Stargazing: Pisces, Pegasus: Fairbanks, AK, USA 2023-12-14 (publ. 2023-12-18)

Last Thursday evening I had another stargazing opportunity. It was not one of the easier sessions I've had, with some wispy cirrus clouds here and there in the sky, and temps down at -27 deg F. I used just the Skymaster 12x60 binoculars, with the tripod. The tiniest bit of fog from my breath would instantly freeze into a cloudy, rock-hard ice on the eyepieces, but if I took the binoculars back into the SUV, they would only take about two minutes to clear up. I'm finding that the tripod can be a little frustrating to use, especially in very cold weather, if one has to swivel around a lot. So, when I wasn't focusing on one particular object, I would take the binoculars off the tripod.

The stars did not seem very bright, due I suppose to the cirrus clouds. Here is my view of the southern sky reproduced in Stellarium, trying to match the seeing conditions I remember:

southern sky

southern sky with constellation art

I brought my astronomy field guide with me, so one thing I worked on for a while was trying to match up stars with their constellation letter names, starting with Pegasus. I also spent some time trying to see M15, the cluster off the NW tip of ε Pegasus (the horse's nostril).

I had a lot of trouble trying figure out where M15 was — all I could see nearby was a little blurry glow. Eventually I realized the little blurry glow is M15:

M15 (Great Pegasus Cluster) binocular view

M15 binocular view, in FoV with Enif

I also spent some time learning the stars of Pisces, the double-fish constellation south and east of Pegasus. I pointed my binocular at the fish south of Pegasus, thinking I would get a bird's eye view of it, but realized that I couldn't fit the whole thing in one FoV.

angular distance around head of west Pisces

A star I took particular interest in was η Pisces, which is one of the brighter stars in the constellation. The wing (back?) of Pegasus points to it. It is a G spectrum star, i.e., white-yellow. η has a galaxy about a degree and a half E of it, M 74. You can see it dimly in this screenshot, but I don't remember seeing it with my binoculars.

η Pisces

The α and β stars are also interesting as hot B spectrum (blue) stars. Not quite as bright as η, but still not too hard to find.

α Pisces

β Pisces

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