Sunday, 14 November 2010

Still here

I am still here, although I have done absolutely zero observing since 11th October, due mainly to near-endless clouds and rain. We've had a month's rain alone this past week and force 9 gales, gusting to storm force 10 on Tuesday and Thursday but, luckily, my observing shed has held up well in the face of the violent weather, it's still standing and has let in no water, despite the combination of force 10 gusts and horizontal, torrential rain.

The only astronomy-related thing I have done recently is, with a fellow member of VAS, a talk at a primary school about astronomy. Children are not my favourite demographic as I don't really have any real rapport with them, but it was an enjoyable evening, nonetheless, with a good turnout despite the atrocious weather and the kids, although they could fidget for England (one was totally hyperactive and slightly annoying) were interested, surprisingly knowledgeable - except one who said that loads of security lights and street lamps were a good thing! - and asked some good questions. Even their parents didn't ask stupid questions! It had originally been planned to be an observing session but conditions were downright dangerous outside with severe gales and flying debris, so it was downscaled to a presentation istead.
The reason I was there was that, during a committee meeting of VAS (the first after the AGM) they needed what is rather grandly titled 'Outreach and events liason officer' and asked for volunteers. None were forthcoming and I - reluctantly, it has to be said as I am not into outreach whatsoever; I can see the value of it, but it is not for me because on a clear night, I'd rather be doing my own thing - agreed to take on the role. So, I have to be seen to go to the events.

It's Remembrance Sunday and I'm watching the Cenotaph coverage on BBC1. The sheer scale of death and destruction caused by war just goes to show how pointlessly stupid war is, and how insanely destructive the human species can be. We trash the environment, we kill other species and we fight endlessly over ridiculous things such as religion, land and one country looking at another the wrong way. It's politicians who are stupid, not the sailors, soldiers and airmen who have to fight the wars; the armed forces are, as someone once said, "lions led by donkeys".
Not only that, we're in constant danger, if the goverment and media are to be believed, of being blown up by brainwashed morons and lunatics with a warped view of Islam. How can a species - us - that does fantastic things such as space travel, science (when it is not abused), astronomy, make music and build great ships, etc, also be such a stupid one? We are obviously not as advanced or as civilised as we like to think we are. Maybe one day, we'll grow up a bit.
And that's my 'deep' bit for this year. And I'm not usually as misanthropic as this either! Oh, and the 'Last Post' gets you *right there* doesn't it?

On a more cheerful note, after the largely downbeat nature of this post, I am tentatively planning a trip to the southern hemisphere at the end of next year or beginning of 2012. I want to see the southern sky again and, as the 20" plans are unlikely to happen for a long time for various reasons, I have decided to do the cheaper option. I'm considering Australia again and I'd like to go during their summer (our winter) for two reasons. Firstly, I'd like to see the southern summer skies, which I have not done and, secondly, escaping least one crappy, dismal UK winter is an appealing prospect if only for three or four weeks. The Aussie weather should, at least, be better in November-February than it was in May last year and, in any case, will be far better than the cold, wind and rain of north-western Europe.

Also, I am giving a talk at the Webb Deep Sky Society AGM in Cambridge on 4th December. Owen Brazell emailed me and asked if I'd be prepared to give a talk about the Texas Star Party so I thought 'why not?' and agreed. I'll do it as a Power Point presentation with loads of pictures of big scopes, scenery and night skies. Getting to Cambridge is a pain from the Isle of Wight but, hopefully, I can get a lift up there. I'm looking forward to it, actually, because I have not been to a Webb meeting since 2005 and it will be nice to catch up with people again.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


It looks like the 20" project's on hold for a bit, maybe indefinitely but most probably not. Life's got in the way and I've found I need to put the money I've saved so far to other uses. So, I have to start again from the beginning, which is a bit of a bugger to say the least. The trouble is, while astronomy's my biggest interest, other things sometimes have to take precedence and, being on a low income, such as I am, I have very little spare so when things get chucked at you out of the blue then the savings need to be sacrificed.

Oh well, I'll start again and see how far I get this time before the car breaks, I get hit for a tax demand, the dog gets sick, something else breaks...

Monday, 11 October 2010

Comet 103P/Hartley 2

It's slightly murkier tonight with clouds moving in, so I decided to just go out with the binoculars and track down the latest comet to grace our skies, Comet 103P/Hartley 2. I have a big soft spot for comets because they look like deep sky objects but are transient, and only visit us for a short time. Comets can go either way, they can either be big and bright and even Joe and Jane Public are aware of their presence or they can be tiny, small, faint and elusive. As comet hunter and deep sky observer David Levy once said 'Comets are like cats. They have tails and do precisely what they want', indeed comets that have been predicted to be bright have been disappointing and vice versa. Sometimes comets that have been predicted to be big and bright have been just that but, comets often prove astronomers wrong!

103P/Hartley 2 is not bright but it is big. It's also obvious in a pair of 8x42 binoculars and I found it quite easily where it presently lies in Perseus. It's heading towards Auriga and is supposed to brighten by the end of the month but, as is usual, the Moon will interfere.
In the binoculars it was large - much larger than I expected, ever so slightly elongated, diffuse and with a brighter core. It also looks quite green.

I took a couple of photos of the comet, and have indicated it with an arrow pointing towards it. The photos illustrate not only the comet but also why I am not an astrophotographer - they are not the best! They were taken with my Canon 40D and a 70-200mm lens at f4. Click for enlargements.

Observing 10th October 2010

After seemingly endless clouds, gales, rain and murk for the past few weeks, the sky finally cleared and I was able to get out and knock off some Herschels last night, 10th October.
I decided to stay entirely within the borders of Cassiopeia and the list was mostly open clusters, apart from one galaxy. I'd already done some of the H400 objects within the constellation but still had a lot more to do. I also looked at non-NGC clusters that were nearby.

Date: 10th October 2010
Conditions: Cloudless, cool (10C), no dew, a little mist
Seeing: I, excellent
Transparency: II-III
NELM: 6.2

Equipment: 12" f/5 Dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), UHC filter

NGC 129, open cluster in Cassiopeia - Large and fairly rich. Triangular with dark area cutting through it. 69x

NGC 136, open cluster in Cassiopeia - A bit of a bugger to locate as it's faint. Round, nebulous background with a scattering of faint stars on top. Pretty boring. 69x

NGC 225, open cluster in Cassiopeia - A complete contrast to the previous cluster. Bright, large, irregular, loose cluster. 21 bright stars plus some fainter ones among the bright ones. 69x

NGC 381, open cluster in Cassiopeia - Faint, rich and round. Detached. A chain of stars goes north from the main body of the cluster. Nice. 69x

NGC 436, open cluster in Cassiopeia - In same field of view at 69x as NGC 457 (also on the H400 list, but I'd observed this at an earlier date) and they both make a lovely sight. 436 is a small knot of stars and is irregularly shaped. Fairly rich with half a dozen or so brighter stars and many more fainter ones resolved. 69x, 101x

NGC 559, open cluster in Cassiopeia - Quite rich but relatively faint. Compressed. Some brighter stars (around mag 12) superimposed on a hazy background. Nice. 69x

NGC 637, open cluster in Cassiopeia - Compact and fairly bright o.c. There are seven brighter stars, plus more in the background. Crescent shaped. There's a double star just to the east. 69x, 101x

NGC 185, galaxy in Cassiopeia - Elongated glow, NE-SW with some concentration towards the centre. Core's not stellar, more diffuse. Quite large. 69x, 101x

NGC 7789, open cluster in Cassiopeia - This one's an absolute beauty. It's very large and extremely rich in fairly faint stars. There are no bright stars anywhere in this cluster but it's now definitely one of my favourites. The cluster is round, and the stars are all of the same, or similar, magnitudes and there's a hazy background hinting at even more stars - there must be hundreds.
There are also dark areas, semi circular patterns and this makes the cluster look like a rose seen face on. 69x, 101x.

NGC 7790, open cluster in Cassiopeia - Small, compressed, quite faint, irregular open cluster. Extends east-west. 69x, 101x

NGC 7788, open cluster in Cassiopeia - Just north of 7790, this is a larger, looser, brighter, sparser cluster than 7790 is. Irregular. 69x, 101x

Frolov 1, open cluster in Cassiopeia - Not much to write home about! Very small and sparse. The stars are faint and scattered. 101x

Harvard 21, open cluster in Cassiopeia - A scattered faint group of 8 stars. Irregular. 69x, 101x

King 12, open cluster in Cassiopeia - A small, bright knot NW of H21. Two bright stars and a lot of fainter ones. Compressed, not rich. 69x, 101x

NGC 654, open cluster in Cassiopeia - Nice o.c. Not round but irregular. Compressed. Quite bright. Nice. 69x, 101x

NGC 1027, open cluster in Cassiopeia - Large, irregular, bright o.c. Rich. Identified by 7th magnitude star near the centre. Other stars and 5th and 6th magnitude plus many fainter ones. 69x

Melotte 15, o.c. with nebulosity in Cassiopeia - Large, irregular sparse cluster. The nebulosity is only visible with the UHC filter. 69x, UHC filter.

I packed up at 2215, after an excellent session.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Parapher...parerfern...observing stuff

While I like to keep observing simple, none of that fiddly imaging stuff for me(!), I do still end up taking quite a bit of observing paraphernalia with me every observing session. I keep my eyepieces in the house, as well as my notebooks, etc, for security and also so they don't get damp. My Star Atlas 2000.0 stays in a box in the shed, it's already got damp on numerous occasions, is a bit mouldy in places and is eminently un-nickable.

Here are the items - apart from my scope - that I use each time I go observing:

A bag to put everything (excluding eyepieces) in:

A ring-binder for my observing lists and printed MegaStar charts:


Notebook (for those times where I don't do sketches although it comes every session as it's also a logbook for each session):

Sketching/writing stuff. Pens, pencils - mechanical pencils and graphite sticks - chamois for smudging nebulae, etc), tortillon, clip-on red torch, round template for sketches (plastic lid off coffee cup), putty eraser and eraser shield, all stored in a handy artist's case which I got from a local art shop:

The Night Sky Observers Guide; if I do take them out I usually only take one out at a time and I use them for checking observations afterwards, although normally I wait until I get back indoors. Before I had the shed, I would never take them outside, too expensive to ruin!

The all-important dim red torch. This one has adjustable LEDs.

And my case of eyepieces and other scope bits and pieces:

The bits and pieces, except the Night Sky Observer's Guides which stay on my bookshelf, are kept in the bag and it, the case and a flask of tea or coffee, get carried up the garden in one go; I can carry all that lot at once, because the bag has a shoulder strap, so unless I've forgotten something, I don't need to return to the house.

The weather is currently atrocious and I've not been observing for a while. I did get out last week, around full Moon when it was (typically!) clear and looked at Jupiter and Uranus with my 3.5" refractor; with enough magnification I managed to see Uranus as a disk, which was good. That was an interesting diversion but I've done no deep sky since the early morning of September 17th.

This was the dismal view from the kitchen window this afternoon, and there's at least another week of this crap to come, due to deep lows in the Atlantic (sometimes I find myself wishing the damn thing would dry up!). Fortunately my observing shed, in the far distance in the photo, appears to be holding up in the face of the gales and rain. Touch wood!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A blast from the past

After a break of some years, I have found myself back on the committee of our local astronomy society. We're in the process of tidying up the observatory, a process which we began yesterday evening, and when I looked in the secure storage where the scopes are kept I found a familiar-looking 6" dob. It has an orange tube made from a gas pipe and a plywood base, and it was wearing a very fetching floral-patterned shower cap which I removed for the photos. I am pretty sure it is not my old 6", as I don't remember mine having the aluminium ring around the top of the tube (or the floral-patterned cap!), but otherwise it is identical. Several of these were made and some are still kicking around somewhere, presumably including mine since I offloaded it.

It was nice to see the old thing, it brought back some nice memories of finding my first deep sky objects with my own, very first, astronomical telescope!
During the meeting it was mentioned that it was the society's 35th anniversary coming up. It occurred to me that I have been a member for 18 years, I joined in summer 1992 - I was a 'mere slip of a thing' then, as a member, one of my oldest astronomy friends, jokingly said to me. Nowadays, while I am by no means fat, you can't say that I am a 'mere slip', unfortunately!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Observing, early morning 17th September 2010

The was taken tonight, not last night, but is otherwise identical. Lovely pink sunset with the promise of things to come.
The forecast looked good but, unfortunately, a waxing gibbous Moon was in the way, not setting until 0020 BST (one of life's mysteries is this - why does a waning Moon seem to take forever getting out of the way, yet the waxing stage seems really quick, only slowing down as it approaches Full Moon?). Because of this I decided not to go outside until it was out of the way, although I can never take a nap in these situations!

Date: 17th September 2010; 0130-0300 BST (0030-0200 GMT/UT)
Conditions: Cool, totally cloudless, no wind, slightly dewy

Seeing: Ant II-III
Transparency: I (excellent) - II (very good) later (M33 visible with unaided eye)
NELM: 6.5+
Equipment: 12" f/5 Dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 11mm Televue Plossl (138x)

NGC 1857, open cluster in Auriga - Faint, fairly rich, irregular. 69x, 101x

NGC 1175, galaxy in Perseus - Faint, not quite round. Diffuse elongated core. 69x, 138x

NGC 1177, galaxy in Perseus - NE of 1175. Very faint indeed. Barely seen. Possibly elongated. 138x

NGC 1245, open cluster in Perseus - Very nice large irregular cluster. Faint, fairly rich. Many faint stars. 69x, 138x.

I packed up at 0300 BST after a less successful session than I hoped for; I couldn't seem to track down most of the Herschel IIs I went for, yet there was nothing wrong with the sky conditions, however I put that down to being tired. An example of tiredness-related cock-ups was when I made some soup and attempted to defrost some bread in the microwave - I ended up nuking it because I pressed the wrong button! Still, an observing session with four objects is better than no observing session at all and a lot better than my sorry effort the other evening (9th September 2010).

However, observing in the early a.m. is a nice way to spend the time, maybe better than evening sessions. There is no-one around at all and it is very quiet, although when I dropped an eyepiece on the shed floor - fortunately without damage - it sounded like an explosion! Likewise when I went back to the kitchen to make the soup, the kettle sounded as loud as a volcano.

Apart from the sound of the horses in the next field, the snoring of my darling dog in her basket, the rustle and squeaks of rats and mice in the hedge and the snuffling of a badger in the lane, there were no other noises. That’s how I like my observing sounds to be. No machines, no loud TVs from the neighbours across the way, no music, just animals and the other sounds of the night.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Observing 12/13th September 2010

'I got the poison, I got the remedy, I got the pulsating rhythmical remedy' goes the lyric of Prodigy's song Poison, and fairly appropriate as they were coming down the valley loud and clear from the 'Bestival' last night - also appropriate as I found a Death Cap toadstool in the garden yesterday, which I promptly threw in the bin out of reach of the dogs (DCs are the most poisonous toadstools known). I like the Prodigy, but I don't like the light pollution from the festival that was wiping out the north western, and most of the western, sky or Rob da Bank's DJ set of bad music that went on to almost 4am this morning (1am's fine, but later than that is not. I bet they've pissed off the entire Arreton valley). At least that's over for another year.

The weather forecast called for it to clear at sunset, the BBC (Met Office) said it would be clear all night but the others (Accuweather, Metcheck and The Weather Outlook) disagreed, forecasting it to be partly clear, and, in the end, they were right and the BBC were wrong.

Would this clear? Btw, the tree is dead but the birds like it so it stays
Conditions: Cool, but not cold, some drifting clouds at first, becoming murkier later. Slight dew.
Seeing: Ant II, very good
Transparency: III to IV later (III. Clear, some haze visible. Milky Way still visible but not detailed; IV. Milky skies, moderately hazy but observing of brighter NGCs doable/drifting cloud).
Equipment: 12" f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x), OIII filter. MegaStar 5 chart printouts, Sky Atlas 2000.0, Pocket Sky Atlas and NSOG Vols I and II

NGC 6996, open cluster in Cygnus - Located within NGC 7000 (the North America Nebula). Spiral shaped cluster of 30+ fairly faint stars. Spiral is anti-clockwise. Fainter stars among the brighter ones. Chain loops off to north before turning west. Quite large. Moderately rich. Observation interfered with by drifting clouds. 69x.

NGC 6824, galaxy in Cygnus - People think of Cygnus as a realm of open clusters, PNes and nebulae, but galaxies lurk here too. Fairly bright and easy to find as it stands out against the background sky. Almost round. Brightens gradually towards the core. Core diffuse, not bright. 69x, 190x.

NGC 6894, planetary nebula in Cygnus - A bit of a sod to find, faint and quite small. Not helped by milky sky. At low power, there is a hint of something fuzzy and oval. An OIII filter brings it out as a filled-in oval. At high power, and with the OIII,  it has a darker middle and looks annular. 69x, 190x, OIII filter.

The latter observation was being affected by the fireworks from the festival, I could see the flashes in the eyepiece while looking at NGC 6894, which was hard enough to see as it was. So I abandoned Cygnus and moved over to Triangulum and Aries, which were just clearing next door's oak trees from my position.

NGC 772, galaxy in Aries - Round, quite faint (low), condenses to non-stellar, but obvious, core. 69x, 101x.

NGC 672, galaxy in Triangulum - Quite faint, elongated west-east. No brightening in centre. Faint halo around bar. IC 1727 nearby but very faint that I want another look at it on a better night. 69x, 101x, 190x.

NGC 925, galaxy in Triangulum - Elongated, faint. Evenly bright with halo. Some foreground stars. 69x, 190x

NGC 890, galaxy in Triangulum - Round, bright. Bright non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

By now, just before 0100 BST (midnight GMT/UT), the sky was getting progressively worse, with a lot of murk scattering light about so I packed in. There were a few other objects I hunted for, among them NGC 1156 and NGC 1012, both in Aries, as well as NGC 6857 in Cygnus and the infamous NGC 6772 in Aquila but these were all wiped out by murk and will have to wait until a better night.

Friday, 10 September 2010

And the award for...

... 'Fewest Objects Observed in One Session' goes to me for last night's pathetic effort. The forecast wasn't promising although it was predicted to cloud over around midnight, which would have left me with best part of three hours observing time. Unfortunately things didn't work out as intended. Firstly, for some reason, my collimation was way out, probably as a result of wheeling the scope across a rough part of the lawn, so it took me a few minutes to sort that out and secondly, I wasted ages - again - looking for the planetary nebula NGC 6772 in Aquila which, for some reason, I failed to find.
By the time I'd given up on NGC 6772, clouds were moving in, earlier than the forecasters predicted so there was nothing for it other than to wheel the scope back in and shut up shop. The upshot of all this was that I observed precisely zero objects in one hour, with the sole exception of a glance at Jupiter while aligning my finders. And a creepy-crawly fell on me! I hate creepy-crawlies, especially spiders, of which there are a lot around this autumn. All, with the backdrop of sounds coming down the valley from the 2010 Bestival. A cry of "Rock and f*cking roll!!" was heard at one point! At least, I think that's what he said!

So, why have I failed, on two seperate occasions, to find NGC 6772? It's in the Herschel II list so it's not terribly easy but it shouldn't be that hard either and, as someone who has plenty of experience, I would *expect* to be able to find it! NGC 6772 is not marked on Sky Atlas 2000.0 so I printed off a chart from Megastar 5, complete with Telrad circles, and used that. Despite this, I came up empty-handed. The Night Sky Observer's Guide Vol II has descriptions of this from 8/10" scopes so why was I failing to find the little bugger with a 12" with decent, clean optics under dark skies?
I think the problem is that Aquila is getting low and its altitude isn't favourable by the time its dark enough for observing at this time of the year and, as 6772 has quite a low surface brightness any little bit of murk would wipe it out and the past two observing sessions haven't been the most transparent. I will have to wait until next year when Aquila is higher during darkness, or catch it during the early hours in spring.


My mum and stepfather moved house from Wootton to Niton last week, so my aunt and me went over to help mum with the last of the packing and the cleaning (steppy had already cleared off!) and it was the end of an era in some ways. We - myself, mum, my sister and stepfather - moved in during November 1984 (I was 14 at the time) and, in the early 1990s, the garden was my first ever observing site where I'd set up my tiny birding scope, my 10x50 binoculars sellotaped(!) to a tripod and, then, my first proper astronomical telescope which was a 6 inch reflector made from a gas pipe, some plywood and a mirror set purchased from David Hinds.
I took my compact camera with me and grabbed a few shots in between packing up and washing floors and walls.

My first ever observing site, looking east. My scope would go where the veg patch is (it was all lawn then)
Looking south (the trees have grown a lot since then)
Many a happy hour was spent in here (the conservatory) planning observing sessions and reading Sky and Telescope, Webb Society journals and astronomy books!

When we drove off, following the removal truck to their new place in Niton, I had mixed feelings. While my teenage years living there weren't the best (an understatement as they absolutely sucked!), it was my first observing site and brought back memories of the excitement of my early years in astronomy. I also lived back there for a few months immediately prior to my 1997 observing trip to Australia and clearly remember the exciting times then when planning that trip. I love the memories of those times and it was nice to revisit them, albeit briefly.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Observing 3rd/4th September 2010

Another clear night, another observing session. That's four in a week! I missed a couple of nights over the course of the week as they were murky and foggy and therefore no good for deep sky observing. Last night started off a little murky but gradually improved as the night went on.

Date: 3rd/4th September 2010
Conditions: Cool but not that chilly, a bit murky at first but improving later. No Moon. Started off clear, clouding over later.
Seeing: A I, superb.
Transparency: III, improving to II later (until clouds came)
NELM: 6.1 to 6.5 later on
Instrument: 12" f/5 dobsonian, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x), 5mm Radian (304x), OIII filter

NGC 6804, galaxy in Aquila - Faint, slightly oval, stellar core. 69x, 190x

NGC 6772, planetary nebula in Aquila - I wasted more than 30 minutes looking for this (not plotted on atlases) and eventually gave up. Annoying. Will have another go at this with a MegaStar chart I've just printed out.

NGC 7448, galaxy in Pegasus - Bright, elongated NW-SE. Brightens gradually towards the centre. 69x, 190x

NGC 7814, galaxy in Pegasus - Bright and easy to find, located near ϒ Peg. Elongated NW-SE. Brightens towards the core which is bright but not stellar. 69x, 190x

NGC 7217, galaxy in Pegasus - Bright, round, condenses to bright but non-stellar core. 69x, 190x

Pegasus is now complete as far as the H400 is concerned, as I'd already observed some objects in it last autumn.

NGC 7686, open cluster in Andromeda - Irregular. Dominated by two bright yellow-orange stars. Loose. Fainter stars in background and around the two bright ones. Not particularly rich. 69x.

NGC 884 and 869 - the Double Cluster in Perseus - These are lovely things in a wide field eyepiece. Both clusters fit neatly into the field of view of my 22mm Panoptic (69x). If each one was isolated it would be a pretty object in its own right but, both together make one of the finest DSOs in the Northern Hemisphere - in fact the DC is (are) the best open cluster(s) in the sky and I genuinely think that we outdo the Southern Hemisphere with this one.
NGC 869 is smaller and more compact that its neighbour, 884. There are 2 bright stars in the centre, plus a compact triangular pattern of stars in the centre. 69x
NGC 884 is larger and looser. No central group of stars, unlike 869; there's empty space at the centre. The stars of 884 are more concentrated to the western side. 69x.
All stars in both clusters are white.

NGC 650-1 (M76), planetary nebula in Perseus - Very bright indeed, looking like a miniature M27 (in fact, it is called 'Little Dumbell'). It has a bi-lobed appearance with an outer shell extending off to the south west and north east; the south western one is slightly brighter. The south eastern lobe is slightly brighter but smaller, than the north western one.  An OIII filter brings it out nicely. 69x, 101x, OIII filter.

NGC 1023, galaxy in Perseus - Bright, elongated east-west. Condenses to very bright core. 69x, 101x

By this time, it was beginning to get very cloudy, so much so they were interfering with observing. In fact it took me several attempts to see NGC 1023 as cloud kept drifting across the field of view.
I finished the session with a look at Jupiter, which was shining incredibly brightly, like a searchlight, high in the south east. While I am not a planet observer, preferring deep sky, I was glad I had decided to look at the giant planet because the seeing was so good, in fact it was perfect, that I had incredible views and could put the magnification up to 304x without too much degradation of the image.
The North Equatorial Belt was detailed, while the STB was a bit fainter and there were festoons in some of the other bands on the planet; the North Temperate Belt showed a lot of detail, as did both polar regions. The zones also showed some marbling. The SEB, of course, is still missing or very faint.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Observing 1st September 2010

The long-term forecast is not looking too clever for the autumn (if it was the Mess Met Office I would not believe it, but it's The Weather Outlook, who got this year's dismal summer spot on) so I'm going to fit in as much observing as I can until the weather breaks up.
I am also doing the Herschel II at the same time as the H400 and, looking at the list of them, I have already seen quite a few. Inevitable really, as I've been doing deep sky observing since 1993. However, my observing sessions always previously took the form of ambling round whichever constellation caught my eye at the time and I never really did a structured observing program in the past, so my observations are scattered around various note books and sketch pads, so I need to hunt them out and see what I have and haven't seen. Still, re-observing things is not going to be a chore - although quite a few Herschel II objects not being plotted on Sky Atlas 2000.0 is a nuisance.

Date: 1st September 2010
Conditions: Slightly chilly, no wind. Quite a lot of dew.
Transparency: III but better at zenith (II). Mostly clear except from some high cloud. Jupiter bloated with halo, however, the sky was good at zenith.
Seeing: I, very steady
NELM: 6.1 (a little skyglow reflecting from high clouds)
Instrument: 12" f/5 dobsonian with 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 11mm Televue Plossl (138x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x), UHC and OIII filters.

NGC 6800, open cluster in Vulpecula - Large, loose irregular group of stars forming a distorted loop. Moderately faint. 15 brighter stars plus a load of fainter stars. Not rich. 69x.

NGC 6723, open cluster in Vulpecula - Not plotted on my Pocket Sky Atlas or Sky Atlas 2000.0, so I used the Night Sky Observers' Guide Vol 2 to find its position and plotted it myself on both atlases. I really need to start using my Uranometrias more - in fact I am planning to buy the second edition for use while observing and keeping the old ones on the book shelves.
It's easy to find 6723 once you know where it is. It's in a rich field, more or less halfway between α Vulpeculae and Cr 399. Faint and small. Not rich. Triangle of stars (10th/11th magnitude) at the centre help identify the cluster. 69x, 101x

At this point a neighbour across the way put his garden light on, so his dog could see while it was going about its 'evening constitutional'. I'd not seen this light before, or not noticed it (the reason being, our garden's very large and what happens the other end of it is not always noticed from the house or patio; the patio was my previous observing place), but it was badly aligned and blitzed my observing area. I think I'll be asking him if he can adjust it in future, if it's trespassing then it's aligned incorrectly.. After 15 minutes, I was wondering just how long it takes for a dog to have a pee (our dogs are in and out in two minutes!) when the light, thankfully, went off. These are the same neighbours who don't have curtains on their upstairs windows, no doubt believing themselves unseen (uh uh, no you're not!). If ever I win the lottery, I'm moving somewhere where I don't have neighbours! Why are the general public so obsessed with lighting everywhere up?

Ok, now the irritating light's been turned off, back to the observing and it's time for some faint nebulae.

Sh 2-101, nebula in Cygnus - near a double star, this is an area of faint nebulosity. I can't see it very well without a filter, but the UHC brings it out nicely. It's a large irregular patch with dark lanes in it. 69x, UHC

NGC 6888, emission nebula in Cygnus - Located among a conspicuous group of five stars, this can be seen without a filter, but only just. A UHC filter brings out the crescent shape nicely but an OIII isn't much of an improvement. With each filter there are hints of more extensive nebulosity to the north east of the crescent. the SW portion of the nebula is the brightest and the SE portion of the crescent is a bit fainter. 69x, UHC, OIII

Minkowski 92 (M1-92), (planetary?) nebula in Cygnus - This looks like a faint double star at low power but is obviously non-stellar at higher power. One 'star' is larger and brighter than the other and they are very close together. 69x, 101x, 138x, 190x.

I packed up at midnight, as the high clouds were moving in and it was getting mistier.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Observing 30th August 2010

Only a short session this one, due in part to a bad shoulder. Again, because of the Moon, I stuck to open clusters and went to do an H400 clean up run round Vulpecula.

Conditions: Clear, chilly, waning gibbous moon (around 65% full)
Seeing: Excellent, A1
Transparency: II-III

NELM: Not checked.
Instrument: 12" f/5 Dobsonian, 35mm Televue Panoptic (43x), 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), UHC filter.

NGC 6882 and 6885, open clusters in Vulpecula - Two for the price of one, in same field of view. Large, irregular pattern of stars with a conspicuous bright white one (20 Vulpeculae) off towards the edge. This is supposed to be two clusters but it's not easy to distinguish one from another. 69x, 101x

NGC 6830, open cluster in Vulpecula - Easy to find as it's fairly near M27. Irregular, compressed group of 20+ stars with many more, fainter, ones in the background. 69x, 101x

NGC 6823, open cluster with nebulosity in Vulpecula - Small, compressed cluster with three stars in a tight diagonal line in centre. Many more fainter stars in cluster. fairly rich.
No nebulosity seen without a filter, but with the UHC filter I can just see some faint nebulosity. One for when the moon's gone. 69x, 101x, UHC filter.

NGC 6802, open cluster in Vulpecula - Easy to find, located immediately next to Cr399. Quite large, fairly rich but needs moderate power to resolve. Looks misty at 69x, but stars begin to appear at 101x. Irregular, elongated north-south. Faint. 69x, 101x.

That finishes off the H400s in Vulpecula - I'd already seen NGC 6940 a while back. It also takes me past the magical 100-object mark, meaning I am just over a quarter of the way through the H400, as I am on 103 objects as I found out last night after a quick count of the ticks on my list.

Harvard 20, open cluster in Sagitta - A scattered group of 20 to 30 stars just SW of M71. Not much to write home about. 43x.

Packed up at 2330 BST as the moon was rising higher and its light was being scattered around the sky more than the previous evening, despite the phase being less.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Clusters by moonlight

It was the first clear night for a while so I decided to drag the scope out and do some observing, despite the waning gibbous moon. Because of the Moon, I thought that sticking to open clusters in the Herschel 400 was a good plan.
There was definitely an autumnal nip, as well as a 'smell' of autumn in the air. I put an extra layer on although, by the end of the session I was wanting to take it off as I was too warm.

Date: 29th - 30th August 2010
Conditions: Clear, slightly chilly, slight breeze
Seeing: Ant II - quite good, looked at Moon after session and there was not too much turbulence
Transparency: III - not too bad. Milky way washed out by rising moon
NELM: I didn't check, although it would have got a right hammering from the moon and would be no better than 5.5 or 5.8.
Instrument: 12" f/5 dobsonian with 22mm Televue Panoptic and 15mm Televue Plossl (69x and 101x)
2230 BST - 0015 BST (2130 UT - 2315 UT)

NGC 7044, open cluster in Cygnus - An absolute bugger to find. Small, compressed, not rich, faint. 69x, 101x

NGC 7062, open cluster in Cygnus - Much easier to find than 7044. Nice. rich, moderately faint cluster bordered by four brighter stars. Detached. Small. Stands out nicely. 69x, 101x

NGC 7086, open cluster in Cygnus - Compact, moderately faint. Rich. Detached. Set in a nice area. There are nine foreground stars with many more, resolved, fainter ones in background. Moon beginning to interfere. 69x, 101x

NGC 7128, open cluster in Cygnus - Very small, compact, compressed. There's a ring of brighter stars on a hazy background. There is a conspicuous reddish star on the SE side, which is the brightest star in the cluster. Very nice. 69x, 101x

That finishes the H400 objects in Cygnus, so I moved on to Cepheus. The Moon was getting higher and about to clear the oak trees that border the north side of the garden, so it was beginning to interfere with finding things.

NGC 6939, open cluster in Cepheus - Compressed, rich. Bordered to east by distinctive pattern of three stars. Quite bright. Nice cluster. 69x, 101x.

NGC 6949, galaxy in Cepheus - The charts showed this was in the same low power field of view as NGC 6939, so I decided to give it a go despite the moonlight washing out the sky. At 69x, 'something' was possibly there, at 101x there was a definite faint elongated smudge. I'll have another look at this when the moon's out of the way. 69x, 101x

NGC 7160, open cluster in Cepheus - Easily found bright knot of stars, dominated by two bright white stars like eyes, plus 5 fainter ones. Many other fainter stars in background. 69x, 101x

By this time it was past midnight and, although I didn't particularly want to go in, I packed up as the moon had cleared the tall trees which border the garden on the northern side and was becoming a real nuisance. I did have a quick look at the thing and it was quite spectacular, if horribly bright in the 12" (felt a headache coming on, how do people observe this thing?? Too bright for me!) before wheeling the scope back inside and putting everything away.

I doubt if I'll be observing tonight as, following closely on from my ankle injury, I've torn the rotator cuff in my left shoulder. Talk about accident prone!

Friday, 27 August 2010

From the notebooks 3 - TSP 2008 galaxies

Some galaxy sketches to brighten up your (and my) day - and mine is in serious need of a brighten up! These were made at the 2008 TSP, while observing with Larry Mitchell's 36".

NGC 5907, Draco
Spectacular, cutting right across the field of view in the 36" at 232x. Prominent dark lane and a bright, elongated nucleus. Very thin, indeed. I am fond of edge on galaxies and this is one of the best.

Hickson 44, Leo.
A nice group of which NGC 3190 is the brightest member. 3190 (below centre) has a prominent dark lane. NGC 3187 (to the left of 3190) is faint and evenly bright. NGC 3185 (top) has a slight brightening towards the centre. NGC 3193 (bottom right) is round with a dense core and a fuzzy halo.
36" at 232x.

NGC 4206 and 4216, Virgo
A lovely view. 4216, the large galaxy at right is very large, very bright and elongated. It also has a very bright compact core.
NGC 4206 is much smaller and fainter and does not have a bright core.
36" at 232x.
M52 and NGC 5195, Arp 85, Canes Venatici
This is one of the best views I've ever had of this pair. You line up the huge dob, go up the ladder and this dinner plate, with the little saucer NGC 5195 next to it, is in the eyepiece.
It was hard to draw, as I was balancing near the very top of the ladder.
The arms are not uniformly circular as they appear in smaller apertures. They are bent, probably due to the influence of  5195 nearby distorting them. There are bright HII regions in the arms.
The bridge of material connecting them is easily seen and quite bright in the 36" at 232x.
5195 is oval, distorted. the side nearest M51 is brighter than the side away from it. Fantastic.

'From the notebooks' does sound a little pretentious (I was going to say 'poncey'!) but it's quite a good title - and this stuff IS from the notebooks! - and posting old sketches is a good way of keeping the blog active while I scratch about for something interesting to post. It's gone dead observing-wise here, due to the most appalling weather (August has been a total wash-out this year, with torrential rain, flooding and gales. I feel sorry for anyone on holiday here, especially if they're camping) and the last few nights the Moon's been in the way. The beginning of the month was okay for observing, with one okayish night, one good night, the Perseid peak, the Milky Way sketching session and that absolutely sensational night we had.
Anyway, some more 'From the notebook' type posts will appear over time, depending on what else I can talk about. It depends on how much observing I get in. I'm hoping the weather will improve during September.

Off topic, but still relevant (which I'll come to in a minute) is my work situation. I'm currently doing a seasonal driving job delivering tourist guides to hotels, attractions, ferries and train stations, etc, which I like very much. It's part time which suits me nicely as I can start what time I like - very handy after late observing sessions and all-night runs! However, with the tourist season winding down soon and just another couple of weeks to go of the main season, my hours will probably get reduced.
I can't find anything else at the moment as the employment situation in the UK as a whole, not just where I live, is appalling. I'm getting interviews but then nothing comes of them, usually it's because there's always some git with more experience than me (although I am sure it comes down to pulling names out of a hat). Even the temping agencies have nothing - indeed the manager of one described the situation to me as 'absolute crap', and when even the agencies use words like 'crap' you know it's bad indeed. The fact that a very real threat of a 'double-dip' recession is hanging over the country (although I do get the feeling the Bank of England and the Treasury are talking us into this, aided and abetted by the media) does not help the situation any.
Despite this, I am still planning to get a 20" dob (I am one of these people who has to have something to aim for - I do NOT believe in just existing, because that's just depressing and pointless), firstly buying that mirror-less scope I've mentioned in previous posts, as I already have most of the money for that. The mirror might take longer to acquire than I previously hoped, though, depending on what happens on the work front.

I am pleased to say the observing shed has held up in the recent bad weather. Some rain got blown in through the vents, as it has been pretty much torrential and blown horizontally for the past few days, but otherwise - touch wood - it seems more or less ok. I did seal up non-vent suspect points with duct tape and also fixed the roof down better, just in case as I don't trust their flimsy method of attaching the roof. I also stuffed an old t-shirt into the vent where the rain was being blown in, I'll remove this when the weather improves. Let's hope it continues to be dry in there. The mirror also looks as if it's remained condensation-free, so the silica gel cat litter seems to be doing the trick.

Friday, 20 August 2010

New Facebook page

**Shameless Plug**

Being bored sat at home with my bad ankle, I decided to start a Facebook page devoted to Astronomical Sketching. If you're a member of Facebook and are interested in sketching - it doesn't matter whether you're interested on the deep sky, moon, sun or planets, all are welcome - then please feel free to join.
Here's the link: Astronomical Sketching or click the 'badge' below.

Astronomical Sketching | Promote your Page too

You can also do a search, via Facebook's search box.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

I have a long way to go!

I have just been visiting some of the links on my website. One of these is of the homepage of famed visual deep sky observer Barbara Wilson of Houston TX. On there, she has a page about her astronomy exploits and, on it, she tells us how many things she has seen. As you'd expect, an observer like Barbara has seen a lot. In her own words she has:

"...observed thousands of galaxies, hundreds of  galaxy clusters, completed the Herschel 400, the Messier 110, I have observed all but 25 of the Arp Galaxies, all except for 10 of the Milky Way globular clusters, hundreds of open clusters, asteroids, dozens of comets, several great meteor showers, including the Leonids of 1998, and 2001, planetary nebulae, diffuse nebulae, reflection nebulae, asteroid occultations, lunar grazes, (I once got 36 events on a graze of Beta Tauri), solar eclipses (5 total eclipses), dozens of lunar eclipses, iridium flares, earth x crossing asteroids, supernovae, and never have seen anything in the sky that could not be explained in one way or another."

I hope that by the time I get to Barbara's age I will have a comparable record, but I have a long way to go (I hasten to add that's in terms of things seen!)! To date, I have seen a lot of things out there (and, like Barbara, never anything that cannot be totally explained) but not the sheer amount of objects that Barbara has seen. What I've seen probably numbers in the high hundreds, not quite the thousands, not that I've actually properly counted.

Another visual observer who has seen a tremendous amount is Steve Gottlieb of California, who has notes on the entire NGC catalogue. He is part of the NGC/IC project, which aims to correct discrepancies and errors in the NGC/IC catalogue and, as part of this project Steve (and others) has reobserved the entire NGC/IC and done an excellent job in clearing up the errors. Steve's NGC notes can be found here, alongside those of Jeffrey Corder and others.

These are but two of those who have seen, if not it all, certainly most of it. These people have been observing a lot longer than I have, but it shows what dedication, a lot of clear nights and a lot of skill can bring. My current observing projects - the Herschel 400, Herschel II, then the rest of the Herschels, making the Herschel 2500, plus Arp galaxies and galaxy groups and clusters - will go a long way towards my goal of achieving this sort of accomplishment for myself. This is especially the case as I have done a lot of observing since 1993 but none of it systematic projects. Having a systematic project helps a lot in keeping your observing structured and thus, keeping track of things.
A larger scope will also help a lot, as will a few more trips south of the Equator.

Now, you might ask, what am I doing posting on here in the evening, when I could be observing and catching up with the likes of Barbara and Steve, et al? I wish I was out there, but unfortunately the Moon, clouds and a wrecked ankle after an accident in the kitchen earlier this week (I slipped on a wet patch on the kitchen floor and have torn the ligaments in my right ankle) all say 'no'.
I can't wait to get back into things, once my ankle's better, the Moon's gone and - hopefully - the clouds have cleared.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Milky Way sketch

After yesterday's rather lengthy rant it's back to the observing!
Last night, it unexpectedly cleared so it was time for some observing. However, the forecast called for it to cloud up so I decided on a short session and to do something a little different.
Back in 2006 I decided that doing a sketch of the Milky Way would be a cool thing to do. At that time, I'd torn a muscle in my back and couldn't carry my scope in and out, so I began a naked eye sketch of our galaxy through Cygnus and down towards Sagittarius. I never finished that sketch as the weather closed in for a few weeks and my back got better. I dug out that sketch recently and decided to have another go at it. I decided that I'd start again from scratch as the 2006 sketch wasn't that great.

Last night's sketch was done while lying prone in a reclining garden lounger and it wasn't easy, with the sketch book held upright on my chest it made for an awkward process. I decided to just do the part of the Milky Way that runs through Cygnus and slightly south. I included Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila in the sketch but left out the other constellations in that area. I also only added the brightest stars - I'd have been there a week if I'd tried to put all of them in, as it was mag 6.5+ at the zenith!
Unfortunately, by the time I'd got as far as adding the Milky Way glow the sky started to deteriorate with mist moving in.
For the sketch, I used an A4 (11.75x8.5 inches/297x210mm) sketchbook with heavy cartridge paper (my usual book for sketches), a 2B pencil for the stars, a 4B for the Milky Way and a chamois leather for the smudging. I'd never previously used a chamois leather before as it never even occurred to me, but it is ten times more effective for smudging nebulosity than a blending stump (tortillon) or finger tip is; how I'd heard about using a chamois was via Jeremy Perez's excellent Astronomy Now series Drawn To The Universe. I bought mine from Halfords (for people outside the UK, Halfords are a retail chain who sell car and bike accessories), for around £3.99. It smells disgusting but works a treat!

The sketch isn't totally complete, I really should have added more stars and the surrounding constellations, such as Delphinus, Lacerta and Sagitta, etc, but I daresay I will repeat this at another time, when conditions are better and I have more time.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Here we go again

Year after year the debate about changing to permanent British Summer Time (an hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time - incidentally the same as Universal Time) crops up as soon as autumn appears on the horizon. This time the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has joined in wanting the country to adopt BST year round, according to the Torygraph. Not only that, he wants DOUBLE BST which effectively means the clocks going forward by 2 hours in summer and then back 1 hour in winter and doing away completely with Greenwich Mean Time.
It's already hard to practise this hobby here anyway due to our climate and the sheer amount of light pollution - although here on the Isle of Wight, we're more fortunate than a lot of people as we have a higher incidence of clear nights and less light pollution than the adjacent mainland -  and dicking about putting the clocks forward every March just adds insult to injury as summer observing becomes almost impossible, particularly for people having to get up for work in the morning. Putting the clocks forward two hours would mean that any summer observing here would be completely impossible, certainly during the week.

In my opinion, putting the clocks forward in March and leaving them forward until October is a complete waste of time (pun intended) because the evenings are light from May until late August in any case, as are the mornings. When you get to winter, when the time has reverted to GMT, both mornings and evenings are dark. So what's the point of changing? It's pointless and ridiculous and only panders to the general public who seem to think that altering the clocks alters the earth's orbital tilt and rotation!

The excuses for changing the clocks is nothing to do with crops and farmers any more, as was once the case. No the new excuses vary from road accidents during dark evenings to tourism.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents backs a change, saying that it'll prevent road accidents on dark evenings. So what about dark mornings then? There are plenty of RTAs on dark mornings, plus mornings have the added 'bonus' of people being sleepy and not 'with it'.
So that's nonsense for a start and what about the main cause of accidents? It's not the dark that causes accidents, it's moronic and careless driving that causes accidents. Accidents are caused by excessive speed in inappropriate conditions and on badly-maintained roads, they're caused by tailgating, overtaking into oncoming traffic or on corners and the brows of hills, cutting people up and other forms of bad driving. They are not caused by dark and if dark is a factor it's because someone is not driving with due care and attention.
Not only that, I am not a morning person and, long observing session or not, I find it difficult getting out of bed in winter anyway because it's so dark and I am not sociable at all until at least 10am. This change would make that a lot worse.

Environmentalists say we'll use less electricity during the evenings, which conveniently forgets that we'll end up using more electricity in the dark mornings instead. When you have to get up at 0600 to be at work by 0830 and it won't get light until 0900 then you are still going to use a good deal of electricity in the mornings, so I don't see the environmental angle at all.

Another reason is tourism. Who decides to go somewhere based on the time zone anyway? And, considering the country is even more damp and cold in winter than it is in summer (when it's merely often damp and a bit chilly), tourism wouldn't play a part anyway - why come to rainy old Britain in autumn and winter when you could go to the Canary Islands or somewhere else far pleasanter and warmer?

And then there's the completely daft and spurious argument that 'we'll get more daylight'. Er, NO WE WON'T! How many times does it have to be spelled out to some people that we do NOT physically get more daylight?! Some members of the public seem to have difficulty grasping the idea that BST does not mean we get extra daylight, that the hours of day and night remain the same and that all BST does is just move the clocks an hour forward. Daylight just starts and finishes later, there isn't actually more of it.
If people want more daylight, then go to lower latitudes in winter.

I hope that this stupid and halfwitted idea does not become a reality. With a bit of luck the Scots will have a lot to say about it because Cameron has insisted that the entire UK and not just parts of it would have to be included in this hare-brained idea and Scotland is very dark in winter. I know there is a lot of opposition to this in Scotland, where permanent BST would be a big problem for them with no daylight until at least 1000 in winter.
BST in winter would not, admittedly, be a big obstacle for observing as I can usually be observing by 5pm on a clear winter evening during the weekend. If it's a week night, by the time I've got home and the evening meal is done and finished with, it's usually 6.30 by the time I can get outside and still have a long observing session until 11pm or midnight. But that's not the point because I oppose year-round BST on sheer bloody principle! And I especially oppose BST +1 because there is actually no sound reason whatsoever to change the clocks from the present system.

Oh and to add to my good mood, forecasters have predicted that the weather's likely to be rubbish until November. Great. I just hope it's the usual forecasters' trick of making a long-term prediction only for it to be totally wide of the mark, like they have for the past few years. Knowing my luck it will be right for once.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Perseids, 12th-13th August

After practically hopping with frustration during the earlier part of the evening, I was pleased to see the skies finally (partially) clear around midnight, so I pulled out the sun lounger, got a blanket to keep my legs warm (my knees don't like being still and in the cold for very long) and my little dog (who went to sleep under the blanket and acted as a living hot water bottle!) and watched the show.
There wasn't as much activity as I thought there would be but what there was was quite spectacular as a lot of the meteors were fast moving and left trails behind them. A lot of the trails were green, although there were a couple of yellow/orange ones as well. The meteors were, for the most part, bright although there were a few quite faint ones as well.
As well as watching the show, I also had a look round Cygnus, Cassiopeia and Cepheus with my 8.42 binoculars. NGC 7000, the North America Nebula, was bright and the nebulosity extensive. The fainter Pelican Nebula, IC 5067/5070, lies just to the south of 7000 and is, just, visible through the binoculars without the UHC filter. With the 2" UHC filter it is much easier to see.
I also found the planet Uranus, which is close to Jupiter. It looked like a small blueish-white star.
We have had a few decent observing nights recently, despite the continuing unsettled weather. The long hot days of late June have long since gone, to be replaced by cool temperatures, showers, more prolonged spells of rain and some fairly strong winds, but, so far, out of 12 nights this month we've had three completely clear nights and five partly clear, observationally-usable nights and early mornings so it's not all bad, although I am also a fan of hot sunshine, something we're not getting (I know, it's hard to please some people! ;-) ). I have a feeling that, now it's mid August, we've probably seen the last of any decent hot summer sunshine.
The reason for yet another rubbish summer, for the fourth year in a row is, yet again, the jet stream is too far south. Because of this, Russia and most of Europe are incredibly hot (although I don't envy the Russians their severe fires, the downside of prolonged hot weather) yet Britain is damp and horrible - again. Sometimes, I get the impression that the British climate is doing this to amateur astronomers and holidaymakers:

Actually, I think I'll blame the water company who imposed a hose pipe ban in part of England back in July. It's in the north west of England, so hundreds of miles from here, but as soon as the utility company in question imposed the ban, the weather over the entire country turned bad.


And finally

RIP Markus Liebherr and thank you for saving Southampton FC

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Observing 7th-8th August 2010

The night of Saturday 7th August into Sunday was clear, although not as good as the previous Wednesday, so I pulled the scope out for a session looking for some summer Herschel 400 objects.

Clear, fairly warm, around 15C
NELM 6.0
Fairly humid with quite a lot of dew
Seeing II

Transparency II
Equipment: 12" f5 Dob, 35mm Televue Panoptic (43x), 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 11mm Televue Plossl (138x), OIII, UHC

NGC 6834, open cluster in Cygnus - irregular, attractive cluster made up of a line of 5 brighter stars crossing an elongated haze. At 138x, most of the haze resolves into faint stars.
There's a separate clump to the immediate south of the main cluster, a knot of 10, or so, stars and another to the north, which has six stars.

NGC 6866, open cluster in Cygnus - Large, irregular cluster. Two chains of stars extend out from centre, one to the west and the other to the right. the western one is short and contains 7 brighter stars plus fainter ones. The eastern chain is longer and contains > 15 stars in a looping pattern.
There is a wide pair to the south.

Went after NGC 7044, but this was in the 'dob hole' and awkward to get at. One for another night, further into autumn when Cygnus is more to the west and that part's easier to get at.

NGC 7027, planetary nebula in Cygnus - not on the H400 list but I was in the area. I am not sure why I found this easily and not 7044, but then a PNe's easier to recognise than one of the myriad of open clusters and knots in the Milky Way in the Cygnus area.
7027 could easily be overlooked as just another star, as it is star like. However it isn't stellar as at 69x it looks slightly fuzzy and an OIII filter makes it really jump out as a PNe.
At 138x its oval with no obvious darkening in the centre.

NGC 7296, open cluster in Lacerta - quite small, but conspicuous cluster near Beta Lacertae. Some stars resolved at 69, more resolved at 101x.

NGC 7243, open cluster in Lacerta - large, irregular cluster which fills the field of view of the 22mm Panoptic (69x). There are at least 23 brighter stars and many more fainter ones. Nice.

NGC 7209, open cluster in Lacerta - large and quite bright. Around 40 to 50 stars resolved. A very vague, rounded 'm' shape.

I finished up with a trip into the North America and Pelican nebulae, using my 35mm Panoptic and 2" UHC filter. This was lovely, with wisps and and tendrils of subtle nebulosity everywhere. Here and there, hard edges were defined. Very nice indeed.

The next morning I found that, as the air heated up in the morning sunshine (Sunday was a hot day) my mirror had condensation on it. This is not good as repeated dewings up will cause the coating to deteriorate and fail and I don't want to have to pay out for a recoating before I get my 20". I opened up the scope and left it to dry out in the shed, with the shed doors open.
I posted on Cloudy Nights, asking how I can prevent this and most responses involved rigging up some kind of heating system. I am going to have to pay out for a car battery, an inverter and a lamp in the first instance and then, when I can afford it, a solar panel, at least 70w. However, a cheaper solution might be a large power pack with built-in inverter. That should run a low-watt lamp for a few hours to keep the mirror dry while the outside temps rise, although I am not sure exactly how long the charge would last, although some of these machines are pretty heavy-duty things. In the meantime, I have packed a couple of socks with silica gel and hung them inside the tube near, but not on, the mirror, then sealed the scope at both ends. I also went to Sainsbury's and bought a bag of silica gel (not clay) cat litter which I'll decant into socks and then hang inside the scope, tomorrow. Considering that quite a few of my socks have conspired to vanish, leaving only odd ones, they can do something useful! I blame the black hole that must be lurking somewere in the washing machine. The silica gel cat litter idea was also suggested on CN, stuffed socks and beanbags are the preferred method of holding them although, apparently someone once used a stuffed animal. WTF??!!

Monday, 9 August 2010


I've just rebuilt my website on Wordpress as I decided to go for a nice modern look and bin the Dreamweaver-built site. I have to start up my Win XP laptop every time I want to do an update, as my old Dreamweaver won't work on Win 7,and it's a drag, expecially as the wireless internet no longer works on the laptop.
I have just pointed the domain name away from the old site and at the new one and as domain changes propogate through the net at the pace of a paralysed snail it'll be a while before the changes take effect. I just hope it works. The previous site will still appear for a while, until the changes, if they work, take effect.

Ok, things seem to have worked as brings up the new site (it has to have the www in front of the domain or it won't work).

New link: Let me know what you think!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Observing 4th August 2010

A day of intermittent heavy rain and thunder gave way to clear skies during the evening, for once exactly as the forecast had predicted. The BBC and Metcheck's forecasts both agreed, which seems to be a rare event in itself, so as it got dark I went and unlocked the observatory (I like the sound of that!) and pulled the scope out.
Earlier in the evening I had been in a pretty awful mood, no reason just a bad day, and felt more like saying 'sod it' and going to bed but I am very glad I didn't as the sky turned out to be magnificent.
All too often when you step outside and look up, what looks promising at first often proves to be pretty average, even poor, but not last night. After getting dark adapted, I checked the naked eye limiting magnitude, using charts of Ursa Minor and Cygnus, and it was better than 6.5! We have pretty dark skies here, but better than 6.5 is fairly rare. Usually we get between 6.0 and 6.5 but last night was as good as 6.7! I would guess that the heavy rain and thunder had cleared the atmosphere of pollutants and dust. During my trips to the TSP, I've seen people using 'iridescence' in the Milky Way to gauge transparency - the more iridescent the MW, the more transparent the sky. The Milky Way was just like that here last night, iridescent, which we rarely see because of summer haze. Visible to the unaided eye were M13, M31 (later on when clear of the trees) and NGC 7000, the North America Nebula These were truly great summer observing conditions and well worth the long wait for.

Conditions: Clear, quite chilly
Seeing: Very good: Ant II

Transparency: Excellent - I, but a few odd bits of drifting cloud later on
NELM: 6.5-6.7, dropping slightly when the waning crescent Moon rose later on

First was Aquila and a hunt for the few Herschel 400 objects (three) that are here:

NGC 6781, planetary Nebula in Aquila - Set in nice starry field this is large and oval and quite bright. It's easily seen without a filter but my OIII brings it out nicely. With the OIII, the pn looks slightly rounder with some darkening in the centre, without the filter I can't see the darkening very well. Very nice object. 69x, 101x + OIII

NGC 6755, open cluster in Aquila - An attractive, small, compressed cluster set in a nice Milky Way field. Stars all white and evenly bright. Found at 69x as a misty knot, detached from MW star field.
101x shows a tiny, vaguely triangular clump of stars, with around a dozen or so on a hazy background and with a fainter patch next to it but at 138x, the cluster looks like a butterfly with the left wing richer than the right one. Very pretty! 69x, 101x, 138x

NGC 6756, open cluster in Aquila - Next to NGC 6755 in the field of view of the 22mm Panoptic (69x). It's half a dozen stars on a misty background. Not as rich or as compressed as its neighbour. Framed by a bight star at either end. 69x, 101x, 138x

I saw on my star charts that the globular cluster Palomar 11, also in Aquila, was nearby, and given the excellent conditions I decided to have a crack at seeing it. After quite a few false starts I eventually found it. It's in quite a rich area and nailing it down was a bit hard. It appears as a roundish brightening of the sky. Its low surface brightness and location in quite a rich part of the sky made finding it difficult but I caught it eventually. The observation of the night, I think. 69x, 101x, 138x, 190x

I also decided to see if I could see ICs 59 and 63 in Cassiopeia. Given the great night it would have been a shame not to go for the faint stuff.

IC 59, IC 63, diffuse nebulae in Cassiopeia - These faint little buggers are right next to Gamma Cas, so it's necessary to put that out of the field of view before attempting to look for them. IC 59 is a faint fan-shaped patch while IC 63 is fainter still - in fact I barely saw 63, just a mere brightening in the area. 69x + UHC filter.

M31, galaxy in Andromeda - this lovely piece of eye candy is one of my favourites to look at and I always drop in to say 'hi' when I am observing and M31 is high enough. Last night's conditions gave me the best telescopic view I have ever had of this galaxy. Under average skies usually only the bright central area is visible but last night, I could see (using my big 35mm Panoptic, at 43x) the galactic disk spreading out across and beyond the field of view, and the dust lanes. It was spectacular, to say the least.

NGC 6229, globular cluster in Hercules - Very bright and easy to find (made a nice change from Pal 11 and the faint nebulae in Cassiopeia!). Small and round with a dense core at 69x.
At 138x, it began to look granular with some stars resolved, especially the outer ones.
At 190x, individual stars can be seen and the halo and core are very bright, still looked granular across the face. 69x, 138x, 190x.

NGC 6207, galaxy in Hercules - bright and easily seen at 69x. It is completely overshadowed by its big and bright famous neighbour, M13. Oval, with a brighter core. Elongated northeast-southwest. 69x, 101x
I also popped over to see the big showy eye candy neighbour, which was absolutely superb as usual and in the same field they make a nice pair, with the galaxy being a hidden treasure.

Before packing in, I dropped in on Jupiter, which was shining like a big searchlight in the eastern sky, as the seeing was so good, and it looked decidedly odd without the South Equatorial Belt, which has totally faded away.

By 0200, the waning crescent Moon was substantially interfering with the sky conditions and there was more drifting cloud around so that, along with the fact my feet were by now very cold (I was wearing thin trainers) made packing up a Very Good Idea. So did the prospect of work in a few hours. So within five minutes, I'd pulled the scope back into the shed, chucked my charts back in their box, gathered up my eyepieces, locked up and headed back to the house.
As mentioned in my previous post, I'd found that the addition of wheels made my scope eyepiece higher off the ground. I knew it would be higher but not *how* higher. Consequently, viewing stuff at the zenith required standing on tiptoes. This was awkward and uncomfortable, as it hurt my calf muscles and toes, so some sort of small stool was a must. I found a little plastic step stool in Tesco this afternoon, for £2.50, which will fit the bill nicely.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

First light in the observatory

The new observatory has now been used for the first time. We're on a run of crap weather, very unsettled with showers, high winds, the odd sunny spell and almost totally cloudy nights, so observing opportunities this summer have been non-existent (typically, the best weather this summer was at the end of June when the summer twilight made serious deep sky observing impossible or, at least, very difficult). However, last night was an exception, although it wasn't very clear and there was quite a lot of cloud about.
I'd already carried the scope up the garden and installed it in its new home so it was just a case of wheeling it out and then back in at the end of the sessions - it makes life so much easier and I very much doubt if I'd have even bothered last night if I'd have had to carry the scope from the house and set up.

Here's the inside of the observatory shed, with the 12" under tarpaulins (these will give it that little bit of extra protection *just in case*), folding chair, box containing star charts, atlases, gloves, hat, torches and sketchbooks, my dog's basket for her to curl up in as she always comes with me when I observe and some pictures on the wall. I also have a couple of shelves for bits and pieces. However, anything of real value, apart from my cheap reflector which isn't worth nicking, such as binoculars and eyepieces, are staying inside the house and any potential thief wanting to lug a large and very heavy scope down the garden, past some stranger-loathing dogs and out the gate is an idiot and deserves to be arrested on grounds of stupidity. The photo's a bit distorted, that's thanks to the 17mm end of my wideangle lens and not because of my construction abilities!

The day before yesterday, I fixed the casters to the blocks that I was going to use to attach the wheels to the base. I bolted the wheels to the blocks using bolts, unfortunately two of the bolts sheered off rendering them useless but the rest went on ok. I just hope they can stand up to being wheeled over rough ground every clear night, as the top lawn isn't the smoothest, what with the mole hills and vole holes, etc.
I then fixed the blocks and wheels to the base using 'No More Nails', which is a type of glue which is supposed to be strong - it's the sort of thing you see the ads for where someone's used this stuff to put shelves up and the ad shows a man sitting on the shelves to 'prove' that it's strong and won't come unbonded (in reality, it ain't *that* good; if it was, the soap dish would stay fixed to the bathroom tiles). I let it set overnight, for the recommended 24 hours. However, as soon as I put the rocker box on top, the wheels promptly fell off it- just like they'd fallen off my clever idea - although, fortunately the scope itself was still sitting in my room and therefore didn't come to grief. So it was time for a rethink, which didn't take long as it was a case of having to screw the wheels to the base. We have electric drills but I couldn't find the drill bits, so I went across the way and borrowed our neighbour and his battery-operated drill and, between us, we got the wheels (hopefully) securely fixed to the base. Quite why I thought 'No More Nails' or any sort of glue was a good idea, especially in light of our laws-of-gravity-proving soap dish, I have no idea! I think I was trying to do it the easy way, or so I thought.

Back to the quick observing session, I wheeled the scope out, collimated it and got going. The beauty of the scope being out in a shed is that cool-down times are very short and, except on hot days/nights, practically non-existent. Because of the lousy conditions I didn't do a lot, just poked around, looking at NGC 5653 in Bootes, M14 in Ophiuchus and NGC 7006 in Delphinus. I did find, however, that the addition of the wheels and blocks raised the height of the scope by several inches and that I, and I'm not short, have to stand on tiptoe to see anything at the zenith, which is not very comfortable for extended periods of time, making prolonged observations difficult. I need to get a short stepstool for that.
I also didn't have an observing table for my charts, etc, so I had to use the floor and, with my dodgy knee that wasn't comfortable. I have ordered a 4ft folding table from Amazon and that should turn up tomorrow. When I observed from the patio I used to use the kitchen extension as an observatory and the top of the small chest freezer as a chart table. That is no longer practical as I am so far from the house, so the folding table should do nicely.

Conditions: Cool, no dew.
Seeing: Very good, Ant II Transparency: poor, with high clouds
NELM: 6.0, falling to 5.8 when the last quarter Moon rose, washing out the sky.
Instrument: 12" f/5 Dob, 22mm Panoptic and 15mm Plossl

NGC 5653, galaxy in Bootes - a poor view, due to lousy sky conditions. I could just make out a roundish smudge, not a lot brighter than the background sky. Haze was interfering with this quite badly, as was the low altitude of Bootes. 69x, 101x.

M14 (NGC 6402), globular cluster in Ophiuchus - very large and bright. Round. Some condensation towards the centre. Looks smooth when looked at with direct vision, but granular, with a few stars resolved, with averted vision. The scope was effectively reduced to 6" by the hedge - I'd not set it up in my intended place. 69x, 101x

NGC 7006, globular cluster in Delphinus - small and bright. Round with bright core. 69x, 101x. I want to observe this, likewise NGC 5653 in Bootes, in more favourable conditions.

By this time, the clouds were worse and the rising last quarter Moon was interfering with observations, so I rolled the scope back in, put my charts away and locked it. It took me a fraction of the time it used to take to both set up and put away, before it would take me a good 20 minutes, maybe more to tear down and carry everything, including the scope, inside, now I'm indoors and heading for bed within 5 minutes! This will lead to many more observing sessions and, as I said at the beginning of this post, observing under less-than-favourable conditions and/or when tired will now happen far more often. Not only that, I have far more space inside my bedroom as the Dob occupied too much of the floor.

Friday, 30 July 2010

20" project

As mentioned in my previous post, I have the opportunity to buy a 20" Dob from someone on the mainland. He transferred the optics to a permanently-mounted equatorial scope and now has the empty scope for sale. All being well, I am going to buy this from him and get a new mirror to fit it and the cost of the entire project should be less than ordering a brand-new, scratch-built custom scope. The original mirror was an f/3.7, so I am either going to have to get a 20" f/3.7 mirror made, which will be slightly pricier than a standard f/4, or get an f/4 and alter the scope by adding longer truss poles, new secondary holder, changing the position of the attachment blocks, and so on, but by the time I've done all that, I may as well spend the extra couple of hundred quid on an f/3.7.
I'll need a Paracorr as the coma will be bad with such a fast mirror, but I can live with that, it'll be worth it to have large aperture! But, we're getting ahead of ourselves - the one item of bad news is that I have to save up first. It'll take me about three months to save for the scope and then at least 8 to save for a mirror so this won't be up and running for the best part of a year yet, unless I get lucky in the wallet department. exciting! I've wanted a large scope ever since I became a deep sky observer the best part of 20 years ago, so this will be an ambition come true.

I'm planning to spend the weekend putting the finishing touches to the shed. Then I need to put the castors on my 12" scope's base so I can roll it in and out then we're in business!

There's no sign of the weather clearing up. It's typical unsettled English summer weather. I hope it clears up in August, so I can catch the Sagittarius and Ophiuchus summer goodies before they vanish into the twilight.

Oh, and I got my monitor back on Monday. Only it's not my monitor, it's a replacement, which is good as it's a brand-new machine and unlikely to go wrong - I hope. At least PC World eventually got it sorted for me after first trying to fob me off with this 'You have a contract with the manufacturer, not us' crap - they need to read the Sale of Goods Act, especially this bit. Stuff less than a year old should not break, but it does occasionally and the retailer has a responsibility, under the Act, to refund, repair or replace the item and not give the customer the flick with some stupid excuse about 'extended warranties'.
The sketches, I am pleased to say, look fine.

Sunday, 25 July 2010


The new shed is now in place. We started putting it up yesterday and after six hours, a lot of swearing and a few 'teddies chucked out of prams' (patience is not one of my strong points; fortunately the neighbours appeared to be out and thus, hopefully, did not hear an 'f-word-every-other-word' rant at one stage in the proceedings!) it was just about finished with only a few finishing touches to be added. I did make a couple of cock ups but it seems largely straight, secure and solid so I don't think it'll blow down in a gale. It also appears to keep the rain out. There was a thundery downpour this morning and, apart from rain coming in the windows as I hadn't installed them, it looked to be bone dry with the sole exception of one side which let in a few drops in at floor level. I'll get some sealant and sort that out. The real test will come when the autumn and winter set in and we get howling gales and driving rain. I am going to leave it for a while before I put my scope in it to see how it fares, that'll let me see what needs doing to keep any weather out. I went to a party last night and a friend told me that any flat pack assemble-it-yourself item comes with free swear words, the amount of which directly correlates to the nature of the item and the annoyance factor of putting it up; i.e. kitchen units come with 100 free swear words, a shed like mine comes with about 100,000 while a greenhouse comes with several million!
I put the windows in this afternoon, unlike the rest of the thing there were no annoying mini-crises to put up with!

I have not done any serious observing for a while, apart from a couple of mini-sessions with the refractor on a couple of evenings two weeks back. This is because the weather is so highly variable at the moment and evenings which start off clear are not staying that way. We are having a very unsettled summer, apart from a hot couple of weeks in late June/early July. I did manage to sketch a couple of Messiers, just to keep my hand in, while cloud-dodging.

M8, the Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius. 3.5" refractor at 36x

M27, the Dumbell Nebula in Vulpecula. 3.5" refractor at 36x.

I have no idea what these sketches look like on most people's monitors. My 20" widescreen monitor went bang just over a week ago so I took it back to PC World (who did not want to know, despite the monitor being well under a year old, so I had to resort to playing the arsey customer which, to be honest, I hate doing. I've worked in retail myself - it sucks) and am waiting for the repaired monitor or a replacement. In the meantime I am using an elderly borrowed 17" square matte flat screen job which isn't that good for picture editing or viewing. The sketches look appalling on this one, I am hoping that they look a lot better elsewhere!

I also aimed my 400mm Canon telephoto lens at the Moon the other evening - yes, you did read that right. The Moon. Not only that, it meant I was doing some astronomical imaging - the shame. ;-D
Here's the result of that. I was quite pleased with it, especially as I was handholding the lens at 400 ISO and using a shutter speed of 1/320 sec at f/5.6. I sent a copy to my friend, the well-known author and astro-imager Robert Reeves, who sent me some feedback.
No, I am not going to become an imager, but I do like taking the odd shot now and then. It shows how desperate one can get to do something astronomical!

I have decided that I won't mess around getting a 16" Lightbridge. I do want a decent scope of 18 or 20 inches, so I will carry on saving and get a custom-built, quality Dob. One route, and one that I am currently investigating, is to buy an existing Dob chassis and get the optics to fit. I know someone who has a lovely one (a 20") for sale, minus the optics. However, I'd need an f/3.7 mirror and secondary to fit it as buying a more common f/4 or f/5 would involve a bit of a rebuild, something I don't want to get into. If I can't easily get hold of an f/3.7 mirror for a reasonable price (i.e. comparable to that of an f/4) then I'll probably revert back to Plan A, which is buy a custom-made dob.