7th November 2020

Saturday, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm

Triple Messier Feast - M29, M39, M56

The sky was exceptionally clear today with little to no clouds! Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were all clearly visible without the clouds.

Although the sky was clear, my observations today were confined to the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra, visible at about 45° at the North-West side of the sky. My initial planned target (after my failed attempt yesterday) was M29, the open star cluster near to Sadr, the center star in Cygnus. But as Lyra was at a more easily viewable position, I tried my luck at locating the Ring Nebula, again to no avail. Then from the star atlas I realised that M56, a globular star cluster is pretty near to the constellation and decided to spot that instead.

Star hopping to M56 from Sulafat (γ Lyrae) was harder than I thought and I decided to hop from Albireo (β Cyg) instead as it was easily visible above Lyra. I was able to spot the cluster hopping from Albireo, but the cluster wasn't that evident as M15. I was able to spot several asterisms near to the location of the cluster and confirm the position with the atlas. THis way, I was able to find the position where I could expect to see the cluster. In its place, I was only able to see a slight smudge, that too spottable more easily with averted vision. Individual stars couldn't be resolved. I did however take down the star hopping map for the smudge that I saw.

My next target was M29, the open star cluster near Sadr. I was able to spot the cluster almost immediately as I had seen the video about M29 at the DeepSkyVideos YouTube channel earlier today and was able to spot the distinct shape of the cluster. At 20x the cluster can be spotted while the star Sadr is still in the field of view. There are a lot of stars in this area of the sky (looking through the scope), thanks to the constellation passing through the Milky Way arm.

At 20x, the box asterism of the cluster is distinct. At 40x the two stars to the side of the cluster forming the 'bent' legs like structure become more evident and easy to spot (Just that I had some difficulty focussing the eyepiece at 40x). At 67x, even more stars of the legs and beyond become resolvable and clear. I was surprisingly able to get the cluster focussed at 67x without much trouble. Even though it was wasy to spot, I did map the steps to star hop from the nearest star.

Quite conincidentally, I found that M39, an open cluster is near the constellation of Cygnus as well. I googled the object and kept the image of the distinct shape of the object in my phone as a reference if I come across it. I decided to star hop from Deneb but the distance was a bit longer than I have star hopped upto now. I thought that the sheer number of stars visible through the scope would make it harder for me to star hop, but I was able to make use of the distinct patterns in the area to star hop and find the cluster. I especially found using double stars as a reference a useful technique for star hopping. Even if the traingular or rhombic patterns we try to remember might not be unique and we might get lost among the stars, adding double stars to the equation makes sure that the pattern we are trying to identify will be unique.

So anyway I was moving through the area and to be honest I had lost track from the atlas a bit. But I came across this area with a high density of stars which I immediately thought would be the cluster, as I had seen a similar but not distinct image from my google search earlier. I confirmed the position by checking nearby asterism from the atlas. Even though I couldn't confirm the position.

Even though I couldn't confirm the position of the stars in the cluster I was seeing right away, I decided to sketch down the cluster to the maximum possible detail. It was visible easily even at 40x and I sketched it down. I did not sketch the star hopping pattern as I thought it would take longer. I was tired and was sweating by this time. Later back in my bedroom, I kept rotating the image of the cluster in my phone until it aligned with my drawing and redrew it. Some stars were blue and others red, and hence the confusion.