Sand and Stars

A Few Pals

Pal 12 Hubble
Pal 12. Image credit Hubble

3 Sep 2016

The intriguing 15 Palomar globular clusters were discovered on the survey plates of the first Palomar Observatory Sky Survey in the 1950s, and all but two had never been seen before. Palomar 7 (IC 1276) was first seen by American astronomer Lewis Swift in 1889 and independently rediscovered by George Abell in 1952 during the survey, and Palomar 9 (NGC 6717) was discovered by William Herschel on August 7, 1784.

The rest had never been seen for good reason – some are heavily obscured by interstellar dust along our line of sight, some have few remaining stars, and several others inhabit the remote outer halo of the galaxy.

With all that in mind, along with the knowledge that most of the intriguing Palomar globular clusters are visible only in the large to monster amateur telescopes, I was surprised to walk away with a handful… and get to enjoy an evening’s ramble around the galactic halo, to boot.

Edwin Hubble at Palomar Observatory's 48-in. Schmidt telescope, c. 1948. Image credit Palomar Observatory
Edwin Hubble at Palomar Observatory’s 48-in. Schmidt telescope, c. 1948. Image credit Palomar Observatory

Conditions were as good as they could possibly be: It was new moon. Superbly dark skies. Superb seeing and transparency. Alvin Huey’s charts printed out. The telescope collimated to the back teeth. And Kalahari music to observe by… a gazillion barking geckos filling the night air with a delightful symphony of sound. (The “barking” is somewhat of a misnomer; they issue a series of rapid clicks, chorusing like crickets or frogs, and when thousands of these little reptiles get going, it’s something to hear, let me tell you.)

And best of all… there is so sense of rush-rush-rush stargazing out here. In Cape Town I was always conscious of the big cloud or the big wind or the big rain hovering just over there, and chasing me through my observing list and preventing me from protracted searches. Here? I can protract my searches until I’ve either found the object or am convinced that I am not going to, and when I have an object in the eyepiece, I can look and look and look as long as I want; no sense of needing to hurry on… I’ve got until sunrise.


10 f/5 Dobs; magnifications of 144x and 208x 

I warmed up with a Pal whose acquaintance I made some time ago, and who is an absolute delight…

Palomar 9 in Sagittarius

RA 18 55.1   Dec –22 42.1  Mag 9.3   Size 5.4′

DSS image
Pal 9. DSS image

Easy to find, not only because I’ve visited it often, but also because it is located immediately south of Nu-2 Sagittarii, a beautiful 5th mag golden star. Pal 9 is a tiny distinctively shaped little bundle of gems; to my eye a tiny and delicate shape almost like the middle section of a tiara. It revealed three stars that sparkled in and out of view, beautiful little gems studded in the tiny glow of the tiara. Averted vision didn’t add any more stars, although at one point I thought I saw another one twink into sight but it was gone before I was sure.

Palomar 7 in Serpens

RA 18 10.7  Dec –07 12.5  Mag 10.3  Size 8′

Pal 7. DSS image

Another not-so-tough to find tiny little globular. As soon as I was in its neck of the woods so to speak… it popped into view. A faint, round glow, larger than I expected, and very slightly concentrated to its middle. With averted vision it brightened up a tad; I could see two or three faint stars that twinkled in and out of view, and the background glow seemed to assume a very, very slightly raggedy round shape. A bright 13th mag foreground star anchors the cluster’s NE border, making for a very pretty view. 

Palomar 5 in Serpens

RA 15 16.1  Dec –00 07  Mag 11.8  Size 8′

DSS image
Pal 5. DSS image

This globular is located ½° south of 6th mag 4 Serpentis. Nothing visible at any power. I knew it was an impossible catch – the DSS image is tough enough (!) but I had a good scratch around the neighbourhood in any case. Nothing at all that I could see, but it was nice to see little 4 Serpentis, a pretty creamy white star. And it’s nice to view the area in the sky where you know the globular cluster is residing but out of reach. Makes these gloriously mysterious creatures even more mysterious.

Palomar 6 in Sagittarius

RA 17 43.7  Dec –26 13.3  Mag 11.6  Size 1.2′

DSS image
Pal 6. DSS image

Very very faint, very very small, round smidgeon of a glow that popped into view with averted vision twice and then frustratingly popped out of view… and stayed popped out, no matter how hard I squinted through the eyepiece.

Palomar 8 in Sagittarius

RA 18 41.5  Dec –19 49.5  Mag 11.0  Size 5.2′

DSS image
Pal 8. DSS image

I was surprised at this little beauty! A lovely, small, brightish but ghostly-pale round glow, with a very slight central concentration. The southeastern portion of the cluster appeared just very slightly brighter. No stars resolved, no mottling, just the lovely ghostly glow with a few very faint little foreground twinklers scattered across the face of the cluster, which may be interlopers but they certainly made the view a sparkler.

Palomar 10 in Sagitta

RA 19 18  Dec +18 34.3  Mag 13.2  Size 4.0′

DSS image
Pal 10. DSS image

What an elusive little chap. I searched for it for about twenty minutes with averted vision and eventually picked up what appeared to be an exceedingly faint, exceedingly small, exceedingly nebulous little smudgey glow that I couldn’t hold. It was much like seeing a tiny puff of steam on a cold winter’s night, so nebulous as to almost be rendered invisible and gone in an eye blink. Was it Pal 10? I would certainly like to think so, but I don’t, so it was logged as not being seen.

Palomar 11 in Aquila

RA 19 45.2  Dec –08 0.5  Mag 9.8          Size 10.0′

DSS imade
Pal 11. DSS image

I must confess this one surprised me. I was assuming that the glob’s large size would render it impossible to see.

But eventually I was rewarded with a glimpse of the globular cluster with averted vision – it is very small!! – an exceedingly faint little soupçon of nebulous glow that I couldn’t hold. But once I’d located it, the tiny faint glow of starlight popped in and out of view with averted vision. But there it was – a very small and very faint glow that didn’t show any central concentration. 

Palomar 12 in Capricornus

RA 21 46.6  Dec –21 15  Mag 12.0          Size 2.9′

DSS image
Pal 12. DSS image

The first thing I noticed was the tiny triangle of mag ~12 stars that I knew pointed in the globular’s general direction. I searched the field slowly. Alas, nothing. 

What an enchanting evening it was, observing these intriguingly elusive fossils. 

Copyright © Susan Young 2016