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!