University Lowbrow Astronomers

M83... AT LAST.

by Mark Deprest
Printed in Reflections:  May, 1997.

Well the mighty have fallen to the persistence and the optics of my 8” f/6 Dob.  Yes, that’s right, I got my last Messier Object Saturday night out at Peach Mt.:  M83.  At about 23:30 EDT I began my search for this elusive 8th-magnitude spiral galaxy, which was first discovered by the French astronomer Lacaille during an expedition to South Africa in 1751-52.  G. de Vaucouleurs gives its distance as about 8,000,000 ly and classifies it as intermediate between ordinary spirals and barred spirals.  It has been referred to as a fast supernova producer, having four such events in 50 years.  I finally located the “faint fuzzy” shortly after midnight after I realized I was using the wrong guide stars to spot the little beasty.  I located it at 17.5 degrees above the southern horizon amidst the sky-glow of light pollution.  Bernard Friberg was there to verify my sighting and then promptly put the 24” on it, which actually revealed some graininess out near the edges, almost suggesting the spiral arms.

That does it for the Messiers.  I now have observed and logged all 109 confirmed Messier Objects, and it seems only fitting that I find the last of these “comet-like” objects on an evening when one of the best comets of the past century eluded the gathering public at Peach Mt.  Hale-Bopp was only just visible for about 15 minutes as the western sky cleared about 21:45 EDT.  From then on the night was incredibly clear and the transparency of the sky was unmatched.  With Bernard on the 24” and me on my 8”, the smaller crowd was occupied and entertained most of the night.  During the early part of the evening while the clouds had the night sky effectively blocked, I was holding the attention of a crowd of about 25 people who had gathered around my scope.  I explained the dynamics and principles of a Newtonian reflector and then recanted everything I could remember about Hale-Bopp and comets from my web surfing, and topped the 45-minute lesson in amateur astronomy with a quick glance through my collection of drawings.  At one point, there were actually people raising their hands to ask me questions, and do you want to know something...  I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!  Well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!  Clear Skies!


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