Observation Log 2/8/06: Looking for Christmas Tree Cluster

Christmas Tree Cluster It was cloudy, hazy, and the Moon was high, but I had a window of opportunity. I ran Starry Night and looked up the brightest cluster on my new target list. I grabbed the Canon 10×30 Image Stabilizing binoculars, printed out a few quick finder charts, and headed out…

This was one of my first outings using my new target list and a few printed sheets with zoomed-out and -in star charts from Starry Night. I have to say it worked very well! With the small exception of not actually finding my target, it was fun. I quickly found where the cluster would have appeared if the Moon wasn’t 19° away, and the clouds weren’t blowing through, and the haze wasn’t so bad, etc., etc., etc. Seriously, I was very pleasantly surprised at how quickly I found the right field of view in a relatively sparse section of sky.

I was also happy with how many stars I did see. Lots of 8th magnitude stars, only 1.5 magnitudes less than a clear, dark night using the bigger binoculars. I hope I’ll be able to spot some of these clusters without having to drag the 8″ SCT out, and I haven’t succeeded yet. Still, the fun factor is up significantly (remember, it was about 35°F out tonight) and that counts for a lot.

Followup, later that night: So, I was more successful than I originally thought! After logging all the brighter stars I saw, and reading more about the cluster on the internet, it turns out I logged the two stars that represent the base (15 Mon) and the peak (TYC750-1719-1) of the Christmas Tree! I assumed it would be right side up, and it was actually pointing down and to the left when I observed the area (which I can now plainly see in the graphic). D’oh!

OK, note to self: spend a little more time in preparation, so I know what I’m looking for, rather than expecting it to pop out at me. The charts will get me to the right area easily, but knowing what to expect when I get there takes a different kind of understanding. I’d bet that if I’d just spent 5 minutes gazing at 15 Mon and the area to its SE, I’d have seen maybe 10 or more of the 40-ish stars in the cluster. I was expecting something brighter and more tightly packed.

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