Coonabarabran – Clear Dark Skies

Coonabarabran Observing FieldHello again from Coonabarabran – the Astronomy Capital of Australia. As I promised, this blog post will address the wonderful Southern Skies and our fantastic viewing experiences here at The Seventh Annual Deepest South Texas Star Safari (DSTSS).

As I mentioned in my post on March 3, we have an unbelievable assortment of telescopes available for our use every night. There are approximately 10 Obsession telescopes and about 3 SDM scopes that range in size from 14″ to 30″. In addition, we have a pair of 25mm x 150mm Fujinon binoculars that are mounted in a Skyrover Starchair. Most of the dobs have Argo Navis and Servo Cat installed (some have only Argo Navis installed). We also have a large assortment of very nice eyepieces, too. In addition, some people brought their own eyepieces. Some of the time you find yourself sharing a scope with a new-found friend and some of the time you have the scope all to yourself for hours at a time. Needless to say, we feel like kids in a candy store!

Coonabarabran is a wonderful place for astronomy with beautiful dark, clear skies. So far we have had five nights of viewing. I would say three of those nights were truly excellent and two of the nights were very good. (One night we did have some clouds that interfered with observing and one night things got pretty dewy.)

Our first views of the Southern Skies were just fantastic and to be honest they still take our breath away. We will always remember seeing the Large Magellanic Cloud, the Small Magellanic Cloud and the Southern Cross (Crux) for the first time. As beautiful as they are, my wife and I have one clear cut favorite, though – the Trantula Nebula (NGC 2070). The Trantula Nebula is both beautiful and somewhat spooky at the same time. It’s hard to describe but you can easily see how it got it's name. Seen through a large dob the Trantula Nebula is an amazing sight!

Our list of viewing highlights includes (in no particular order):

  • Alpha Centauri
  • Jewel Box Cluster (NGC 4755) – this is an open cluster in Crux and is really quite beautiful. NGC 4755 does actually resemble a jewel box with quite a few blue-white stars, some yellow stars and one red star.
  • Coal Sack Dark Nebula. Again this is an object that really lives up to it's name – it looks like a coal sack. The coal sack is the most prominent dark nebula and is visible with the naked eye.
  • Omega Centauri Cluster (NGC 5139). Our views of this globular cluster have been spectacular – even in the smaller dobs.
  • Wishing Well Cluster (NGC 3532). This is a smaller open cluster but very nice.
  • Eta Carina Nebula (NGC 3372). The Eta Carina Nebula is one of the largest diffuse nebula. My wife and I spent a long time viewing this object last night in a 14″ dob. It's amazing to think that it's four times as large as the Orion Nebula and even brighter. The view in a 31mm Nagler was very impressive.
  • Theta Carina Cluster (IC 2602). This is an open cluster that is often referred to as the Southern Pleiades. It is very pretty, but to be honest, I don't think it is in the same league with the Pleiades.
  • Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). When I first saw the LMC I was amazed at how much of the sky it covers – about 6 degrees. The LMC is an irregular type galaxy – it's neither a spiral or an ellipse. It looks like a large fuzzy blob with the naked eye (put the emphasis on large). The LMC is either the second or third closest galaxy to the Milky Way depending on the reference book you're using.
  • Trantula Nebula (NGC 2070). I already mentioned this object above but it is our favorite. The dark lanes in the nebula look like spider legs and give it it's spooky appearance.
  • Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). I don't know if others would agree or not, but I doubt that the SMC would be called small if the LMC didn't exist. It's just small by comparison. Like the LMC it is easily visible to the naked eye. Like the LMC it is classified as an irregular galaxy.
  • 47 Tucanae Cluster (NGC 104). 47 Tuc is the second brightest globular cluster in the sky and it is very beautiful and very bright (magnitude 4.0).
  • A wide variety of open clusters including NGC 5662, NGC 5460, NGC 5316, and NGC 3766. The Southern Skies are filled with beautiful open clusters and these are some of the ones we enjoyed the most.
  • Wolf-Rayet stars including NGC 2359, NGC 3199 and HD 92809 (in Eta Carina).

Obviously, there are a lot more wonderful objects that I could list. However, I just don't have time right now. I have to get ready for tonight's viewing session!

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