the comet and also some other objects.

Weather during this observing session was windy and quite chilly! In the beginning of the session it was cloudy, but luckily the clouds went away, and we were able to observe this much anticipated comet!

The comet was easy to find, and it was barely visible also with naked eye with averted vision. The comet was clearly visible in the finderscope as a fuzzy, round object. In the ocular (with 38x magnification), the comet still looked like a fuzzy, round object, with very hazy, undefined outer edge. So only the coma of the comet was visible, there wasn’t any sign of visual tail. There was a central brightening in the middle of the coma, but no other features were visible. The comet looked pretty much what I had expected and did not offer many surprises, at least no visually.

In this case the comet was interesting also because it passed Earth at very close distance, only 0,08 AU! It is not very usual for a comet to come this close to Earth! Luckily it passed Earth safely, and it just provided some fun cometgazing for astronomy enthusiasts! Comet 46P/Wirtanen was found by American astronomer Carl A. Wirtanen in 17th of January 1948. This comet is very interesting for Finnish amateur astronomers also because the founder of comet is of Finnish ancestry and the comet has Finnish name! The founder of comet, Carl A. Wirtanen discovered several comets and minor planets during his career in Lick Observatory in California, USA.

Picture 1. Comet 46P/Wirtanen observed with 10” Newton in 5./6.12.2018 in Preiviiki, Pori, Finland.

Observing 23./24.8.2017 in Ulvila Observatory

Date: 23./24.8.2017
Time: 23:00-01:30
Observing site: Ulvila Observatory, Finland
Instrument: C280/2750 mm (11” Catadioptric)

SQM: 20.66
Darkness of the background sky: 3
Seeing: –
Transparency: –
Weather: Clear sky, calm, no Moon, dry air, +12C

During the night between 23rd and 24th of August 2017, I went observing to Ulvila Observatory. During this night, I was able to observe two objects, both planetary nebulas: NGC 6772 and 6804. During the Night I was at the observatory with Jarkko Suominen. He was photographing The Veil Nebula in Cygnus, and during the night I was able to do couple of visual observations during the breaks of his exposures. Besides my visual observations, I was also participating astrophotography activities with Jarkko that night. A report of the Veil nebula photography session can be found in Taivaanvahti observation database by Ursa Astronomical Association (in Finnish).

NGC 6772

My first target for the night was NGC 6772, a planetary nebula in Aquila, located in SW part of the constellation, about 14 degrees SW from Altair. About this object I wrote following notes:

@165x: This planetary nebula appeared as a roundish, and faint nebulous glow with even brightness distribution. No central star or structure visible. OIII enhanced the view, this nebula doesn’t tolerate magnification very well.

170823-24_NGC 6772
NGC 6772 observed with 11” Catadioptric


NGC 6804

My second and last object for this short session was NGC 6804, another planetary nebula in Aquila. This nebula is located ~4 degrees W from Altair. About this stellar remnant I wrote as follows:

@280x: This planetary nebula appeared as a rather small, and pretty bright nebulous patch of light. The shape of the nebula is perhaps slightly elongated. Central star became visible with higher magnification. OIII didn’t do much with this object.

170823-24_NGC 6804
NGC 6804 observed with 11” Catadioptric

So, that was my second, this time very short observing session. I was happy anyway, because I was able to see two new planetary nebulas for me, and both of them were really pretty objects!

Season opening in Saarijärvi, Lavia 21./22.8.2018

Date: 21./22.08.2017
Time: 22:30-02:00
Observing site: Saarijärvi, Lavia, Finland
Instrument: N250/1200 mm (10” Newton)

NELM: 6.6
SQM: 21.03 – 21.24
Darkness of the background sky: 2-3
Seeing: –
Transparency: –
Weather: Clear sky, calm, no Moon, very humid air, +10 – +9C, clouds coming in the end of the session.

Objects observed: NGC 206, 513 and 214.

During the night between 21st and 22nd of August 2017, I was able to start the new observing season! During summer of 2017, I had been looking for a decent dark sky -site in Satakunta- and Varsinais-Suomi regions. I observed, that only decent and dark site in Satakunta is Lavia, in eastern part of the region, in easternmost extreme of Pori municipality. In Lavia, there is a gravel quarry near locality of Saarijärvi. The gravel quarry is decent site for observing, and the skies are relatively dark.

During my first session in season 2017-2018, I was able to observe three objects: NGC 206, 513 and 214. All of these are listed in Herschel catalogue, and more precisely, in Herscehl 400 part II.

During the session, the sky was relatively dark, although proper darkness comes only very late and lasts only for a couple of hours. Nevertheless, I was able to do some observing! Shortness of the night actually was the least of the problems during the night, because the real enemy was humidity of air! The air humidity was so bad, that all moisture condensed onto all optical surfaces, and even my sketching cardboard forms were soaked! This made sketching extremely difficult!

NGC 206

My first target of the night was NGC 206, a star cloud within M31, the famous Andromeda Galaxy. The star cloud is located at the southwestern edge of Andromeda Galaxy, and about 25′ SW from M32. About this object, I wrote following notes:

@ 71x: this star cloud appeared as a clearly visible, hazy, nebulous patch of light. It was best visible with averted vision and sweeping. Extreme humidity was making my cardboard forms very damp, and sketching was very difficult because of this. Because of the conditions, I gave up the idea of sketching the whole galaxy and NGC 206 as a part of it, and only sketched NGC 206 and M32.

NGC 206 observed with 10” Newton

NGC 513

My second object for the night was NGC 513, a very small (in terms of apparent diameter) and distant (distance about 260 million light years) spiral galaxy in southernmost part of Andromeda, very close to Pisces border. The galaxy is very small, it’s apparent dimensions are about 42” x 16”. About this mini-sized galaxy I wrote as follows:

@120x: this galaxy appeared only as a very small and faint, almost stellar smudge of light.

NGC 513 observed with 10” Newton

NGC 214

My third and last object for the night was NGC 214. NGC 214 is another spiral galaxy located in Andromeda. About this galaxy I wrote following notes:

@120x: this galaxy appeared as a clearly visible but small and featureless, nebulous patch of light.

NGC 214 observed with 10” Newton

So that was it, my first observing session in season 2017-2018! I had some difficulties with air humidity, but I was nevertheless able to do some observations despite this problem!

Beyond Herschel 400 – Open road ahead

foogy sunrise at highway

Right now the status of my visual deep sky observing program is like this:

  • Caldwell -catalogue (82/109 observed, 3 objects observable from Finland still to be observed)
  • Hidden treasures -catalogue by Stephen O’Meara (93/109 observed, 3 objects observable from Finland still to be observed)
  • Herschel 400 I (256/400 observed, 116 objects observable from Finland still to be observed)

This means, that I still have 122 objects of these catalogues that I can observe from Finnish latitudes and 65 such objects, that I have to observe them from some southern location.

My dream is, that I could complete observing these catalogues some day, including the southern objects!

But I’m already planning what to do after having completed this observing program, at least to the extent it is possible in Finland. So there are two steps in this mission: 1. observe all objects that are observable in Finland, 2. observe those objects, that can be observed from a southern location. I will now consider only the first step of this mission, and what to do after having completed it. The second step is going to be another sub-mission, and I will deal with it later.

I have been thinking about at least following possibilities to go beyond Herschel 400:

  • Herschel 400 II (obviously)
  • Observing some challenging deep sky objects (perhaps more irregularly but trying to observe in best possible conditions)
  • Observing bright nebulas with H Beta filter (trying to observe all such objects, that are best viewed with H Beta filter)
  • Sketching some impressive and famous deep sky objects on black cardboard (with white pencils)
  • Buying even larger telescope, and observing some challenging objects (for example Hickson galaxy groups, etc.)
  • Observing comets visually in more systematic way
  • Observing variable stars
  • Writing a book about deep sky observing

It would take me about 2 observing seasons to complete the first part of the mission. During season 2017-2018 I would observe Caldwell, Hidden Treasures and Herschel 400, and I would most likely complete Caldwell and Hidden treasures. During season 2018-2019 I would still have Herschel 400 objects to be observed, but those would all be in the Spring of 2019, and then I could complete Herschel 400 by the end of that observing season. Then I would need to find something to be observed in Autumn 2018. That could be a suitable position to launch my next endeavor, whatever it would be.

I feel that after having completed my current deep sky observing program (Caldwell, Hidden Treasures and Herschel 400, part I: objects observable in Finland), I have climbed to a top of one mountain, or at least to a side peak of a higher mountain!

When I’m at that point, I feel that I can start climbing another mountain, and leaving the highest peak of the first mountain (Caldwell, Hidden Treasures and Herschel 400, part II: objects observable from a southern location) to be conquered at some other time, when the time is right. Now I have plenty of options where to choose from! All of them are familiar at some level, but I would just go deeper into them. Most of these options have something to do with observing, one of them is something that would seriously test my skills as a writer.

For now, I will leave this open question. Time will tell, to which direction my intuition is leading me from where I’m now!


Observing season 2016-2017

So, observing season 2016-2017 is now finally over! During the season, I was mostly working on my visual deep sky observing/sketching program. Besides this, I was also doing some visual variable star observing during Autumn 2016, but I had to give that up because of too much workload and other things that were demanding my time and energy. Since that, my variable star observing program has been on hold.

But I was able to do quite many visual deep sky observations! When I’m observing, I’m using a cardboard form made by deep sky section of Finnish Ursa astronomical association for sketching and recording the observation. During the season, I completed 86 of cardboard forms like these, though not all of them were unique deep sky object observations. One of these was a comet observation and 2 were unplanned duplicate observations. So I was able to complete 83 cardboard forms with at least one new object! The number of new objects observed for this season is larger than that, but I haven’t been counting objects, but instead of that the number of completed cardboard forms. Each cardboard form counts as one ‘observation’, which may consist of several objects in the field, typically 1 to 4. So when counting like this, the number of new, unique deep sky observations for me last season was 83.

My pile of completed deep sky observation cardboard forms from season 2016-2017

Here you can see some statistics:

  • Number of new, unique observations: 83
  • Number of observing sessions: 25
  • Number of observations per observing session on average: 3,32
  • Total observing time: 59h 00min 00s
  • Best NELM recorder: 6.6
  • Best SQM meter reading recorder: 21.36

Number of observing sessions in my observing sites:

  1. Ulvila observatory, 11 sessions
  2. Stormälö, Parainen, 6 sessions
  3. Leistilänjärvi, Nakkila, 4 sessions
  4. Friitala, Ulvila, 1 session
  5. Koski, Kullaa, 1 session
  6. Saarijärvi, Lavia, 1 session
  7. Tähtikallio observatory, 1 session

Number of sessions with my instruments:

  1. 10” Newton, 15 ½ sessions
  2. 11” Catadioptric in Ulvila observatory, 9 sessions
  3. 36” Folded-Newton (Astrofox) in Tähtikallio observatory, ½ sessions

half sessions: ½ because during one session I used half of the time 10” Newton and other half of the time 36” Folded-Newton of Tähtikallio observatory

So, that was the statistics for this season. Next season will be beginning in the later half of August 2017. Then I will carry on observing my visual deep sky program, especially Herschel 400 list. I hope, that I could also finish Caldwell- and Hidden treasures -lists, at least to the extent it is possible from Finnish latitudes.

Thank you for staying with me during this season, see you again in August 2017!


Observing 29./30.3.2017 in Ulvila Observatory

Date: 29./30.3.2017
Time: 22:00-00:30
Observing site: Ulvila Observatory, Finland
Instrument: C280/2750 mm (11” Catadioptric)

NELM: 6.2
SQM: 20.61-20.80
Darkness of the background sky: 3
Seeing: –
Transparency: –
Weather: Clear sky, calm, no Moon, no snow, 0 – -2C, aurora belt/arc in northern sky

Objects observed: NGC 3640, 3641, 3810, 3655, 3900 and 3912

This night was my last observing session in March 2017 and in observing season 2016-2017. During this night, I observed several galaxies in Leo, and I was able to finish Leo constellation in Herschel 400 observing list. During the night, I was observing in Ulvila observatory, and conditions were relatively good in terms of the site.

NGC 3640, 3641

My first stop at my journey in the starry sky during this night was pair of galaxies NGC 3640 and 3641. Of these two, my main target was NGC 3640, an elliptical galaxy located in southern part of Leo. This galaxy can be found when moving ~degrees south from sigma Leo. NGC 3641 is located only 2,5′ SE from 3640. This galaxy is rather faint and small, and it is classified also as an elliptical galaxy. Of these two I wrote following notes:

@165x: two galaxies in the field, NGC 3640 and 3641. NGC 3640 is the brightest and more dominant of these two. NGC 3640 appears as a bright, oval-shaped, diffuse glow of light with bright non-stellar core, long axis in W-E orientation. NGC 3641 appears as a small, roundish, featureless and faint nebulous patch slightly SE from NGC 3640.

170329-30_NGC 3640-3641
NGC 3640 and 3641 observed with 11” Catadioptric

NGC 3810

My next object for this night was NGC 3810, a galaxy located in southern Leo close to Virgo boundary. This galaxy can be located when moving ~4 degrees ENE from iota Leo. This galaxy with beautiful spiral structure has also been photographed by Hubble space telescope. This galaxy is classified as an Sc -type spiral galaxy, and the galaxy has a really nice spiral structure, see for your self! Unfortunately I couldn’t see the spiral structure with my modest instrument. About this galaxy, I wrote as follows:

@165x: this galaxy appeared as a rather faint, roundish and diffuse patch of light, the galaxy has a faint core, which doesn’t stand out much.

170329-30_NGC 3810
NGC 3810 observed with 11” Catadioptric

NGC 3655

My third object for this session was NGC 3655, an Sc -spiral in the rear end of Leo. This galaxy can be located for example by moving ~2,5 degrees NE from theta Leo. About this galaxy, I wrote following notes:

@165x: this galaxy appeared as an elongated, oval-shaped glow, the galaxy has a rather bright core, long axis in N-S orientation.

170329-30_NGC 3655
NGC 3655 observed with 11” Catadioptric

NGC 3900

My fourth object for this night was NGC 3900, a spiral galaxy of type S0-a R, located in north-easternmost corner of Leo, close to Coma Berenices boundary. It can be located for example by moving ~8,5 degrees roughly to west from gamma Com. About this galaxy I write as follows:

@165x: rather bright, oval-shaped, elongated galaxy, rather bright core, long axis in N-S orientation.

170329-30_NGC 3900
NGC 3900 observed with 11” Catadioptric

NGC 3912

My fifth and last object for this session was NGC 3912, a barred spiral galaxy of type SBb, located only ~30′ SSE from NGC 3900. About this galaxy, I wrote as follows:

@165x: this galaxy appears as a faint, diffuse, nebulous and featureless patch of light. This galaxy is elongated and thin, long axis in N-S direction.

170329-30_NGC 3912
NGC 3912 observed with 11” Catadioptric

So, that was it! My last observing session in March 2017 and last in observing season 2016-2017. Now I had finished Leo constellation on Herschel 400, and I could tick off that constellation from the list!

This observing season had been also quite productive, I was able to more than 80 observations during the season! In late season during spring of 2017, I was having quite busy and hectic season again in my life, and that hindered my observing to some extent. I had to terminate the observing season prematurely partially because of that. But all in all, I was quite satisfied with my observing season! I might later publish a more detailed insight to my observing season statistics.

But at least I’m going to keep some time off from observing because of the mandatory summer break that we northern deep sky observers have. The skies are already very light, and it’s only about 3 weeks to summer solstice! Enjoy the summer, and have good time! See you again in Autumn of 2017!



Observing 28./29.3.2017 in Ulvila Observatory

Date: 28./29.3.2017
Time: 22:00-00:00
Observing site: Ulvila Observatory, Finland
Instrument: C280/2750 mm (11” Catadioptric)

SQM: 20.6
Darkness of the background sky: 3
Seeing: 2
Transparency: –
Weather: Clear sky, calm, no Moon, no snow, 0C, aurora belt/arc in northern sky

Objects observed: NGC 4151, 4156

During this night I was again at Ulvila observatory. During the night, there was again the weekly club meeting of Porin Karhunvartijat. After most people had left, I stayed at the observatory with couple of my astro friends. We were casually observing some common objects, and I was able to do one proper observation. This time I observed NGC 4151 and 4156 in Canes Venatici.

NGC 4151 and 4156

My main target was NGC 4151, a barred spiral galaxy located in Canes Venatici. The object is classified as SBab R. This object is located about 5 degrees SW from beta CVi. In the same field with this galaxy, there was also a smaller and fainter galaxy, NGC 4156. This SBb galaxy is located only 5′ NE from 4151. Of these two I wrote following notes:

@165x: two galaxies in the field: NGC 4151 and 4156. NGC 4151 is the brightest of these two, it is rather bright and slightly oval-shaped, the galaxy has a bright, stellar core. NGC 4156: this galaxy appears as faint, diffuse featureless patch of light.

170328-29_NGC 4151-4156
NGC 4151 and 4156 observed with 11” Catadioptric

After having observed NGC 4151, I had observed every galaxy in Canes Venatici that are listed in Herschel 400!

This observing session was my third in March 2017 and second last in season 2016-2017. So I still had one more observing session before summer break. I’ll write more about that later!