Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Comet 17P/Holmes

Back in November, I was in Ecuador, in the western Andes, and during a rare clear night I saw and sketched Comet Holmes which was bright and large in Perseus at the time. When I first saw it I knew it was a comet, there being no deep sky objects quite that big and bright in that area, but not which one and next time I was in Quito I went onto the net and found out the name and designation. During the time it was visible, Holmes brightened by a factor of 1 million and put on a spectacular show.
I made a rudimentary sketch, reproduced below (click on picture for larger version). The observation was made with the naked eye and my 8x42 binoculars.

I also saw Holmes from the Amazon jungle. From both the jungle and the mountains, with no light pollution it was spectacular. I didn't get back to the UK until late December and subsequently got no further opportunity to look at this comet.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Isle of Wight Star Party in March

In three weeks the inaugural Isle of Wight Star Party will be underway. It runs for four nights from 6th - 10th March and is being organised by Vectis Astronomical Society. It is not a public outreach event, so is not being advertised in the mainstream press. Outreach events are all very well, and VAS does plenty of these, but it is good to have events run by astronomers for astronomers with some serious observing without interruption. I just hope the weather co-operates and we can have plenty of fun and observing!

So far we have got 35 people coming, with more likely to book nearer the time. If you are interested click the link at the top of this post for full details.
Of course, I'll be there for a couple of days and nights at least, so photos will appear here.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Lights out!!

There was an article on BBC South Today this evening about how some residents of Romsey, Hants, are up in arms over a council proposal to reduce the street lighting by turning some of it off. The usual misinformed garbage about fuelling crime and anarchy practically coming to the streets is being spouted by panic-stricken residents, plus emotive nonsense about the blackouts in World War 2 - the ordinary, non-astronomical public is so woefully ignorant it is almost funny.
Via Cloudy Nights forum, where this is also being discussed, I found this Daily Mail article about this, with the laughably over-the-top headline: Return of the Blackout: Crime fear as councils switch off streetlights to save the planet and complete with a lot of inanely stupid comments from people who, sadly, don't know anything other than what rags such as the DM tell them.

As for motorists, that's what vehicle lights are for - and it won't hurt to reduce speed and take a little more care either.

Right, come on Isle of Wight Council, turn ours off now, please! I live in a reasonably dark area, but even so, I have notice the domes from Newport, Ryde, Shanklin and Sandown getting worse over the past couple of years. Actually, it wouldn't hurt to kill off all these unnecessary (in)security lights too.

When I was a small kid, 30 years ago, street lights were routinely turned off after midnight and no-one complained. Have people in the UK really turned into a yellow-streaked, spineless lot fearful of the dark, since then? Or is it just a case of moan about it just to have something to whinge about?

If you are going to look on the bright side (no pun intended) of global warming and the increasing scarcity of cheap fuel, then from an astronomer's point of view turning off the street lights and lessening the cancer of skyglow is no bad thing.

Campaign for Dark Skies

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Observing, 9th Feb 2008

Conditions: Clear, a little hazy, much dew and mist
Instrument: 4" refractor, 8x42 binoculars
Place: Near Sandown, Isle of Wight, UK

Tried out OIII and UHC filters with my binoculars on the Rosette Nebula, the nebula is easier seen using the UHC filter. I also had a bash at the California Nebula (NGC 1499) in Perseus, but the sky conditions were not good enough for much of a view - I could see some brightening in the area of the nebula, but that was it.

Telescoping observing with the refractor was a dead loss, because of the amount of moisture in the air (it was pretty misty) causing severe fogging of the optics, despite the dew shield. I managed to see a few brighter galaxies in Leo with it, but as soon as I cleaned the objective it fogged again and the galaxies were reduced to being even more smudge like than usual in the small scope. The conditions were way too dismal to even attempt any sketching. Refractors are good in dry climates, where there is little moisture, but not so good in a damp area like northern Europe, which is one reason I prefer reflectors.

I packed the scope up and used the rest of the session for binocular observing, picking up open clusters Stock 2, Trumpler 2, Melotte 15, NGC 1027 and Collinder 13 in Cassiopeia, and not forgetting NGC 869 and NGC 884 which make up the Double Cluster in Perseus.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Observing session 8th February 2008

Conditions: Clear but misty at ground level, +3 degrees C. Seeing very steady.
Instrument: 4" refractor and 8x42 binoculars.
Place: near Sandown, Isle of Wight, England
Naked-eye limiting magnitude: around 6.0 to 6.2

For once the weather forecast was accurate. We're currently in a spell of pleasant, quiet weather with clear skies. After the rotten weather of the past few weeks this is a nice change.

I took the refractor out and set it up, but not without a fair bit of swearing as I dropped the tripod screws on the ground more than once.

I spent the time poking around Monoceros, a constellation I have shamefully ignored in the past. Monoceros is a constellation which deserves more attention, overshadowed as it is by its' more illustrious and object-packed neighbours, Orion and Canis Major.

The Rosette Nebula, NGC 2237-9: Monoceros' most famous feature is the Rosette Nebula. This is a ring of nebulosity around an open cluster NGC 2244. It is large and with a low surface brightness but is visible through binoculars under a dark sky. I used my 8x42 binoculars with an OIII filter stuck in the right eyepiece and could easily see the nebula as a round glow, slightly darker in the middle, around NGC 2244. Without the filter and with averted vision I could just about make out the nebulous glow. I had never previously attempted the Rosette, believing it to be beyond my binoculars' and local sky's capabilities. Obviously this is not so and this goes to show that it pays to have a go at these things.
I sketched NGC 2244 through the refractor at 45x.

There are loads of open clusters in the vicinity and I came across an interesting-looking one while scanning around the area with the binoculars. This was NGC 2301, a pretty group of stars stretched out in a north-south orientation, looking a little like one of those modern longbows used in present day sports archery. I used the refractor for a quick sketch.

The sky conditions were by now beginning to deteriorate somewhat due to increasing mist and the refractor was, despite the dew cap, becoming unusable because of vast amounts of condensation forming. No sooner had I cleaned the moisture off of the objective then the eyepiece fogged and when I wiped the wet from that then the objective fogged so I took down the refractor and resorted to using binoculars only. The mist was also attenuating the light from an upstairs window making life more difficult so I packed in, finishing up with a couple of planetary 'lollipops' - Saturn (with Titan) and Mars.

I will scan and post the sketches sometime in the next few days, plus some from the other evening,

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Texas Star Party 2008

TSP Upper Observng Field in 2006

I went to the Texas Star Party in 2006 and had such a great time, I want to go back. I couldn't make it last year, for various reasons but have registered for this year's and got the confirmation email at the weekend.

I've managed to find a seasonal job - not a great one it has to be said, but the money's okay and it means I can do the travelling I want to this year. Hopefully I can accummulate some dosh in time to get a reasonably-priced ticket across the Atlantic - I'll need to buy the ticket in April.

Observing, 6th February 2008

Conditions: Cold, misty, sky a bit hazy. No wind
Instruments: 4-inch refractor and 8×42 binoculars
Place: Near Sandown, Isle of Wight, England

A much interrupted observing session (the England football team were in action against Switzerland and it was on BBC1). Sketched the highly unimpressive Collinder 69 in Orion - this thing consists of three stars in a triangle and that’s it, unless the fainter ones in the middle are related and even then it struggles to be anything other than boring. It’s big though and very obvious to the unaided eye. Collinder 69 represents the weapon that Orion the hunter is in the act of bringing down on some unfortunate prey.
The conditions weren’t great and I swapped the scope for the 8×42 binoculars and knocked off a few more Messiers for the binocular project to see all these objects, bringing the total to 61 - M40, M48, M95, M96, M105. What was the deal with M40? It’s two stars - how on earth did Messier think these might possibly be confused with a comet?

NGC/IC binocular project

While I was out with the binoculars the other night, an idea hit me. I am currently doing a project, just for fun, to see how many of the Messier Objects I can see with my binoculars. This has been ongoing since 2005 and so far I have observed 56 Messiers with the bins. Because binoculars are a fun, easy and undervalued way of observing deep sky objects I have decided to have a go at seeing how many NGC/IC objects I can see with them and, of course, the results will be posted here and on my website.

8x42 binoculars

It will be a good project for those nights where I’m too idle to get the scope out or the conditions don’t warrant the effort required to set it up. Binoculars are the ultimate grab-and-go scope and are very under-rated as an observing tool - and I have been as guilty as anyone of underusing them in my observing.

Raindrops keep falling on my head. Apart from a couple of days (and a single night) it seems to have been wet and windy almost non-stop for the past month. This isn’t climate change, it’s La Nina (the sister phenomenon of the more famous El Nino effect) which was also responsible for the appalling weather last summer. It’s based in the Pacific but affects the weather across the planet, causing torrential rain and high winds here and droughts in India, etc. Hopefully, it’ll die down soon.

Binocular observing 01/02/2008

I actually got off my arse this evening and went outside to do half-an-hour’s observing. I took the tiny scope outside and this provided great views of some lollipops such as M42 in Orion and Mars before breaking on me - the little screw that holds the eyepiece in place became bent and didn’t work. I brought it in and straightened it out before deciding to observe with binoculars alone. Besides, the wind was making life difficult.

Weather: cold (around freezing), clear and very windy. Not scope-using weather due to the wind.
Instrument: 8×42 Leica binoculars
Place: Near Sandown, Isle of Wight, England

Auriga: this is a rich area, providing great binocular views of several open clusters. Collinder 62, near The Kids is pretty unimpressive but M36, M37 and M38 are great. M38 is large, rich and resolvable, showing many stars on a fainter background glow with my 8×42 binoculars and while it is the largest of the Messier clusters here it is fainter than the others. Averted vision brings out many more stars and the cluster has the appearance of having arms leading off from the centre, pointing north. M36 is small and bright and round, not resolvable while M37 is larger than M36 but slightly smaller than M38. M37’s stars are also resolvable but you need to use averted vision more on this one it is much ‘fuzzier’ looking than M38.

Immediately to the south of M38 is NGC 1907 and this shows up well, with averted vision, as a tiny round glow adjacent to that larger cluster. It isn’t resolvable with binocs.
Gemini: M35 is easily visible to the unaided eye and is impressive with the binoculars. It is a triangular glow, with the thin end of the triangle pointing east. It looks like a fuzzy glow for the most part but with many brighter stars imposed on the fuzziness. NGC 2158 is visible as a tiny round brightish patch just south-west of M35. The unimpressive Collinder 89 is nearby - it’s just a few stars.

By this time I was freezing so I packed it in. It was a nice session and one which just goes to prove that you can see a lot more with binoculars than you think possible. I like binocular observing, it’s minimalist (well not quite as minimalist as naked eye astronomy) and very rewarding.

New blog

I have moved the blog back to Blogger. It's easier to use than Wordpress and I like the templates better. Also, with Wordpress, I can't find a decent template that doesn't chop the photos by a third or half while Blogger allows clickable photos. Anyway, Wordpress is just pissing me off.
I'll move the best of the posts over and then kill off the Wordpress blog.