Sunday, 30 August 2009

Herschel 400

I have started a Herschel 400 observing program and I have dedicated a seperate blog to it. All Herschel 400 observations will go into that blog, although ALL observing sesh's will still be recorded on this one.
I have, in the past, seen a lot of the H400 objects although I have not systematically done a dedicated H400 program, until now but, as I have a new scope, I am starting from scratch, beginning with the observations made during my most recent session the other night. I was thinking of getting into the H400 a while back, but never got started, for various reasons including a dodgy scope, other commitments and downright laziness!

Herschel 400 blog

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Awesome night, 28/29 August 2009

I am back in business with a 12" scope so last night was its first time out. It took a while to set up as the tube is heavy, although more awkward than actually difficult trying to get it out of the house without knocking the tube. I had planned really to mess around with it, looking at 'lollipops' and getting it 'just so' but it turned into a full-on serious session.
The session didn't get off to a great start as firstly, my laser collimator started acting up, only intermittently working and a change of batteries made no difference (it's just over a year old, so I have emailed Telescope House about it), although I did manage to get the scope collimated very well in the end, and then a grasshopper jumped on my head. I hate bugs and when I felt this seemingly huge creepy crawly on my head and it's disgusting little legs walking on me I yelled, jumped six feet in the air and ran indoors in a totally girlie display of cowardice. Fortunately my aunt, who hadn't yet gone to bed, rescued me from this thing - or rescued it from me, depending on your point of view. I am an absolute coward about large insects, spiders and centipedes, etc, so I donned a baseball cap and a hooded top with the hood pulled over my head, to prevent any more unpleasant surprises. Yes, I looked like a complete chav but who cares in the dark? Better to look like a chav than be a convenient perch for various disgusting bugs!

Onto the session:
Conditions: Clear, the odd drifting cloud at first but then completely clear from around 10pm onwards. There was a waxing gibbous Moon at first but that set around midnight, so that did not interfere and it was very low in the sky.
Very breezy, around 20mph, did not die down all night. Humidity 68%; temp 12 degrees C (feels colder; very autumnal, due to the wind).

Seeing steady, transparency good with good contrast in the Milky Way once the waxing gibbous Moon had set. NELM 5.8 at first to 6.5 later on.
Instrument: 12 inch f5 Dobsonian.

NGC 6934, a globular cluster in Delphinus.
This was very bright and condensed. Slightly oval and brightens towards the core. It looks granular with direct vision and with averted vision some stars are resolved. 61x, 138x

NGC 6905, planetary nebula in Delphinus.
This took a bit of searching for but I eventually found it. Its located between Delphinus and the tip of Sagitta. Small, round and very bright. Slight 'fluffy' appearance. OIII brings it out well. In my notes I put 'Very slight hint of' and didn't finish the sentence for some reason. 'Very slight hint of...what' I wonder? I'll have to go back to that one I think. 190x

NGC 6207, galaxy in Hercules.
This galaxy is often overlooked as it is right next to the big showy globular M13. It is a nice edge-on galaxy, elongated NE-SW. It's easy to find, mainly because it is so close to M13 and is easy to see in the 12". It has a slightly mottled appearance with a brighter middle. I put it out of the field of view to observe it, but when it's in the same f.o.v. as M13 together they make a pretty sight. 61x, 190x

Hickson 92/Arp 319 - Stephan's Quintet, galaxy group in Pegasus.
Finally found Stephan's Quintet with my own scope (I have seen it through other scopes in the past, but not found it myself). I have looked for this in the past, probably over ambitiously, with my 8" from here and - maybe unsurprisingly - saw nothing, although I have read reports of people getting this group with scopes as small as six inches aperture (but they were under Arizona skies and not humid, particle laden UK ones). It is a short star hop just south west of NGC 7331.
Through the 12" the group was faint and I saw the five (if NGC 7318A and B are counted as two and not one) members with averted vision, two reasonably 'bright' and the others fainter. These were NGC 7317, NGC 7318 A/7318B, NGC 7319, NGC 7320. I put the magnification up to 190x to darken the sky and this paid off with a better view of the group.
The galaxies are interacting here, hence the Arp designation. 61x, 190x, 304x

NGC 7331, NGC 7335 and NGC 7337, galaxies in Pegasus.
NGC 7331 is a very bright, elongated galaxy. The middle is very bright and looks mottled. NGC 7335 and NGC 7337 which are in the same f.o.v. are much, much fainter. Both are oval glows showing no detail. NGC 7337 is smaller than 7335, but both are equally bright (or not!). 61x, 190x

NGC 404, galaxy in Andromeda.
This one is always a piece of cake to find because it is located next to Beta Andromedae. Once B And is out of the field (higher magnification is needed here) 404 is easy to see being quite bright. It's round with a brighter middle. I used a magnification of 304x which gave a nice view darkening the background and increasing contrast. 61x, 190x, 304x

NGC 278, galaxy in Cassiopeia.
Round glow with brighter middle. easy to see. 61x, 190x, 304x

NGC 672 and IC 1727, galaxies in Triangulum.
After the obligatory look at M31 (fantastic with the dust lane very prominent at 61x), M32, M33 and M110 it was back to the serious stuff. NGC 672 is very faint, nondescript bar of light elongated east to west. It's evenly bright. IC 1727 which is in the same field of view is an even fainter, more nondescript object, a mere elongated brightening of the back ground sky. 61x, 190x, 304x

By now it was 0320 and by the time I'd packed away my eyepieces, atlases and notes and lugged the scope back indoors I got to bed at 4 o'clock. It was a fantastic session of serious deep sky observing, the first in a long time. I have sketches, but I need to redo them onto another sheet and scan them in, so they'll appear later.
It was nice to see Orion rising in the east with the promise of long winter nights observing...

I'm very pleased with the 12 inch so far, it performs well at high magnifications and the contrast is good. The stars are pinpoints and the scope is easy to push round the sky.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Observing session 19th August 2009

Another clear night! Sadly it will have to be another short session due to work in the morning (and I'd already overslept this morning as it was!). So, another binocular session.

Clear, but transparency not as good as previous night due to contrails from jets passing overhead. The Isle of Wight sits directly below the approach paths to Heathrow, Gatwick and other major airports plus transAtlantic traffic originating on the Continent (I assume that some Continental European traffic for eastern China and Japan also go over here as these routes often go over the North Pole). Can't very well complain though as I - wanting to get out of the UK as often as humanly possible! - do a fair bit of flying myself! The contrails do dissapate quite quickly.
Warmer than previous night: 14 degrees C. Humidity 80%. No wind. Steady seeing.
Instrument used: 8x42 Leica binoculars.

Collinder 399: Open cluster (or asterism?) in Vulpecula
The famous Coathanger, and looks exactly like an upside down coat hanger. Through the binoculars I can see 11 stars, all bright ones, with 6 in the bar and another 5 in the hook. The hook contains the brightest stars, two of which are around a magnitude brighter than the others. Observation interfered with by jet trails.

Tried to observe NGC 6934, a globular cluster in Delphinus but a vapour trail was sat right over it. One for later.

NGC 6709: Open cluster in Aquila
Easily found to SW of Zeta and Epsilon Aquilae. Fairly large roundish o.c. hazy with direct vision but some stars resolved with direct vision. Will observe this with scope at some point.

NGC 6934: Globular cluster in Delphinus
Now the contrail has cleared I could have a go at this g.c. It wasn't that hard to find but not very easy to see. It looks like a round, fuzzy, fat star in the 8x42s.

NGC 6716: Open cluster in Sagittarius
This was easy to find (along with neighbouring Cr 394), despite its low altitude. Large and with some members seen. It would undoubtedly be miles better from a more southerly location, such as southern Europe.

NGC 6520: Open cluster in Sagittarius
Not a chance. Far too low in the murk. Will try earlier tomorrow night if clear.

NGC 6633: Open cluster in Ophiuchus
Very easily found near IC 4756 (itself easy to see and also on the challenge list). Triangular, rich and very bright. Many stars resolved. Nebulous background which means many more should be seen in a scope.

IC 4756: Open cluster in Ophiuchus
Huge o.c. Next to NGC 6633. Irregular. Very large and rich. many stars seen with both averted and direct vision. Impressive. Can't wait to get sorted with big scope and get that onto it!

IC 4665: Open cluster in Ophiuchus
Very easy to find. Large, splashy o.c. near Beta Ophiuchi (Cebalrai). Irregular. Many bright stars visible with averted vision and even a dozen or so easily seen directly.

The following night (20th) I went out early, as it was getting dark, to try for NGC 6520 which I'd failed to see on the 19th as I'd left it too late in the session and it was too low to be seen, lost in the murk. Well, I did eventually see it, here's the observation:

NGC 6520: Open cluster in Sagittarius
Only just seen, after a time for my eyes to adjust and it was ridiculously faint due to low altitude and atmospheric pollutants. A small patch barely visible against background sky. No stars resolved. Will have to have another bash at this one next year, earlier in the year when Sagittarius is as high as it gets in the UK sky.
This has to go down as the shortest observing session ever due to tiredness, the need to go to work in the morning and a fair bit of drifting cloud!

These observations over the past evenings take care of the summer set of AL Deep Sky Binocular objects. The rest I will do during the autumn and winter.


Should hopefully be sorted out on the scope front this week...

Observing session 18th August 2009

This was a good clear night with steady seeing and decent transparency with good contrast in the Milky Way. The visual limiting mag was 6.5. The temperature was 12C with high humidity of 80% - the price of summer in the UK. Instrument: 8x42 Leica binoculars.
I used my 8x42 binoculars instead of either of my two small scopes, mainly because the refractor can't be comfortably used at high declinations and the little Meade SCT has no decent tripod (it's a disaster on a photo tripod because I don't own a tripod that is up to the job) and also it was a perfect opportunity to make inroads into the AL Deep Sky Binocular certificate I am doing.

My observations are as follows:

NGC 6819: Open cluster in Cygnus
One clump of stars among many in this very rich region. Some stars resolved, around 5 or 6.

NGC 7063: Open cluster in Cygnus
Very easy to find as it is stuck out by the lower (eastern) wing of Cygnus. With direct vision it is an irregularly roundish misty patch easily seen against the background sky. Detached. With averted vision around 8 or 9 stars can be seen. Large.

NGC 7789: Open cluster in Cassiopeia
Huge open cluster just east of Beta Cygni. Large, detached and - while not faint - not overly bright. Roundish and nebulous looking. With averted vision it looks a bit granular, but not resolved fully.

NGC 6940: Open cluster in Vulpecula.
Absolutely huge o.c. looking, through the 8x42s like a detached portion of the Milky way. It has an oval shape. Nebulous but with some brighter foreground stars.

NGC 6823: Open cluster in Vulpecula
This was much more of a challenge than the previous ones. This is another of 'one clump among many' situations you get with binocular observations of Milky Way open clusters, but I eventually found it. It is near the (easily seen) Dumbell Nebula and looks like an irregular clump of stars. A pretty big cluster, although smaller than some of the other targets this evening. Some members resolved.

By then it was gone midnight and I had to get up for work the next morning. A good session.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Double vision

On Tuesday (11th August) we FINALLY got a clear night. Well, clearish, as the haze was bad but it was certainly better than the near 100% cloud cover we've been getting recently.

Because of the murk and the rising waning gibbous Moon, I decided to stick with a few doubles in Bootes, plus some 'lollipop' bright objects elsewhere in the sky. It was also a short session as it was gone 11pm and I had to be up for work the next morning.

My observing notes read as follows:
A rare clear night this summer - July and August have been frankly bloody awful with only a couple of clear nights for observing, including tonight.

The transparency tonight is not good and I am only using a small refractor (my 12" is out of action, and likely to remain so for a while or until I get a new one), so concentrating mostly on double stars. After having been out here a while, the sky conditions are not good. It's milky and there's very little contrast in the Milky Way with some high thin cloud and the waning gibbous Moon interfereing.

Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major:
One of my favourite doubles, this well-known system is a lovely white pair, visible to the unaided eye but superb through the small refractor at 37.5x

Albireo (B Cygni):
My favourite double, the bright gold star and it's slightly fainter, bright blue companion are stunning.

Delta Bootis:
Faintish gold star with faint blue companion. Wide double. Nice.

Unfortunately only a short session, due to having to go to work tomorrow. I'll be glad when the long nights are here and BST is back to as it should be, GMT.


Have decided to go for a 12" Lightbridge or Revelation. I had decided on the LB, but my work contract finishes two weeks earlier than planned, so I might go for the cheaper Revelation instead. However, I was pretty annoyed to hear that the Revelation has now gone up from £549 to £660 in the past week. Bugger!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Scopes and stuff

Hopefully, in a few weeks' time I'll have a new 12 inch scope. My current temporary work contract, due to finish on Friday 7th August, has been extended until September 7th, so I hope it won't be more than four weeks before I can afford to spend £500+.

I have narrowed the choice down to 12" Skywatcher Flex Tube, 12" Meade Lightbridge and 12" Revelation (GSO, same as the Lightbridge). Ideally I would have gone for something like the Orion Optics UK 12 inch but at just under £900 this is out of my price range and, anyway, one of the cheaper ones will do nicely until such time as I can afford a bigger-aperture scope. These days, though, even the cheap scopes are good and I wish they'd been around when I wanted a larger scope ten years ago, then I wouldn't have messed around buying mirrors and then waiting (interminably it seemed!) for the damned scope to get built and then getting problems with the f**king thing! I also considered an Orion (USA) Intelliscope 12" but they are a hideous price, over £1000.

The Island Planetarium at Fort Victoria sells scopes (Meade, Orion USA, et al) so I have gone there in my search. They deal with B, C & F so that narrows the field down but there are still some good choices on offer. Getting it from the Planetarium resolves the issue of someone having to be at home to accept delivery of the thing or the even worse hassle of a visit to the mainland to collect it.

I have considered the Revelation 12 inch Dob, if they still do them (Telescope House do, via the net but whether the wholesalers BC&F do, I don't know), as it's a positively bargainous £550 - and a decent scope too, from the reports I have read - although I have heard that the tube is a bit of a big bugger, weighing in at around 23 kilos, but as the rucksack I lugged round Australia and SE Asia a few months ago was around the same weight, I do not foresee a problem. If I do my back in again, though, there might be an issue but until then...


I am curious as to exactly how many clear nights we really do get here in the climatically-challenged, sea-bound British Isles. Opinion varies slightly on the quantity of clear nights (depending on your geographical location as there's a lot of variety even in this tiny country) although we all agree on one thing - there's NOT NEARLY ENOUGH of them! So I am doing a spreadsheet over the next few years that should give me a clearer (pun not intended!) picture of our local sky conditions here on the Isle of Wight. It's not scientific but should be interesting.