21st November 2020

Saturday, 6:30 pm to 9:45 pm

The Ring Nebula in Lyra, M52 and M103 in Cassiopeia, Perseus Double Cluster!

The sky was entirely cloudless during the day, except for a few clouds in the evening. By 6 pm the sky was exceptionally clear unlike other days. Jupiter and Saturn were already visible with the Moon ofcourse.

By 6:20 - 6:30 pm, Vega was visible down near the North-West direction. I was able to aim at Vega with the scope at the side of the house. Even though the entire constellation wasn't visible to the naked eye from where I was standing, I was able to star hop as it was visible through my telescope. As the constellation was above where Vega was in the sky. Lyra being a smaller asterism made this easier for me. I saw the double double stars near Vega. I didn't zoom in to get a closer look. I thought I can do this another day. I was able to spot and confirm the two stars on the other side of the harp, Sulafat and Shielak. I couldn't see any clue of the Ring Nebula as it wasn't completely dark yet. So I kept the scope aimed at this location and went to drink chai and get the rest of my gear.

Once it was around 6:45 pm, it was dark enough for me to see the fainter stars. I googled for pictures of the nebula to get an idea of the lower magnitude stars near to the nebula as the atlas can get real insufficient real quick. I found from pictures that there are a couple stars to the left (in the inverted view) which forms a triangle and that there is a triplet of stars aligned in a line to the right of the nebula.

I was able to locate these stars and I found that a small smudge which could've been mistaken for a star forms a triangle with the stars to the left I mentioned earlier. I looked at the picture from the internet and confirmed that this smudge was inface the Ring Nebula! The nebula becomes more convincing of a nebula at 40x and 67x. At 67x I was almost able to make out its circular structure, but no details of the ring was apparent including the color. The size of the nebula in the sky is really small compared to say the Dumbbell Nebula, another similar planetary nebula. But now that I have located it, I will easily be able to spot it once I upgrade my 4" telescope to an 8" or a 10" one some time in the future. I can refer to these notes then. By the time I had made these observations and sketched down the position of the object with respect to the nearby stars, it had gone down and was obstructed by the branch of a tree.

I repositioned my telescope to observe Cygnus now. My targets were the Veil Nebula, both the Eastern and the Western ones. I star hopped around a little, in the area of the Veil and the Egg Nebula (which I later realised to be a magnitude 14 object!). There were a lot of stars visible through the scope in this area, due to the Milky Way band passing through Cygnus here. More stars than plotted by the Pocket Sky Atlas for sure! It's a good exercise in star hopping to sweep this area, also due to the several bright stars in Cygnus.

My next targets were Cassiopeia and Perseus. Although I started out this hunt for deep sky objects as a Messier Hunt, I'm observing all other sorts of deep sky objects from the Caldwell catalogue or the NGC, or even from the Collinder catalogue of open star clusters. Many of these are larger, brighter and easier to spot than a lot of the Messier objects even. Today I managed to observe the two Messier objects in Cassiopeia and the double cluster in Perseus, and the smaller cluster above them.

M52 - The Cassiopeia Salt and Pepper Cluster

Although the cluster is easy to locate, thanks to an assortment of bright stars around it with distinct patterns, the cluster itself is smaller compared to the other open clusters in the Messier list I've seen till now. It is also a lot less brighter. Although not apparent right away, we can make out more and more stars in the cluster. Looking at the brighter stars towards the lower right of the cluster (in the inverted view), also helps to focus on the cluster with averted vision. I was able to resolve more stars and the shape of the cluster more clearly at 67x magnification, but focussing and moving around was much more difficult with the 6mm eyepiece on.

For star hopping to M52, use the 4 bright stars above the cluster which forms and elongated rhombus shape and then find the two brighter stars beneath this pattern. The right star in this pair is the location of the Bubble Nebula, which was not visible in my scope though. Bubble Nebula is a magnitude 10 H-II region.


An easy to locate open cluster near Ruchbah (δ Cassiopeiae). The triangular pattern of stars near to Ruchbah will help you get a clear sense of the direction to where to look for the cluster, no matter the orientation of your view. Its kinda like the stars nearby are pointing to the cluster. I have noted this in my accompanying sketch of the same. You can see the cluster at 20x with Ruchbah also in the field.

The cluster itself is small, with a size comparable to that of M52, although this one can be resolved into individual stars much more easily. At 20x even, the cluster can be easily spotted as a small straight line of stars with a pair of stars in the middle. With higher magnifications more stars within the cluster could be resolved. At 40x and even at 67x the M103 open cluster was an easy to observe target (easier to find than M52), eventhough it might pale in comparison to some other open clusters (Like the Double cluster in Perseus we are going to observe in a minute). Sketches of M103 at 20x, 40x and at 67x are given.

Perseus Double Cluster (NGC 884 & NGC 869)

The double cluster in Perseus is striking and an amazing sight to behold. It can easily be located by star hopping from the triangle formed by γ Persei, τ Persei and η Persei, which forms the lower end triangle in the constellation of Perseus.

The double cluster is a big object and easily covers about 2° of the sky and completely fills up the field of view of the 20mm eyepieceat 20x. It must therefore be a better target for a pair of binoculars as well. It might be a challenge to spot the clusters with the naked eyes to guage the clarity and visibility of the sky.

I was able to see more stars in the cluster than what I have plotted in my sketches. I observed the cluster mainly at 20x, to draw the star hopping chart and only briefly with 40x to draw the closeup. I will observe this for a few more days probably and sketch more detailed charts. The reason for this is because towards the end of the session there was cloud coverage in the northern region of the sky and the visibility of the cluster was reduced considerably.

It was about 9:40 pm by this point and I had a project meeting with my team at 10, so I decided to wrap things up. Before I went inside however, I observed the Pleadies star cluster briefly as it was high up in the eastern sky at a comfortable position. It was also clear enough to the point where I was able to resolve the bright 4-5 stars that make up the kite shape with my bare eyes. Something that I haven't done up till now (Atleast since I resumed astronomy lately). At 20x I was able to see much more stars than I have seen and sketched in this notebook (check entry on 24th Oct). The stars were sparkling blue and I made a note to myself to try photographing it sometime.