A Postcard From SDM#099!

28th Oct 2016, Shawka Dam, UAE

Dear Pete,

Following a long, hot and humid summer in the UAE, the sudden drop in temperature marks the start of the outdoor season and a chance to wheel out Zeùs under dark skies again.

Our dark sky location is situated approx. 80km east of Dubai, towards the Omani border near the small hillside village of Shawka. Amongst the craggy rock landscape, I set up in a public car park 421m above sea level. The overall seeing was good with above average transparency despite the Dubai sky glow to the western horizon. The eastern and southern sky was the main target area for the night.

Whilst eagerly awaiting Orion to rimg_0017-largeise over the hill range, I spent time in Auriga taking in the fantastic views of its open clusters with M37 stealing the show. The depth, structure and colour on offer was truly remarkable. A short slew over to M35 which was made better by the compact open cluster NGC 2158 bombing the view in the background.

The Planet Uranus was high in the sky and displayed a sharp disk with a sprinkling of faint moons accompanying it. Nice.

First light Orion Nebula, also became last light for our observing session, almost. There is so much to see and the views are totally absorbing & immersive that I simply didn’t want to go anywhere else. Starting with a wider field of view through the 31mm Nagler (x68), the eyepiece partially frames this complex structure, displaying wispy light and dark nebula, dust filaments punctuated by small star clusters. I zoomed into the Trapezium with the 13mm Ethos (x162) and could almost walk between the 5th and 6th stars and their apparent companion neighbour. Each star was bright, pin sharp and easily resolved. Best I’ve seen through any scope. I hunted for the dimmer 7th and 8th member of the group but am not convinced I could get down to 15th Mag on this occasion? I pushed the magnification further to see what the scope could take on the night. My 5.2mm Pentax SMC XL yielding 400x was the absolute limit but still maintained the image quality to the edge of the field. The Trapezium literally filled the entire eyepiece view. It was like being there! Stepping back out to 263x magnification using the 8mm Ethos presented the best views of the Trapezium I’ve ever seen. The dynamic range on offer, the field of view presented and the quality of the optical train hit the middle “C”. There is a small jet black piece of sky surrounded by bright nebula close to the Trapezium which contains very dim but clearly visible stars deep inside its heart. Looking at this, felt like staring down into a bottomless hole from the edge of a cliff. Quite scary!

The final object was the Planetary Nebula NGC 2392 (Eskimo Nebula). Oh my goodness! This object really looks like its name sake and clearly displays the central star. Not seen this level of detail with my other smaller scopes. Aperture definitely wins here.

What is remarkable and something I’ve never thought about before, is how the equipment doesn’t get in the way of the observing experience. You simply don’t notice the physical telescope and its activity to get you where you want to go and keep you there. It just gets on with its job flawlessly and allows you to lose yourself in the whole visual experience. Joy! This is a testament to the quality and precision of the components and the workmanship that make it all come to life. It’s only when you step back to contemplate what this magnificent scope has just revealed that one can truly appreciate the uniqueness of this instrument and ponder the things it waits to reveal.

The sky is literally the limit. Bring it on!

Picture:  SDM#099, Zeùs pointing at M42 in Orion taken by Stephen Bonnar 28th Oct 2016 Shawki Dam, UAE