As I wrote in a previous blog, I like to "do" Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders column whenever possible. A few nights ago, I finally got a chance to start work on the March 2010 column — with a little trepidation.
Figuring out the illustrations for this article gave me a lot a heartache, because I knew I wasn't' got to be able to do it justice. Normally, Sue covers a small chunk of sky, making it relatively easy to cover the whole thing with one or two charts. This time, her targets stretched over more than 25° of sky, and I also wanted to include the "anchor stars" Castor and Pollux, making the coverage area even bigger.
To make matters worse, a number of the targets in this column are pretty faint, needing highly detailed charts for people who plan to locate them by star-hopping. Trying to cover such a large piece of sky at that level of detail would have consumed all the available pages, leaving no space for the text. Plus, it's really helpful to have photographs of some of the objects both as eye candy and also to give you hints what to look for through the eyepiece.
So I compromised, giving detailed coverage to the most challenging targets, but showing the rest just on a small map with stars to 6th magnitude. At the very least, that shows where everything is in the sky. But would it be adequate for star-hopping?
Not for me, it wasn't. The first two targets, Iota and 57 Cancri, are bright double stars, so they were easy. The galaxy NGC 2683 (which, by the way, I see only now I failed to highlight in yellow!) wasn't too hard either. It's right near a charted star, and at magnitude 9.8 it sticks out like a sore thumb in my 12.5-inch scope.
But I failed humiliatingly on the 11.6-magnitude galaxy NGC 2782, which is several degrees from any 6th-magnitude star. I had to revert to my backup charts (the Millennium Star Atlas) to find this little fellow. It wasn't especially subtle once located; I might have seen it on my first try — but I didn't.
I wonder how much all of this matters. A survey I did a couple of years ago indicated that most people who follow Deep-Sky Wonders either use Go To scopes or else use their own charts (printed or software) to star-hop, and don't rely primarily on the charts in the magazine. But after all, I'm a Deep-Sky Wonders reader too, so my opinions count at least a little. And although I do always have backup charts, I find it mighty handy when everything I need is right there in one place, in a format that's easy to hold up to an eyepiece.
What do you think?