Deep Sky Winter Observations February/March 2017

Observation Conditions | Observation Overview | Remarks | References

From the second half of February to mid-March 2017, I conducted simple deep sky "winter observations", which might be of interest to other beginners and are therefore described here.

List of observed deep sky objects (the links lead to pages describing the DSOs):

I mostly selected my observation objects on the basis of my short list of Deep Sky objects sorted by seasons (the recommended DSO).

See also the deep sky observations that closely follow in time Deep Sky Winter/Spring Observations End of March 2017 and the observations that followed thereafter Deep Sky Spring/Early Summer Observations May 2017.


Observation Conditions

Sky Region and Objects

I initially (with Heritage 100P) restricted myself to the sky region around Gemini (Twins), Orion, Auriga, and Taurus (Bull) (southwest to south).

On my "observation list" there were firstly (Feb 13): M 45 (Pleiades / Seven Sisters), Mel 25 (Hyades), M 42/43 (Orion Nebula) and M 78, M 35, M 1, M 36, M 37 and M 38. On February 14, I searched additionally for M 44 and M 31, and on February 15, in addition to these also for NGC 884/869. At the end of February, I extended my observation list with about half a dozen further deep sky objects (a.o. M 41, M 81/82, NGC 2237/2244, and NGC 2264).

Overview Map

The following map shows approximately the sky region that I primarily browsed during my observations:

Click the map for a larger version - it opens in a new window. The deep sky objects that I tried to observe are indicated by red dots.

Observation Time

The observations started every day with observations of Venus (from 6 p.m.), which was very bright during these days. And as it should turn out, it appeared (in spite of the enormous brightness!) as a crescent shape in the telescopes. This is described on page Venus Crescent 2017 (for February 13). For the deep sky objects, it was sufficiently dark only from about 7 p.m. on.

Observation Location

All observations were conducted in Mühlhausen/Kraichgau (Germany):

Devices Used

General Conditions

The observations started two to four days after full moon, and because the observations took place between 6 and 8-9 p.m. the moon still did not have any significant influence on the observation conditions. At the end of February, we were already passing the new moon (February 26), and the moon did not play a role in the observations. From the beginning of March (March 2) on, the moon returned to the sky and made observations progressively harder. In mid-March, the moon waned again and appeared later during the night so that it did not disturb my observations any more.

In general, the sky above Mühlhausen/Kraichgau is "light-polluted" and does not invite you to search for Deep Sky objects. This is certainly one of the reasons why I found some of the Deep Sky objects that I wanted to observe only sometimes or not at all.


Observation Overview

Observation Dates

Observations Details, Remarks Further Observations and Remarks Devices Used Eyepieces Used
Feb 13 GE: M 42/43 (Orion Nebula)
OC: M 45 (Pleiades / Seven Sisters), Mel 25 (Hyades), M 35, M 36, M 37, and M 38
Venus observations: I used both telescopes and, of course, shorter eyepieces, because otherwise I would not have been able to recognize the crescent shape (this was what I thought - but I was able to recognize the crescent already with an 32 mm eyepice in small telescopes...). M 1 and M 78 not found Heritage 100P, some objects with Skymax 102; binoculars mostly a 32 mm Plössl, sometimes a 16 mm UWA


Feb 14 The same deep sky objects, plus:
G: M 31
OC: M 44 (Praesepe)
On this day (Feb 14), I repeated the observations with my GSO GSD 680 telescope (8" Dobsonian) to check (1) if I would be able to find objects with this telescope that I could not find with the 100P, and (2) how the objects that I found the day before would look like in the larger telescope. I also looked in the direction of the Andromeda galaxy (M 31, between Cassiopeia and Andromeda, in the west) as well as Praesepe (M 44, Cancer, in the east) using my binoculars GSD 680 with red-dot finder; binoculars 32 mm, 16 mm UWA
Feb 15 The same deep sky objects, plus:
G: M 31
OS: M 44, NGC 884/869
I hoped (1) to be able to find the objects faster, and (2) to clarify whether objects might not have been found just because I had searched for them at the wrong location (hoping that the GoTo control would work properly...). Additional excursion to Praesepe (M 44) and the Andromeda galaxy (M 31) and then to the Perseus double star cluster (NGC 884/869, between Cassiopeia and Perseus, near the zenith) Heritage 100P on GoTo mount; binoculars 32 mm Plössl, 16 mm UWA, and 7 mm UWA
Feb 18 GE: M 1 (Crab nebula)
GE: M 42/43
G: M 31
OC: NGC 884/869, M 45, M 35
I had supplemented the Telrad finder on that day with a dew cap with integrated 90° mirror and a 5 cm riser base. M 1 now found! M 42/3 seen well like never before! GSD 680 with Telrad finder 32 mm Plössl, 16 mm UWA, 7 mm UWA
Feb 26 GE: M 1
GR: M 78
GE: M 42/43
G: M 31
OC: M 45, M 35, M 36, M 37, M 38



M 78 finally found! Heritage P130 on GoTo mount 32 mm Plössl, 16 mm UWA, 7 mm UWA, 6 mm Planetary, 4 mm UWA
Mar 2 GE/OC: NGC 2237/2244 (Rosette Nebula)
G: M 81/82 (Bode Galaxies)
OC: M 41, NGC 2264 (Christmas Tree Cluster)
On March 2, I finally visited the remaining objects that I had put on my observation list.


in addition observed M 42/43, M 44, M 45 Heritage P130 on GoTo mount 32 mm Plössl, 16 mm UWA, 7 mm UWA
Mar 16 GE: M 42/43
G: M 31
OC: M 45, M 35, M 36, M 37, M 38
On March 16, I repeated the observations of some objects. in addition observed M 44, NGC 884/869; M 31 was very faint; M1 and M 78 not found Heritage P130 on GoTo mount 16 mm UWA, 4 mm UWA (Venus only)

Bold: First observation during this observation period; all observations in Mühlhausen/Kraichgau; GE = galactic emission nebula, GR = galactiv reflection nebula, PN = planetary nebula, G = galaxy, OC = open star cluster, GC = globular star cluster

Observed Sky Objects (Mostly Objects Found)

DSO Details Name Constellation Type Bino* 100P 100P GT P130 GT GSD 680 Remarks
M 42/43 Orion Nebula Orion GE yes yes yes yes yes in part very beautiful
M 78   Orion GR   -- -- yes ??? very faint, not found with 100P
M 31 Andromeda Galaxy Andromeda G yes   yes yes yes fairly faint in the West
M 35   Gemini OC     yes yes yes many stars
M 36   Auriga OC   yes yes yes yes the brightest of M 36-38
M 37   Auriga OC     yes yes yes  
M 38   Auriga OC   yes yes yes    
M 44 Praesepe Cancer OC yes   yes yes   in an awkward position for me
M 1 Crab Nebula Taurus GE   -- -- yes yes very faint, not found with 100P
M 45 Pleiades Taurus OC yes yes yes yes yes large
Mel 25 Hyades Taurus OC yes yes yes yes yes very large
NGC 884/869 P. Double Cluster Perseus OC yes **   yes yes in the West, close to the zenith
M 41   Canis Major OC       yes    
M 81/82 Bode Galaxies Ursa Major G       yes   very faint
NGC 2237/2244 Rosette Nebula Monoceros GE       yes   only star cluster found
NGC 2264 Christmas Tree Cl. Monoceros OC       yes   christmas tree not recognized...

*) 10 x 25 binoculars; ** found in France in autumn 2016; GE = galactic emission nebula, GR = galactic reflection nebula, G = galaxy, OC = open star cluster, GC = globular star cluster




When looking for deep sky objects, a good preparation is mandatory - you can read this, and I can confirm it. "Good preparation" basically means that you compile a list of the objects that you would like to observe, and to find out where and how the objects can be found. If you, as I did this time, observe the same objects three days in a row, this introduces a certain routine, and searching for the objects is faster and safer. At some point in time, boredom may set in, but this is much more the case if you are not prepared and only observe your "prime objects"...

Is it it or not?

If you point your telescope with the help of the red dot finder approximately to the desired sky object, look into the eyepiece and see nothing or only "nebulous clouds," but not something that resembles the object in question, the question arises: Is the sky too light-polluted that I can recognize the object or does the telescope point in the wrong direction? Admittedly, I was - even after repeated attempts - not able to clarify this question for some of the objects that I tried to observe on the first day.

That is why I repeated the observations of the first day on the following days in two different ways: On the one hand, with my 8 "-Dobsonian telescope (GSO GSD 680) and, on the other hand, with my Sky-Watcher Synscan AZ GoTo mount and the Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P telescope. In the first case, one or the other object that was not visible with the 100P should become visible because of the higher light gathering power of the 8 "telescope provided that the object was correctly accessed. In the second case, the sky objects ought to be accessed correctly thanks to the GoTo control (this does not always work, however...). If I should nevertheless recognize nothing at all in the eyepiece, this telescope is, under the given conditions, not able to show the object.

The results above show that especially in the case of M 35, M 36, M 37, and M 38 some clarity could be brought into these questions. Similarly, M 78 and M 1 remained unobservable in all cases (as I thought...), suggesting that the light conditions were not good enough for these objects. However, on the last day, I was able to spot M 1 with my largest telescope.

Contortionists Asked for!

Some sky objects (M 35, M 36-38) were so high up in the sky that I had trouble finding them in the LED finder. I had to "crawl" under the telescope, so to speak, to see the red dot in the finder. A slightly higher table might have helped, but this also has its limitations - and if it is too high, you have problems with looking into the eyepiece. An angle finder is therefore required! I searched the Internet to find out, whether there is an angle finder on the market at all, which does not magnify and just uses a red dot. Apparently there is only one for the Telrad finder available - or one for almost 300 EUR from TeleVue, but for the latter neither the base nor the price fit. The Telrad angle finder with dew cap arrived in the meantime, and I tried it on February 18 for the first time. Admittedly, I'm not really enthusiastic ...

Luckily, I do not have these problems when using the GoTo control - I may only have difficulties when aligning the telescope to the two adjustment stars, but there are several stars to choose from ... Using it, I was able to access all of the wanted objects without problems, including the Perseus double cluster on the third day.

GoTo: Hit Rate?

With the Sky-Watcher Star Discovery AZ GoTo mount, I made already very different experiences with regard to the hit rate. This depends on the accuracy with which the tripod is set up, the accuracy of time and location information, and also the accuracy with which the telescope is aligned with the alignment stars (the object should appear "centered" in the eyepiece; the double-reticle eyepiece that I bought for this purpose enlarges too strong for my taste, so that I use "normal" eyepieces with long focal lengths, instead). It may also be possible that the position of the alignment stars in the sky, including to each other, plays a role.

So far I've taken all these things with more or less liberty and therefore had very different experiences: On some days, it worked out fine, on other days there was only frustration. I think that the telescope used, that is, the magnification used, plays an important role, as well as the location of the objects in the sky that you are pointing to, that is, whether they are relatively close to each other or diametrically opposite in the sky.

I do not want to dig deeper into this topic here, but only want to communicate that I did not have big problems this time, even though I had to move the objects in the eyepiece a bit "down". You can improve the alignment a little if you control the telescope via the astronomy app SkySafari for the iPad with the SkyWire device. But since I knew the names of the objects all by heart, I have not used the SkyWire device to connect the GoTo control to the iPad. It was OK using the hand control...



All the star maps were created with SkySafari Plus/Pro for Apple Macintosh.


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