Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Two massive boxes

...arrived this afternoon. They contain the 8ft x 6ft shed that will be the new home for my scopes. I got the Argos delivery blokes to dump the boxes on the patio, figuring it would be something of a mickey-take to ask them to take the boxes up to the top of the garden! So, over the weekend (although, that depends on what happens as my sister has invited herself and her kids down for the weekend which will no doubt chuck a spanner into these particular plans. Don't get me wrong, it's always a pleasure to see them but I would have liked to get this done), me and my aunt will have to - somehow - get these huge boxes up the garden so we can put the shed up. In the meantime, I have a slightly larger than 8ft by 6ft hole to dig one evening and blocks to put in.
I just hope this plan is successful...

Monday, 28 June 2010


Hopefully the new observatory/shed will arrive on Wednesday afternoon. It means I have to leave work early as I've got to sign for the thing, but as I am doing delivery driving for the summer and can almost work to my own timetable it isn't a problem. I'll be able to dig out a 8 foot by 6 foot hole in the ground and lay the blocks one evening this week and then put the shed up this coming weekend.
I also need to buy some casters for the scope base so I can roll it out onto the grass when I want to observe. I have found some with 4-inch wheels that should do the trick. These are available online and cost about £25 plus postage so I'll send off for them when I have a bit more cash. They will definitely make life easier, as will having the shed, because carrying the scope out of the house every time I want to observe is a pain in the neck, although I put up with it rather than not observe. Something else I need to do is buy a small electric greenhouse heater and attach it to a solar panel, to keep moisture away from the optics.
I'll be posting photos as things progress.

After today, the 28th, the sunsets start to get earlier. In a few weeks the sky will be darker and I can get outside at a more reasonable time. The late hours of darkness, between 0030 and 0300, are as much a pain as the fact it does not get quite properly dark - dark enough for bright objects but not for faint ones.

My old Windows XP laptop, which died not long back, has been resurrected by a friend who is an electrician and a computer repairer. The thing had originally been wrecked by malware but I managed to get rid of it, reformat the drive and restore it, only for the power supply to give out. I bought a Windows 7 desktop and, while it's a good machine, it couldn't run my website creating software and a few other things due to Windows 7's totally crap non-compatability with some older software (another way of screwing money from people, no doubt), meaning I had to go out and buy new, not very good, software which is not as flexible and with an ftp. client which has an irritating habit of uploading the entire site everytime I do an update, instead of just the updated file, despite me selecting the 'upload only modified files' option. Now the XP machine is working again, I am going to rebuild my website.

On an unrelated note, here's a gem I saw on the net following our (England's) dismal, pathetic and gutless exit from the football World Cup after an abject campaign ended in humiliation at the hands of Germany: "The Met Office has issued a weather warning as a shower of shit is heading this way from South Africa". Harsh but fair, I think. Gave me a laugh anyway, which is just as well after yesterday's disappointments! :)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Observing - in June!

I did some observing last night! Yes, observing in June! It can be done, provided you don't have to get up for work the following day because of the late hour, as you can't really begin before 0030 BST (2330 GMT/UT) due to the length of twilight at this time of year. The sky wasn't as dark as it normally is at other times of the year, with the Sun no more than 16 degrees below the horizon at 1am, and the Milky Way not as prominent as it is later in the summer and early autumn, but you can do something. I went out just before 1am BST with the 8x42 binoculars (I figured it wasn't worth taking out the 12 inch, just for a mere two or three hours), aiming to finish the AL Deep Sky Binocular Program; I had just four objects, all open clusters, left to find and these were in Cepheus and Lacerta with two in each constellation. These were NGC 7160 (Cep), NGC 7235 (Cep), NGC 7209 (Lac) and NGC 7243 (Lac).

Conditions: It was mostly clear, with some drifting cloud, although not enough to interfere with observing. It was also cold, the thermometer showing a dismal 7 degrees Celsius and the humidity was 72%.
Seeing: Very good, about II.
: Not so good, a little drifting cloud and hazy, around III
NELM: Didn't check, although I'd guess it was no more than 5.8 at best.
Instrument: 8x42 binoculars.

NGC 7160, open cluster in Cepheus - Faint, round misty patch, no individual stars seen. 8x42 binoculars. 0055 BST

NGC 7235, open cluster in Cepheus - Easy to find small, misty patch. No stars resolved and averted vision does not improve the view. 8x42 binoculars. 0102 BST

NGC 7243, open cluster in Lacerta - Large, irregularly-shaped oc. Rich-looking. Granular when looked at directly, but with averted vision 10-15 individual stars appear. Hard to count them with handheld binocs. 8x42 binoculars. 0108 BST

NGC 7209, open cluster in Lacerta - Large and round. Rich. Granular with averted vision but with a few superimposed (foreground?) stars. Just a round misty patch when you look at it directly. 8x42 binoculars. 0115 BST.

That's the end of the AL Deep Sky Binocular Program for me. It's taken me, I think, a couple of years - looking at the notebook I have scribbled all this down in, I began doing this on 24th October 2008 so it's just a few days short of 20 months. Now I have to find another binocular program to do! There's the AL's Southern Sky Binocular Club but there's one major flaw with that one - I live at 50 degrees North so nearly all the stuff on there is immediately ruled out as inaccessible.
Using binoculars to do astronomy with is great, as binocular observing in its own right is fun and rewarding. It is also ideal for those occasions when conditions aren't quite good enough to justify setting up a telescope, for when you want to do some observing but can't be bothered to set up the telescope, for those occasional times when your scope has broken, or if you don't have a scope - these things happen to everyone at some time or another and binoculars (a.k.a. bins, nockies, binos or binocs) are ideal.

Tomorrow morning, at 1129 UTC (1229 BST), is the Summer Solstice (Northern Hemisphere), so after tomorrow the Sun will start to move back south from the Tropic of Cancer and the nights will gradually begin to draw in again, although we won't notice too much of a difference until mid-July. Sunrise will start to get later after 22nd June (the earliest sunrise is at 0442), but sunset (the latest time of which is 2122 local time) won't get any earlier until after the 28th.
Far be it from me to wish the time away but I can't wait to see the back of June as observing's difficult. I am looking forward to later on next month and into August when the summer's well underway, the summer goodies are still accessible and it starts to get dark enough to enjoy them properly. Let's hope the weather co-operates!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Comet, etc

England v Algeria in the World Cup is on ITV1 and the match is so good, I am typing this. Yes, it is terrible and England are embarrassingly woeful. It's a pity that assistant coach David Beckham can't go on, even in his nicely cut suit he'd play better than this lot. In fact my grandmother would do better than Rooney et al, and she's been dead for nine years.

I did manage to get out and observe Comet C/2009 R1 McNaught the other night, I set my alarm for 0200 and was actually able to get out of bed to do so. I can't usually get up early to go observing, but as this comet is only around for a short while, I made myself get up. I had to walk up the footpath in front of the house to get clear of the trees blocking the view of Perseus (which is why I used my 8x42 binoculars and not a telescope) which the comet is currently passing through. It took me a while to see it as the sky was not that dark (it is June at 50 degrees north, after all), there was a lot of murk in the sky and, hence, a lot of skyglow. The comet was faint and round and I could not see the tail.

My car passed its MOT with no problems today, although yesterday I noticed a judder in the clutch. However this type of electronically-controlled manual gearbox called a 'Sensodrive' is known for clutch judder, so I am hoping it is not a problem. Anyway, the car not needing anything done to it means I can begin saving for the 18" Dob I want to get. I have two months worth of work starting on the 24th, although it won't be anywhere near enough to save up all the nearly £3000 needed, it'll be a start. Providing work keeps coming I should be able to save the money in 6-7 months.
I had been doing a separate blog for the Herschel 400 project, but I have decided to bin it and just put the posts here, after all I am duplicating 99% of the stuff and that's pretty pointless, so I am just going to keep it all on this one.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Where's summer gone?

It's mid June. We know this because it says so on the calendar, there are baby birds everywhere, there's too much daylight, the Isle of Wight Festival has just happened - and it is cloudy, wet and chilly. I have tried - and failed - to get out to see comet C/2009 R1 McNaught, every time I have planned to observe it, clouds have interfered. Hopefully, the weather will improve soon; the weather forecast is looking a bit better from tomorrow.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

New 'observatory' coming soon!

My aunt is letting me use the top section of the garden for a small observatory. This 'observatory' is actually going to be a shed, in which I'll store my scopes, a small table for charts, a folding chair, a basket for my dog to curl up in as she always accompanies me when I observe, and a few other bits and pieces. Whenever I want to observe, I can then just wheel my 12" scope out, rather than do what I do now which is carry the scope from my room, though the house and up the garden, which takes at least ten minutes and, given the weight and sheer bloody awkwardness of both the tube and the base, is a bit of a pain to do every time. I just put up with it as I want to observe, so I have to do the lifting and carrying but it really was a nuisance and as I am now getting knee pain a lot I needed to find an alternative way of doing things. I had bought a sack truck (hand trolley to my US friends) from B&Q to move the OTA with, but the tyres have gone flat, due to no inner tube and the inevitable punctures, so it's now no use as it causes too much jolting.

This is where the observatory is going to be put. The bricks at the back of the picture are going to form the base.

I plan to fit wheels, such as appliance wheels (of the sort used to move fridges and washing machines, etc), or buy a garden trolley and convert it into a scope dolly, to the base which will definitely make life easier. But I have to ensure I buy wheels, or a trolley, with some sort of brakes on or it'll be moving all over the place when I am observing - no use whatsoever!
I am also going to need some sort of dew control, such as a lightbulb or low watt heater, which I can run off a car battery charged by a solar panel. I have had one mirror's coatings wrecked by condensation and mould, which will cost me around £135 to get resilvered and I don't want a repeat of that!
The top of the garden is a bit too close to the neighbours for my liking (a couple of houses; we live across a footpath from them) and one house has a couple of kids who climb the trees and can overlook the garden, and I don't like that, but the observatory won't be directly beneath that tree. However, the hedge, and fence beyond that, plus the oak trees in the neighbours' gardens, are high enough that there'll be no significant light tresspass from any houses, even in winter because the hedge is a mixture of evergreen and native plants. The top of the garden also has good views of the south and south east, plus I can catch stuff rising in the east (over the house but you can't have everything - and the garden's huge, so the house is actually not much of a hindrance and the light trespass from it won't be as significant as it is now, when I observe from the patio). There is a large tree obscuring part of the south east sky but the harsh winter this year killed it and it is due to be cut down at some point, when we can find an alternative place to hang the bird feeders and fix one end of the washing line.
Potential theft is a concern but I will make the shed as thief-proof as humanly possible and I am not going to keep anything of any value in there, beyond the telescopes - eyepieces, etc, will be stored in the house. I currently use a cheap scope and, frankly, it and the others are not worth the effort of pinching them. Besides, any would-be thieves will have to carry an insanely heavy instrument a long way down a large garden and get past three dogs who do not tolerate strangers or intruders.
The shed is ordered and should turn up early next month and we can get it put together while the weather is good.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

TSP - The Objects: Part 5

This is the final instalment of the objects I saw at this year's Texas Star Party - and you might be pleased to know it's a very short one as the weather did not co-operate! I'd got invited back to the 48" by Jimi and Alvin for some more huge scope observing.

Friday 14th May.
Conditions: Started out clear and dry but the humidity rose sharply after dark to a very high 78%
Seeing: II
Transparency: II
NELM: 6.5-6.7
Instrument: 48" f4 Dob

IC 1182, galaxy in Serpens - Faint, oval, with optical jet (MAC 1605+1747B).
Possible new gravitational lens in Lynx?? - At first, this looks similar to the Double QSO in UMa, with two fat 'stars' on show, but at high magnification each component looks elongated while at very high magnification (1200x) there is a tiny companion located at "5o'clock'" from the larger object.
We also looked at some eye candy before shutting down.

By 0100 it was obvious that this was not going to be an all-night session, we could see fog over the Prude Ranch four miles away and the humidity, which had been rising all evening, was now 78%. The transparency had dropped right off and clouds were rolling in, so we packed up and headed back down to the house for chat and a beer.
And that was it for the observing at the 2010 Texas Star Party, as the following night, Saturday, was a complete write-off due to clouds. It had been a good star party, observing-wise and we all had enough observing to make us all happy.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

TSP - The Objects: Part 4

Thursday 13th May. This was an attempt at another of Larry's Lists, this time the 'Rings Over Texas' list from 2000. Again, it was Alvin Huey, Dennis Beckley and myself observing with Dennis' 18 inch. The notes are quite very sparse as I was observing with the others and we were trying to get the list done against interference by clouds and - for ten minutes - by a skunk.

Conditions: Partially clear with some drifting cloud interfering, lightning to the north east.
Location: Prude Ranch, Fort Davis, TX.
NELM: 6.9
Seeing: II-III
Transparency: IV (when the drifting clouds were not in the way)
Instrument: 18 inch f4.5 Obsession dob. 17mm Ethos (121x), 13mm Ethos (158x), 11mm Plossl (187x), 6mm Ethos (343x)

NGC 2685, polar ring galaxy in UMa - Bright, with a elongated centre and an oval outer halo. Nice. 343x

NGC 5122, polar ring galaxy in Virgo - Faint, oval with a brighter centre. 187x.

NGC 2793, ring galaxy in Lynx - Faint and oval. Even brightness. 158x.

AM 1358-221, ring galaxy in Virgo - Quite faint at mag 15.8, oval.

MCG -4-33-27, ring galaxy in Virgo - Brighter than AM 1358-221. Small and oval. Next to a bright star.

Arp 87, NGC 3808, polar ring galaxy in Leo - Double galaxy next to a bright star: one, 3808A is larger than the other (3808B). Quite dim.

NGC 3861, polar ring galaxy in Abell 1367 (Leo) - bright, round, with a brighter centre. This was interrupted by a skunk wandering around; we abandoned the scope for a few minutes until he passed. I'll get the pun in before anyone else does - we were skunked!

Minkowski 1-64 (PK64+15.1), planetary nebula in Lyra - Round, well defined. Star just off northern edge. 343x.

II Hz 4, ring galaxy in Lynx - Adjacent to a star this is very faint and pops in and out of vision (more out than in!). Round.

NGC 4650A, polar ring galaxy in Centaurus - Elongated. Not very bright.

Mayall's Object (Arp 148), polar ring galaxy in UMa - Faint, elongated dim glow.

M57, central star - Nearly forgot this one! M57's central star was on the Rings Over Texas list and we got it without too much difficulty. It popped into view, looking very stellar, during moments of good seeing.

By this time, clouds were beginning to be a real nuisance so we packed up around 3am without observing all 25 objects needed for the pin; we observed around 14 of them although I only wrote down 12. As Alvin and I were going to be back at the 48" the following night we wouldn't get a chance to finish the list this TSP.

Alvin and I also managed to knock off the 2010 TSP Binocular Pin. Sat in adjacent chairs with our pairs of binoculars it was a case of 'yep' [write down the time]...'yep' [write down the time]...'yep' [write down the time]...and so on. Easy and just as much fun as the faint, esoteric stuff in its own way. A bit of light, hit-and-run astronomy.