Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Abell 12 (PK 198-6.1)

Cold: -2°C, no breeze, icy (treacherous underfoot).

Seeing Ant I (excellent seeing), transparency around II-III (mediocre). 
NELM 6.0 to 6.2, waxing crescent Moon (33% of full) just setting

Scope: 12 inch Dobsonian.

As it was a clear evening, I decided to take the scope out in slightly unfavourable conditions (ice underfoot, freezing fog forming) to have another go at Abell 12 (PK 198-6.1). While I saw it briefly the other evening, I didn't get a good enough view and I used a lower power. This evening I wanted to use a high power on it.

I eventually saw it after a LOT of averted vision staring (I think it would be easier on a better night) at 304x, located just west of Mu Orionis. It is almost right next to the star so a filter is needed to cut down the glare, I used my usual filter for PNs, an OIII. It is round, even, largish and faint. It is utterly invisible without the OIII filter. 304x + OIII

After coming back in I checked it out on the net, via Google, and people talk of it popping into view with an OIII, in various scopes, from 8 inch upwards. This was not my experience. I had to use a hood, high power and an OIII filter plus a fair bit of averted vision looking to see this, and I think the conditions were the reason I didn't get a good view - this is not a hard object, by all accounts. I definitely want to return to this on a better night.
I also had a crack at the planetary nebula Jonckheere 320, also in Orion, but no joy there. With the icing up of my Telrad and finder, things 'out in the boondocks' were not going to be easy to locate!

I did, however, take a high powered trip into the heart of M42, with my 5mm Radian (304x) and OIII filter. To say that this is an awesome sight is not doing it enough justice. It is bright and incredibly detailed, with mottling, dark areas, bright areas, the Trapezium all hitting the back of the eyes in spectacular fashion. I will do a sketch of this before the spring comes. I suppose one could ask 'why aren't all deep sky objects as easy to see as this' - but then, what would be the fun in that, if all DSOs were a piece of cake to find and see?

Now the infernal Moon - as a deep sky observer, it is hard not to loathe and detest the bloody thing - is on the way back up again (currently 33% of Full), there'll be no more deep sky observing until next month - weather permitting, of course.

Sketching or electronic imaging?

Often in astronomy the question of visual astronomy (Mark One Eyeball) vs electronic imaging (CCDs) crops up. Being very firmly in the first camp I get a tad annoyed when people assume that imaging is the only way to go about getting lasting souvenirs of a nights observing. All too often I encounter beginners who are itching to go straight past visual observing and dive right into imaging and, often, they know nothing about the sky and how to find their way around it. They don't want to know about the joy that is visual deep sky or planetary observing! They're missing the best bits!
I guess that most of the reason for this is because astrophotos are eye-catching and pretty and imagers garner a lot of praise - and rightfully so because imaging is not easy - for their work in getting the pictures. It's also been mentioned elsewhere that imagers are quicker and more keen to blow their own trumpets than visual observers and I believe there's a lot of truth in this. I love a good astrophoto as much as the next person, indeed I have astrophotos on my walls at home, but while I am grateful for the dedicated souls practicising this art I would like to discredit the notion there seems to be that it is the only way to practise amateur astronomy.
While the magazines are full of ads for wonderful electronic gizmoes and feature lovely photos of colourful swirling nebulae and mysterious galaxies and legions of 'how to' articles on imaging, there isn't a huge amount aimed at the purely visual observer, bar the usual "Such and such is in the sky and you can see it with the unaided eye/binoculars/scope". The UK's Astronomy Now and BBC Sky At Night magazines now feature regular sketching articles by Jeremy Perez and Carol Lakomiak - and this is excellent to inspire others to take up astronomical sketching, although AN is better in this regard because Jeremy gets a couple of pages while Carol, in S@N, gets a mere half page although this is better than nothing as S@N resisted featuring sketching for a long while (I wrote to the editor a few years ago about featuring sketches and got a dismissive reply, I stopped buying the magazine for a long while because of this).
People tend to think of astronomy as an expensive hobby but it isn't and, once you have a scope, you need nothing else except pencil and paper. Give visual observing and sketching a go, it is not hard and a lot easier - and more fun - that you think. Don't let the imagers have all the fun and grab all the plaudits!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Winter clusters and nebulae, 20 December 2009

The first nearly cloudless evening for ages prompted me to carry out the big scope for an evening's chasing of winter nebulae. I set up the scope and left it to cool while it got dark and I gathered my stuff together. The weather has been very cold of late, with snow last Friday and subsequent days being below zero, with plenty of ice on the ground. Because of the ice, and not wanting to slip over, I didn't set up in my usual place on the patio, but further up the garden, on a concrete patch I often use as it does afford a better view of the sky (the patio is closer to the house and is more convenient for going in and out of the kitchen extension, which I use as a kind of 'observatory', with my eyepieces, charts and other stuff spread out over the work surfaces and the top of the freezer).

20th December 2009
Cold: -2
° C, stiff breeze, 78% humidity.
Some cloud on southern horizon and a waxing crescent Moon, 17% of full. NELM 6.0 TO 6.5 later. Some intermittent interference from neighbours' indoor lights (why do some people not have curtains?).
Seeing Ant II, transparency II-III

Instruments used: 12 inch f5 Dobsonian and 8x42 binoculars

After satisfying myself that the clouds were not about to spread out, they were hugging the southern horizon ('Don't even think about it, you sods!' I found myself saying out loud), I began with an attempt on IC59 and IC63 which are located close to Gamma Cassiopeiae. These are very faint nebulae and, after searching around the area with a medium power eyepiece and UHC filter I can't say in all honesty that I saw these. I saw a slight brightening in the area but that was it.The waxing 17% of full crescent Moon was a sod, surprisingly bright, and it seemed to take an age to set, if I hadn't known better I'd have sworn that the damned thing was stuck where it was!

Next was the planetary nebula IC 2003 in Perseus. This was easy to find, being located exactly halfway between Menkib (Xi Persei) and Atik (Zeta Persei) - put the Telrad finder between those two stars and you will find the nebula. It is stellar at low powers and needs an OIII filter to make it stand out and confirm the sighting. At high power it takes on a slightly fuzzy appearance. There is a slight bluish tinge to this (without the filter) and it has a definitely brighter middle to it. 101x + Lumicon UHC

IC 351 in Perseus. Slightly more difficult to find than IC 2003, it took me a search of around ten minutes to locate it, to the east of IC 2003. This is a tiny, very stellar-looking PN which is pretty bright. Definitely needs the OIII filter 'blinked' in front of the eyepiece to be certain of sighting. Does not look as fuzzy as IC 2003. 190x + Lumicon UHC

While waiting for Orion to clear the house roof (I wanted a crack at PK 198-6.1, located right next to Mu Orionis as well as to look at NGC 2024 and the other stuff in that area) I got the 8x42 binoculars out and looked at a couple of large open clusters in Taurus:

NGC 1647 in Taurus. Huge open cluster. Irregular, not quite round shape. Quite a lot of stars resolved, although hand-holding the binoculars meant it was almost impossible to count them properly. Impression of some brighter foreground stars and a lot of fainter backgrounds ones. I also looked at this with the scope but the overall impression with the scope was of a large, but not rich cluster. Nice. 8x42 binoculars

NGC 1746 in Taurus. This is even larger than N1647, almost twice its size. Contains brighter stars than N1647 but even less rich. 8x42 binoculars

NGC 1952 (M1) in Taurus. While in the area, I decided to take a look at M1, the famous Crab Nebula, as it is a number of years since I last looked at it. It can safely be said that this thing is not famous for being spectacular, as it is a rather nondescript elongated smudge of light. It is, however, famous for being the first item on Charles Messier's list of objects to avoid (for the purposes of not getting them confused with comets, which was what CM was really after) and for being observed by the Earl of Rosse at Birr Castle in Ireland, and it got the 'Crab' nickname from Lord Rosse, his sketch shows tendrils like a crab's appendages - but he had a much bigger scope than me! 190x

NGC 1907 in Auriga. Completely overshadowed by its neighbour, the vast open cluster M38, this open cluster is a nice small, rich cluster. Oval, with a number of brighter stars and a hazy background of much fainter ones. 190x.

PK198-6.1 (Abell 12) in Orion. Easy to find, being located right next to Mu Orionis, but easy to see? Not particularly due to the star's proximity. It is right in the glare from the star and it took high magnification, an OIII filter and a cover over my head to block out stray light for me to see something round, largish and faint next to the star, but I want to have another go at this when Orion is higher and the conditions are better. 190x + Lumicon OIII

NGC 2024 in Orion. Right next to Alnitak (Zeta Orionis, the eastern most belt star), this is slightly overwhelmed by the star's glare but is not hard to spot. The big dark rift  which cuts it in two is the most obvious feature with averted vision bringing out the faint nebulosity either side of it. A UHC filter works quite well on this, while OIII and H-beta kill it. The western half of the nebula, nearest the star, is brighter than the easten half. 60x + Lumicon UHC

By this time it was 2135 GMT (UT) and the clouds were moving in so I finished the session with the obligatory look at M42, the Great Orion Nebula and the detached portion M43. This, in the 40mm Plossl (38x) with the UHC filter attached, was spectacular with tendrils and nebulosity everywhere. The dark indent next to the Trapezium was very obvious as were other dark areas, giving the brightest portion of it a mottled appearance. 38x + UHC 

Packed up as the clouds began to fill the sky.

Monday, 14 December 2009


Just because I am into deep sky observing doesn't mean I don't appreciate a good bit of shallow sky action when it's happening and 13th, 14th and 15th December happen to be when you can see the annual Geminid meteor shower in 2009. It promised to be a good one, with predicted rates of 100-120 meteors an hour. The shower was due to start around 2130 UT although the best time would be after midnight UT when the radiant had risen high enough.
Still having the effects of the bad cold I had caught the previous week I went to bed early and got up at 2330 UT, dressed and carried my folding chair (a useful souvenir of the IW Festival a couple of years ago - a relative of one of my aunt's work colleagues was one of the clean up crew and there were a lot of discarded items, as-new-only-used-once items at that, afterwards, all free to a good home) outside.
In the course of half an hour I saw many meteors, at least three or four a minute, maybe more. Most of them were quite small ones, but there were also large, spectacular ones too. Something I noticed was that you'd get a short lull of a couple of minutes, then a flurry of several meteors before another short lull of a couple of minutes. It was quite a show and, with the Moon out of the way (waning crescent which rose just before 0700 UT), a big improvement over the much more famous Perseids in August which were washed out by a quarter Moon this year.
After half an hour I was getting cold and having to get up at 0600 meant that I couldn't stay outside much longer. A pity as it was shaping up to be a nice night, after cloud earlier in the evening, and I would have loved to have brought the 12 inch out for its first proper winter observing run. I got out of the chair - and my knees were so cold I thought they'd snap! - and headed in after a pleasant half an hour gazing at the sky with nothing but my unaided eyes.
Unfortunately, with a grim forecast and a cloudy sky, tonight does not look as if it will follow suit.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A few more sketches

Here are a few more sketches from the summer/early autumn. These, too, have been scanned straight from the original sketch and processed a bit in PS Elements 6. I have tried to make the stars rounder but without making them appear bloated. By the way, the light patches in the corners and sides are the result of the scanning process: my sketchbook is spiral bound and so the scanner lid does not shut properly, causing light to leak in.

Click images for larger versions.

NGC 7662 ^

M33 with HII regions NGCs 595 and 604^
NGC 604 is the elongated patch just below centre, 595 is labelled at bottom left

NGC 205^

Photoshop sketch experiment

A couple of weeks ago, I tarted up some sketches in Photoshop. A couple of these sketches were of portions of the Veil Nebula in Cygnus, and I decided that maybe they didn't look quite nebulous enough as my sketchbook doesn't have an entirely smooth surface so I tried an experiment with the Photoshop Elements Smudge Tool. I also made the stars rounder with the Blur Tool, although they turned out a bit fatter than intended, but I suppose they represent the sort of seeing we often get here!

It definitely needs a lot more experimentation to get it exactly right though. Here are the first sketches treated in this way, these are scanned straight from the original sketches as I did not bother re-drawing them from their raw state. Click for larger image.

NGC 6992/6995 above

NGC 6960 below

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Binocular observing session 11-12 December 2009

Sod's Law was in action last night as I had a severe cold which prevented a proper observing session with the 12 inch, and it was the clearest and most transparent sky we have had in ages. I had spent most of the day in bed with coughs, sneezes and fever, having been sent home from work at lunchtime, but something compelled me to look out of the window at 2330, I am not sure why I expected it to be clear as most of the day had been cloudy and a bit foggy. I felt a bit better and I hate wasting clear skies so decided on a short session; besides it would have been a bit foolish to have stayed out for any real length of time and get cold.
Obviously I didn't feel like lugging the big scope out, or even one of its smaller friends, but I put on jeans, jumper and shoes and went out with the 8x42 binoculars instead. I also pulled out my UHC and OIII filters out to see what winter nebulae I could see with the binoculars.

11-12 December 2009; 2330 - 0005 GMT/UT
° above freezing
No wind
Excellent transparency apart from the odd bit of clouds on the horizon; out of 5, where 1 is bad and 5 excellent, it was 5. The seeing was reasonably steady too, Antoniadi II.
Naked eye limiting visual magnitude was 6.5

Of course, I just had to go for M42, the Orion Nebula. It is an irresistible object in any instrument, including binoculars, and is worth looking for even if it is the most observed deep sky object in the sky. I make a point of saying hello to it every year, as I do all my favourites, and I can't wait to see it in the 12 inch. Huge, very bright, fan shaped, with four stars visible in the Trapezium. Needs no filtration, although UHC brings it out slightly better (OIII not as effective). M43 also visible as a little round patch.
Also looked at NGC 1981 and NGC 1980.

I also had a (over optimistic it has to be said) look for NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula, but I did not see it. I didn't think I would in binoculars but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

NGC 2237-8/NGC 2246; the Rosette Nebula in Monoceros.
Large, round and bright with the star cluster NGC 2244 at the centre. The nebula is only just visible without a filter, but the UHC makes it very easy to see. The OIII is also effective but it's best with the UHC.

Ursa Major was low behind the trees but M81 and M82 were above the trees and easily seen with the 8x42s.

M31 was bright and huge through the binoculars, spanning the entire field of view. The core was bright and the spiral arms extensive. Good view of the dust lanes.

NGC 869 and NGC 884; the Double Cluster
Gorgeous through the binoculars. Very rich and large with the stars easily resolved.

Trumpler 2
Small fuzzy patch just SE of DC. Also NGC 957, another hazy patch.

NGC 1499; the California Nebula. This isn't quite as easy to see as the Rosette, especially without a filter, but the UHC filter brings it out and you can see a hazy brightening of faint nebulosity extending east-west, immediately north of Menkib.

By then it was 0035 (GMT/UT) and I was getting cold and coughing a lot so I had to reluctantly drag myself away from the sky and head indoors and back to bed.


The odds on me attending the 2010 Texas Star Party have slightly improved. I have got a temporary job until Christmas and have so far, managed to save nearly half the air fare. Hopefully, a run of employment between now and April will enable me to get there. The air fare's most of the battle, with prices ranging between £350 and £550 (of course I can't leave it too late before getting the plane ticket, must get that in January or February or it'll become more expensive), while the TSP, including accommodation, is fairly cheap and doesn't require a lot of saving for. The other big 'expense' is the cash for any goodies that might catch my eye when I am there such as a 2-inch UHC filter that I want for viewing large nebulae with my 35mm Televue Panoptic.


I have retrieved my clear sky spreadsheet from the wreckage, scanned it twice with Norton, and loaded it onto the new computer. I had been keeping a note of the weather in the intervening period - not exactly hard when it's mostly been cloudy! - and have been able to pick up where I left off. November makes dismal viewing with two clear nights and one partially clear night in the whole month, but I wasn't able to take advantage of those clear nights unfortunately. As noted in a previous entry, it has been two months of nearly continuous wind and rain, with a large part of the UK affected by flooding.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Observing by 97% moonlight

After what has seemed like an absolute eternity (in reality it was around two months - but that's plenty long enough), I finally managed an observing session. Sure it was a very short observing session of one hour, but it was an observing session nonetheless.
The reason for this was that not only has the UK been battered by a succession of Atlantic storms leaving half the country under water, work and illnesses (a succession of nasty abcsesses) have also interfered with any hope of getting outside on the rare clear occasions.

It was clear this evening, so I set up my 12 inch Dob, despite the rising Moon which was one day past full so, as you'd expect, it was washing out the sky quite badly, an effect exacerbated by mist and high thin cloud. Despite this I decided to try an experiment. I wanted to see if NGC 404 was visible. This is a galaxy in Andromeda, adjacent to Mirach (it has the nickname The Ghost of Mirach) and it was visible. It's not that faint anyway, but it's the sort of thing you'd expect the Moon to kill stone dead. It was, as you'd expect, fainter and harder to see than usual, but otherwise visible.

Cygnus was getting low in the west but I decided to poke round there for a bit partly because it will soon be gone until next summer but also it was in the part of the sky opposite the Moon. Obviously I wasn't going to be silly and hunt for nebulae that I had no chance of seeing in those conditions but I did seek out some clusters instead, open clusters are pretty immune to light pollution. One of the clusters observed was Collinder 419. To say that this was unspectacular is an understatement. 'Boring' is probably a more accurate description. It's composed of three or four brightish stars and a few more nondescript fainter ones.

The session was short, due to the conditions, only an hour but after two months without, even an hour in crap conditions is better than nothing! Roll on the next clear night that has no Moon in the way!

It was also my scope's first outing since I made the modifications to the mirror cell, with the new collimation springs from Bob's Knobs. When I took it outside and set it up the collimation was only slightly out and it took hardly any time at all to get it spot on, a major improvement on before. My new laser collimator also works nicely.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

New website, clear skies and the TSP

I have finally got round to rebuilding my main website. Actually, I started again from scratch with a new URL. It's on a free host for now, until I can afford to pay for hosting. I have uploaded existing sketches, but these'll be replaced with better ones in due course when I have scanned in ones from recent sessions and also done some more observing. The new site can be found here: FJ Astronomy.
Mentioning observing, the clear sky spreadsheet has gone for a burton as my computer died last weekend, and prat here forgot to back up the spreadsheet, but I have a new computer and can rebuild it. All isn't lost because the files are still accessible and I might be able to print it off and then type it in from scratch. What I can say for certain is that October only had nine clear or partially clear nights, while November has had one clear night and one partially clear night, both of which I couldn't use due to being ill with a staphyloccocal infection in my face after a visit to the dentist. The rest of November has been bloody awful with near continuous rain and gales and the UK under a permanent grey blanket of cloud. Half the UK is also under water.

I have registered for the 2010 Texas Star Party, but I really only have a 50/50 chance of attending at best. I haven't got a permanent job at the moment and the temping has got really hit and miss. I decided to register anyway and keep my fingers crossed for a miracle (and it will take a miracle for me to get something as over 1000 people have/will have lost their jobs here on the Isle of Wight in 2009/2010 - and my qualifications and skills are sorely lacking). I'm not optimistic but here's hoping...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

What a tease!

I was up at 0545 this morning as my dog wanted to go out in the garden, to do what dogs do in the garden. The sky was completely clear, for the first time in ages, with Orion high in the south-west and Leo in the east. The sight of spring constellations is always a welcome one, with the promise of galaxies - but what a tease! It's only the second week of November and we have the most depressing time of year yet to get through before spring comes round.
The clear sky spreadsheet for October makes depressing reading. It was mostly cloudy through the month, with only nine clear or partially clear nights.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Minor scope mods

My new collimation springs and secondary screws arrived from Bob's Knobs last week and today (I have no work at present, so I have plenty of time on my hands) I decided to make the necessary modifications. The secondary collimation screw change was as easy as I expected, quick swap, like for like, the work of less than a couple of minutes.

The primary collimation spring change was also a piece of cake, something I did not expect. I had read of people doing GSO/Lightbridge collimation screw/spring modifications by removing the mirror cell, taking the mirror out of the cell and then replacing the springs, a prospect which, frankly, filled me with horror as I did not want to be fiddling with the cell and mirror and, quite apart from the prospect of the risk of damage (and when you are dyspraxic like me breaking something is a real possibility!), I really did not want to bother with fiddly stuff, I just can't be arsed with fiddly stuff. However, you DON'T need to take the cell out. You can easily change the springs, one at a time, with the mirror and cell in situ. Obviously this applies to GSO/Meade Lightbridge scopes, it might well be different for other makes.

What you do need to do is slacken off the collimation screws (black) and the collimation locking screws (white) and then remove each collimation screw - one at a time. This leaves the spring to be slid sideways out of place and the replacement spring to be put in. Once the new spring's in place, all you do is screw the collimation bolt back in; repeat the process for the other collimation springs, tighten everything back up and there you are, job done. Just make sure it goes back in as it came out (the bolt has a kind of washer/sleeve thing which fits inside the screw hole on the circular black frame at the rear of the cell) and you won't go wrong. Bob's Knobs provide a leaflet with the springs explaining the process and it is advisable to follow their directions.

This pic shows the rear of the scope with the collimation screws (black) and the locking screws (white). The pale round area inside is the back of the primary mirror itself. Click on pic for larger version.

Re. the collimation springs themselves, the new ones from Bob's Knobs are far heftier and more robust than the, quite frankly, flimsy things which came with the scope. How the manufacturers expect their scopes to remain in alignment when the springs are so thin is anyone's guess. I am hoping - expecting, actually - collimation to be easier and less frequent with the new springs. I wish I had taken comparison shots between the two springs to show the big difference between them.

Now to recollimate the scope and hope this all works...


2110: How's this for frustrating? It has been a beautiful autumn day, without a cloud in the sky. It is still clear in that you can see stars, but as murky as hell with a wee bit of cloud about. Jupiter has a bloody great halo round it... I think the scope mods won't get tested tonight. I am not lugging the 12 inch out for anything less than a proper observing session.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Couple of new (small) purchases

My new Skywatcher laser collimator arrived yesterday (Tuesday). That's excellent service from First Light Optics although I was surprised it turned up at all, given that there was a local postal strike yesterday.

The collimator looks good and feels quality, although not as solid and as heavy as the sporadically defunct Revelation one is (I might keep the Revelation one - it might come in handy as a cosh if I decide to go observing along the Military Road one night and uninvited guests turn up!). It also has seven brightness settings. Sadly no instructions were with it, which would have been a bit of a bugger if I had been someone who didn't know how to use the thing!

Today, while I was in a local art shop I came across a handy-looking clip-on LED light. It looks just the job for observing, because 'juggling' torch, sketchbook, pencils, blending stump, etc AND keeping the object centered in the field of view becomes old very quickly! Making the white LED red might be a bit of a challenge but I bought some red acetate and some red tissue paper and this should make a handy sketching aid, particularly as there's no annoying 'bullseye' effect which you do get with some lights. It's also incredibly lightweight which is a big plus because you don't want a heavy object hanging from your sketchbook! However, as it is rather too lightweight, I hope it lasts, especially as it cost a rather extortionate £9.99.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Observing 26-27 September 2009

The third clear night in a row! So I lugged the scope out to cool down and went back inside to watch Casualty on BBC1 (Yeah, yeah, I know it's sad, but I like Casualty - for those outside the UK, Casualty is a BBC-shown hospital-based drama series, not unlike ER) while waiting for the scope to cool and the first quarter Moon to set.
Once Casualty had finished I finished gathering my stuff together and decided to look at Jupiter, as I had not tried out the 12 inch on any Solar System objects before now. I know the blog title says Visual Deep Sky Observing, but once in a while I like looking at shallow sky stuff. Jupiter, despite being at quite a low altitude, gave me one of the best views I have had of it in the Northern Hemisphere. Bands and festoons were obvious and I could see the Red Spot. Even sticking the magnification up to 300x didn't degrade it too much, although at that magnification the seeing, while pretty good wasn't perfect, meant the image was a little unsteady.
Jupiter was also handy for aligning the Telrad and 8x50 finder.

Ok, onto the 'serious stuff'. I planned to knock off some Herschels tonight, so that was to be the main part of the session.

Chilly: 8 degrees Celsius (later 6 degrees C) with 82% humidity - the dew became a nuisance later on. No wind, 1st quarter Moon set late PM. Seeing II, transparency II-III. Visual limiting magnitude with the unaided eye was around 6.2 to start with, increasing to 6.4, this is based on how many stars I can see in the Great Square of Pegasus. However skyglow, due to moisture in the atmosphere, was quite pronounced; on drier nights you hardly notice it.

Instrument: 12 inch Dobsonian

NGC 7619 and 7626, galaxies in Pegasus. I had to wait until Pegasus and Pisces were clear of the house roof before looking for these, which are part of the Pegasus 1 galaxy cluster. I saw NGC 7619 and NGC 7626 with no problem, although dew formation on my secondary wiped out the other, fainter, galaxies in the area. Dew is a major problem here in the UK and I am going to have to make a dew shield for both the scope itself and the Telrad (the latter being very prone to dewing up).
Both galaxies are oval, with brighter middles. NGC 7619 is the brighter of the two. Nothing else seen, due to the aforementioned dewing. 61x, 101x

NGC 7742, galaxy in Pegasus. Oval, fairly dim although easy to find and see. Slightly brighter middle. 101x.

NGC 205, galaxy in Andromeda. When I saw this on the Herschel 400 list I looked for it on the chart. I couldn't find it on the chart, which was odd, but there was a reason for this; that reason is that it is better known as M110, one of the companions of M31. As Homer Simpson would say 'D'oh!'. Large, oval, fairly bright. Brightens somewhat, gradually towards centre. In a nice starry field. Fainter than M31 although it would be a showpiece in its own right if it wasn't overshadowed by its bigger, brighter and more famous friend. 61x

Looked for NGC 891. I have observed this galaxy before, with my 8 inch scope, but completely failed to find it this time. 891 is noted as being hard to find, but after 40 minutes of searching I gave up. I think I was in the right place, but the dew was making life awkward and wiping this already quite faint galaxy out.

NGC 752, open cluster in Andromeda. Large, loose cluster which fits neatly into 1 degree field of 40mm Plossl eyepiece, with room to spare. I started a sketch of this (although I hate sketching open clusters!) but didn't finish it due to the secondary dewing up. 61x

NGC 1664, open cluster in Auriga. Small, triangular o.c. with a chain coming south-east from it, like a tail. In fact it does remind me of a cat, with two brighter stars as eyes. Not rich. Around 30 stars of uniform brightness. 101x

Because of the dewing, a bad back and cold feet, I packed up earlier than intended at 0230 BST. Not a bad session, and I managed to tick off some Herschels, but the dew was a major pain. I am going to have to fashion a dew shield for the OTA and one for the Telrad.

I have sent off to First Light Optics for a new laser collimator, hopefully that should arrive tomorrow, but with the Moon on the rise again and some more unsettled weather this week, I won't be doing much observing for a while. As a footnote, I woke up this morning to a weird red glow over on the computer desk. Yep, my collimator had come alive; I must have left it switched on. This isn't going to save it from the bin, though, its unreliability means that its fate is sealed!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Nebula chasing around Cygnus. And a few other things.

It was again a clear night last night and it turned out to be a pretty good session.

25-26 September 2009. Conditions: Chilly at 8 degrees C (later 6 degrees C), humidity 84%. Seeing Antoniadi scale II-III, transparency II-III. Limiting magnitude 6 to 6.2 later on.
Instruments: 12 inch f/5 Dobsonian and 8x42 binoculars

After the previous night's hassles I didn't bother collimating the scope and, as it turned out, it was slightly out (as expected) but otherwise not too bad.

After the requisite time spent getting dark adapted, I went for a bit of an ambitious first target: Pease 1, the planetary nebula in the Pegasus globular cluster M15. After locating the cluster itself, I put an OIII filter onto the eyepiece, the highest power I could get. I have to admit, that I am not sure if I saw Pease 1 or not. The OIII dims the cluster nicely, but the planetary is a teeny little thing and could have been any one of the stars not dimmed too much by the OIII. I am going to print some decent charts off and have another go at it next time (and when my scope is properly collimated - I have sent off for a new laser collimator today, my Revelation one is totally buggered and refuses to work at all now. I think my hurling it across the garden the other evening has completely finished it off!). Even blinking the filter in and out of the eyepiece didn't really make anything stand out.
M15 itself, as ever was a pleasant sight. Bright condensed core and with many stars resolved. 190x

I gave up on Pease 1 and moved onto brighter things.

NGC 6800 is a nice open cluster in Vulpecula, easy to locate. It is large, loose and irregular. Not bright, stars of uniform brightness. Some of the stars form a circle around the middle of the cluster, but the centre of this circle contains no stars. Nice with the 35mm TV Panoptic (43x). Sketched with the 25mm Plossl (61x).

Next was the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. This is one of my all time favourite objects and tonight I spent over an hour looking at, and sketching, the components NGC 6960, NGC 6992 and NGC 6995 (these last two form a large loop).

NGC 6960 is the western portion of the Veil and is visible without a filter but UHC brings it out nicely. However, OIII gives the best view and the nebulosity looks fatter and more detailed with the OIII. It looks like a witches broom (in fact I think 'Witches Broom' is a nickname for it) with a bright star where the handle meets the brush. The northern part of NGC 6960 is brighter than the southern part and reminds me of cigarette smoke as it leaves the cigarette. In the southern end, it widens and gradually fades out. 38x + OIII

NGC 6992 and NGC 6995 form the eastern portion of the Veil. This is huge and does not all fit into the 1 degree field of view of the 40mm TV Plossl (38x). it is very bright and I can see filaments, especially at the southern end. The eastern side is much brighter, while the western side is faintern and fades out. 38x + OIII

NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary in Cygnus: Very small and bright. Obvious as an out-of-focus star. It's bright even unfiltered, but an OIII filter makes a big difference. This is visible with direct vision but averted vision makes it look twice as bright and twice as big. Blueish tinge without the filter. 101x + OIII

NGC 7008, planetary nebula in Cygnus: Small, bright pn located within irregularly-shaped dark nebula Le Gentil 3 - itself easily visible to the unaided eye. This is bright and triangular. There is a star at the apex of the triangle. It is brighter on the north eastern side. Only the brighter portions are immediately visible without a filter, but an OIII shows the whole object. 101x + OIII.

Le Gentil 3, dark nebula on border of Cepheus and Cygnus: large, irregular dark nebula. Visible to unaided eye. Also looked at through binoculars.

Sharpless 2-112, nebula in Cygnus: Easy to find. Faint. Small. Roundish. 101x + UHC.

NGC 1907, open cluster in Auriga. Auriga has some nice open clusters. NGC 1907 is one such, although a tad overlooked due to its close proximity to M38. Small, compressed and hazy looking at low powers. Increased magnification shows lots of foreground stars although the background stays nebulous. Rich. 101x.

After a cup of coffee and a general poke around the sky, I packed up at 0330. By then my feet were cold (and the cold was getting into the ankle joints, too; standing on concrete is not good because it's hard and cold) and it was getting more of a chore looking for stuff.

A good session and made up for the previous night's aggravations! Although I still didn't find the Perseus Galaxy Cluster...

Friday, 25 September 2009

Aggravation, clouds and some galaxies

The forecast was clear for the night, with a run of settled weather and high pressure predicted by the BBC weather website for the next few days, so I lugged out the 12 inch for - hopefully - a good long session.
Unfortunately the session got off to a bad start when my watch broke (the pins that hold the strap in place). Then once I'd set the scope up and had left it to cool for an hour I then discovered that the collimation, for some reason, was miles out. Trying to sort out the collimation made it worse and things weren't helped when the batteries in the laser collimator died; naturally I didn't have any spares, so with the most taboo swear words I could think of I hurled the collimator across the garden in the dark. Not a good idea, as I then had to get a torch and hunt for it among the bushes, fortunately I found it after a brief search. Also not a good idea as the near neighbours across the way may well have heard some exclamations of 'for f**k's sake!', 's**t' and even worse!

I got my visual collimator out and tried to use that, but visually collimating the scope requires a second person to look through the eyepiece or twiddle the collimation knobs or one person doing it but needing the reach of a gibbon to do both at the same time. I had neither so I adjusted it as best I could and left it at that. I tried it on the Double Cluster and, fortunately, the view was reasonable, although high powers left a lot to be desired, so I decided to get on with the session. I do need some stiffer collimation springs, so I will send off for some from Bob's Knobs. These will improve the collimation no end, according to others who use the GSO/Revelation and Lightbridge scopes.

By this time I had wasted two hours sorting the bloody scope out, and therefore the observing session was shortened as a result. But I had all night...

Conditions: Chilly at 8 degrees C. Humidity was 82% so there was a fair bit of dew falling.
No wind. No Moon (waxing crescent had set earlier in evening). Limiting magnitude to the unaided eye was around 6.3 with seeing of II-III on the Antoniadi scale of seeing. Transparency, on a scale of I (excellent) to V (very poor) was III.

Instrument: 12 inch Dobsonian.

I began in Perseus, looking for the Perseus galaxy group, but failed to see it. This should not have been difficult, but the combination of hazy skies and less-than-perfect collimation probably conspired against me here.

Moving on to Pegasus, a rich galaxy hunting ground, brought some better luck. I quickly found NGC 7479. This galaxy looks, to direct vision, like it is an edge on; however averted vision shows it to be rounder and with the hint of spiral arms. The elongation seen with direct vision is the central bar of the galaxy. 101x

NGC 14, galaxy in Pegasus - small fairly bright. Oval. Elongated north-south. Slightly brighter middle. I thought I'd found NGC 7814, which is what I was looking for, but it looks nothing like it when compared to sketches and photos in books and on the net. It's definitely NGC 14. 101x

NGC 23, galaxy in Pegasus - small, very bright. Elongated north-south. There is a star superimposed on the northern end of the galaxy. 101x

I had planned an all night session but, just to round off an incredibly annoying and frustrating session, unforecast clouds built up at around 0200 BST. So much for the Mess Office and their forecasts. So I packed up at 0230, after waiting for the clouds to clear. They did eventually, but left in their wake terrible transparency so I called it a night. Not a great session, a paltry three sketches made and not much done.


As a little postscript, I went to a jewellers to get my watch fixed this afternoon, and while I was in there bought three button batteries for my laser collimator. Two small pins for my watch and three tiny batteries came to the princely sum of £13. Daylight robbery.

I have sent off to Bob's Knobs for some collimation springs and secondary knobs. I don't need new primary knobs as these are ok. Hopefully, these should enable the scope to remain aligned for longer.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Deep Sky Magazine

When I first got into serious deep sky observing, around 1992, the seminal Deep Sky Magazine had already been consigned to the annals of astronomy history. This excellent little magazine was started by David Eicher in the late 1970's/early 1980's and went on to be published by the same people responsible for Astronomy Magazine before being axed by the publishers in 1992.
How I heard about DS Magazine was through its mention in the Webb Society Deep Sky Observer and also through reading a few copies at someone's house during a visit to Australia in 1997, from then I wanted to get my hands on some copies of DSM.

I tried to track down copies of DSM via the net without much success, but got lucky when Dave Eicher himself had a load for sale. I have since completed my collection with a few more copies that I came by via the net and just recently, downloadable pdf copies available on Kalmbach Publishing's web site. The scans aren't great, but they only cost $3.95 a copy and are well worth getting hold of.

This was a great little publication and I don't believe it was adequately replaced, although the Webb Deep Sky Society's Deep Sky Observer and the excellent Amateur Astronomy Magazine come fairly close between them, although I don't think either are quite as good - AA is my favourite mag, but falls short a bit on deep sky observing articles although it's excellent for star party articles and the amateur scene and DSO is not quite as good as DSM was. Some DSM articles were published in David Eicher's Galaxies and the Universe, although for the whole DSM experience, getting hold of the magazine itself is well worth the cost.

Tunes to observe by

A lot of amateur astronomers like to have a few tunes on the go, to observe by. Personally, most of the time I don't - I like the night sounds such as barking dogs and foxes, owls, snuffling badgers, the odd distant car or motorbike (not sure why, but I find the sound of distant traffic at night very evocative - where are they going? It gives me itchy feet even if, as in all likelihood it is, it's just someone returning from work or going to visit friends) and even the odd squeaking rat or mouse. Living in a rural spot makes me lucky because there's not a lot of irritating human noise such as shouting, loud music or tvs.
Also the lack of music enables you to hear that (imagined) psychotic murderer or mugger creeping up on you; not likely in the fenced-in back garden, though - I hope!

However a nearby music festival the other night had me going indoors to fetch my iPod to listen to something I want to listen to and not some crap foisted on me by an event a couple of miles away.

You see threads on Cloudy Nights and other forums, asking what music people like to observe by and, for a lot of people, it tends to be classical music. Some people like the synthesiser 'space music', some like trance. I have to admit I don't like any of those forms of music; most classical music just does not 'do it' for me, it goes in one ear and out of the other, while I was put right off 'space music' when I worked in the local planetarium during the summer of 1999 (the job was great, but I got really sick during the course of that summer and ended up in hospital for two months and, even now, as a reminder of a really bad time in my life, space music makes me want to run a mile). Trance, drum 'n' bass and all that sort of stuff just makes me want to stick screwdrivers in my eardrums.

No, the music of choice for when I observe, and fancy a few toons as company, is metal and rock. Some metal and rock is very evocative and lends itself to scoping the cosmos. Not just any old rock and metal, as punk and thrash, much as I love these forms, don't quite cut it in an observing session. No, what you want is a good rocking tune, but coupled with a 'space vibe' to suit the magic of the cosmos.

Here are some of the tracks I like, which have a space or science fiction vibe to them, even the tracks listed that don't have a space or sci-fi vibe still lend themselves to observing. It's the feeling invoked by the music, rather than the content of the lyrics that matters.

Metallica - 'Orion'
Metallica - 'The Call of Ktulu'
Metallica - 'The Thing That Should Not Be'
VoiVod - 'Astronomy Domine' (cover of a Pink Floyd song)
VoiVod - 'Cosmic Drama'
VoiVod - 'Psychic Vacuum'
VoiVod - 'The Unknown Knows'
VoiVod - 'Panorama'
Muse - 'Starlight'
Muse - 'Supermassive Black Hole'
Muse - 'Plug in Baby'
Muse - 'Knights of Cydonia'
Muse - 'Space Dementia'
Muse - 'Dark Shines'
Muse - 'Dead Star'
Blue Oyster Cult - 'Astronomy' (also covered by Metallica)
Hawkwind - 'Silver Machine'
Accept - 'Midnight Highway'
Judas Priest - 'Blood Red Skies'
Motorhead - 'Capricorn'
Motorhead - 'Metropolis'
Rammstein - 'Spiel Mit Mir'
Manowar - 'Spirit Horse of the Cherokee'

...I could go on, there are so many good rock and metal tunes out there, but only some lend themselves to observing.

Obviously music for observing is entirely down to personal taste but it isn't just the realm of classical, trance, drum 'n' bass or synthesiser 'space music'.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Observing session 16 September 2009

Another clear night, we're doing fairly well this past month or so (in the past month, we have had 20 - yes TWENTY! - clear or partially clear nights. Can't use all of them, unfortunately, but it's nice to see), so I lugged the scope out onto the patio for a, hopefully lengthy as I have no work on at the moment, observing session.

There was a nice sunset:


Cool: 11C, 75% humidity (no dew, thankfully) and a very slight breeze, which picked up now and again and died down at intervals. No Moon. Transparency was not too good at first, quite obvious from the higher-than-usual extent of light domes from nearby towns, picking up at around 0030 BST to 0200 BST, and there were isolated drifting clouds although they weren't enough to interfere with observing. The naked eye limiting magnitude was not as good as usual, around 6.0 to 6.2.

Again I spent a little too much time hunting for elusive stuff, mainly faintish galaxies that I should not have bothered with, given the less-than-great transparency. However, I am pleased with what I did observe, and got some good sketches too.

Instrument: 12 inch f/5 Dobsonian.

I have popped some sketches into this post, but they are rough as they are the original sketches and not redrawn ones.

First up was NGC 40, a planetary nebula in Cepheus. Bit of a rough sketch, though - my writing is terrible and it's not scanned properly! The nebula was bright and obvious, looking like a fat star at low power, and obviously nebulous at higher powers. It's round with a bright middle, appearing fatter when looked at with averted vision. Averted vision also hints at a darker area round the bright middle portion. OIII does not enhance the view or provide more detail.

I also found NGC 7662, the Blue Snowball, in Andromeda, easily enough this time. Heaven knows why I failed to find it the other evening, probably a combination of factors, not least the dew making life awkward. NGC 7662 is strikingly sky blue, and round with slightly fluffy-looking edges. Hint of darker centre. OIII makes little difference to the view, UHC even less so.

I had intended to make the pn blue in Photoshop, as it appeared in the scope, but having scanned it in greyscale this obviously wasn't going to work! The pic hasn't scanned very well, also I think I need to draw the eyepiece representation circle a bit darker in future.

I also spent quite a lot of time on M33, the big galaxy in Triangulum. Ok, it's a Messier lollipop, but I wasn't looking at the galaxy as a whole, I was looking for HII regions within the galaxy. Using a chart from the net I identified NGC 595 and NGC 604. I thought I saw more, but a larger scope and darker, more transparent skies would be a help. NGC 604 is easy to find, a triangle of stars pointing straight at it helps in locating it, it looked elongated, east to west, and showed a bit of brightening within. NGC 595 was much smaller, a roundish knot of light. It is always interesting to see 'objects within objects' particularly within external galaxies (M31 also contains 'objects within objects, as do the Magellanic Clouds, although these, sadly, are not visible from Europe or the United States).

I attempted the Pegasus 1 galaxy cluster, which at mag 11.1 should be accessible to the 12 inch, but there was nothing doing on this front, due mainly to the fairly murky sky. The same went for the Perseus Cluster, with ranges of magnitudes between 11.6 and 12.5. I'll have another go at these, on a more transparent night sometime this autumn and, in the case of Perseus, when it rises a bit higher. By the time Pegasus was higher the galaxies were behind the garden shed and the 12 inch is not exactly portable so I didn't bother to try again.

The last object - or objects - was Stephan's Quintet (Hickson 92) again. The transparency had improved by this time and the part of the sky where this is located was high. The Quintet was easy to find, located at the end of a chain of stars just SW of the bright galaxy NGC 7331, although not so easy to see. I sketched them, although I couldn't finish the sketch due to the fact the transparency gave out again and the galaxies vanished like smoke. Btw, what looks like a galaxy to the bottom of NGC 7319 isn't, it's a smudge on the paper I forgot to rub out and which I failed to see in Photoshop.

The last object of the night was NGC 7000, the North America Nebula in Cygnus. This large nebula is naked eye in the right conditions. I could see it without the aid of scope or binoculars. OIII made it more obvious but UHC was even better, making it very obvious, and I could easily see the 'Gulf of Mexico' dark area.

Called it a night at just after 0210 as the transparency was giving out again and the clouds, formerly the odd one or two, were increasing.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Observing 12th Sept 2009

After the previous night's short session, I was hoping for a clearer night last night and fortunately it was, although very wet (85% humidity and falling dew) and a little murky. There is a music festival (it's called 'Bestival' but 'Craptival' would be more accurate. There are some bloody awful acts on the bill and it has a ghastly 'family friendly' vibe to it) underway at the moment, a couple of miles away, and the sounds of dodgy music were floating down the valley so I got the iPod and listened to much better music instead. Not only that, this thing was flooding the north-western and western sky with light pollution - fortunately it's only one weekend a year.
The dew was a nuisance, completely fogging the Telrad and finderscope meaning I had to keep wiping these off every few minutes. I need to buy a dew heater when I have some more money (unfortunately my car tax is due at the end of the month so I have to save for that).

Cool (11 C), 85% humidity, lots of dew. Limiting magnitude around 6.0 later on, due to rising last quarter Moonlight being scattered around the sky. No wind. Seeing steady but transparency not as good as recently (when clear!).
Instrument: 12 inch f/5 Dobsonian

Made a few sketches, of NGC 404, NGC 7332 and NGC 6910 before getting hacked off with the rubbish dewy conditions, light pollution from both the Moon and the pop festival and a bad arm (I have an infection in my left arm and hand) and packing my stuff away and going to bed at 1 am. I also spent far too much time looking for NGCs 147, 185, 7292, 7459 and 7662 but failed to see them. Given the conditions - constant dewing of Telrad and finderscope and the less-than-great transparency - it was not surprising I failed to see the galaxies (147, 185, 7292 and 7459) but failing to even find 7662, aka the Blue Snowball, a planetary nebula in Andromeda, was surprising.

NGC 7332, a galaxy in Pegasus, was easy to find. It is a bright, edge-on galaxy with a brighter core. 190x

NGC 6910, an open cluster in Cygnus, is a nice object. It is dominated by two bright orange-yellow stars and is shaped like a branch or crooked 'y'. There are nine or so other stars, which are fainter, white ones plus some even fainter ones. 138x.

It was annoying to make so few observations but, as I had spent (wasted!) a lot of time looking for other stuff and the conditions were a pain it was better than nothing.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Quick session, September 10th, 2009

This was a very quick session, due to having to be at work at the uncivilised hour of 8am the following morning. I intended it to be a Herschel object session, and indeed it was, although it was one of 'those' evenings when I actually didn't find many of the targets I was after. I was after open clusters in Cassiopeia and only observed two or three in the end, plus made a sketch of M103, which I think of as the Northern Hemisphere's answer to the Jewel Box in Crux, and which I can't resist.
I had forgotten my circle template for sketches (a plastic thing off individual coffee filters) and used a salmon tin - Tesco own brand salmon tins, at two and a half inches, are just not big enough for sketches and sketches end up squashed.
Another problem was the crap transparency. It had been clear all day and, typically clouds rolled in just as I'd set the big scope up and although they cleared the transparency was crap throughout the session.

Observed NGC 457, an open cluster in Cassiopeia - known popularly as the ET cluster (it does look somewhat like the hideous little alien in that ghastly film), the Johnny 5 cluster (it looks more like that little robot in Short Circuit) or the Owl cluster.

Also observed NGC 663 and then sketched M103, as mentioned above. All in all, a bit of a disappointing session but better than nothing as it looked like being earlier in the session. Packed up and went to bed by 11pm, due to having to get up for work the next day.