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.