Thursday, 28 April 2011

Observing, 27th April 2011

Yesterday, 27th April, was largely cloudy and grey but the clouds cleared during the afternoon to leave a blue and transparent sky. It remained clear throughout the evening so I set up the scope for some observing. Given the largely hazy conditions just recently, I didn't hold out much hope for the transparency but, surprisingly, it was very good.

Date: 27th/28th April 2011
Conditions: Cloudless, chilly, no moon, no dew, slight breeze picked up later on, zodiacal light prominent.
Seeing: II
Transparency: II
NELM: 6.2 - 6.5 later
Equipment: 12" f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 11mm Televue Plossl (137x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x)

NGC 3631, galaxy in Ursa Major - Round and reasonably bright. Diffuse halo brightens to a compact core and stellar nucleus. 69x, 137x.

NGC 4026, galaxy in Ursa Major - Located just SW of a mag 9 star. Edge-on and very bright. Elongated NW-SE, with a bright elongated core. 69x, 137x.

NGC 3998, galaxy in Ursa Major - Located adjacent to 2 stars (mag 9 and 10) 3998 is very bright and round. It has a very bright stellar nucleus surrounded by a diffuse halo. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 3990, galaxy in Ursa Major - Located just west of 3998, this is much fainter and more oval with a brighter core. Elongated NE-SW. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 3982, galaxy in Ursa Major - Moderately bright oval glow, oriented north-south. Brightens to centre and a non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 3898, galaxy in Ursa Major - Bright oval, elongated NW-SE. Fairly faint halo surrounds a much brighter, elongated core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 3888, galaxy in Ursa Major - Lies to the SW of 3898. Much fainter than 3898. Fairly dim oval with a brighter core. There is a distinct row of 3 stars which lie to the NE. 69x, 190x.

A bright meteor went through south western Ursa Major and into Gemini at this point. It was a bright yellow fireball.

NGC 2950, galaxy in Ursa Major - Small, round and very bright. It has a stellar nucleus in the core. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 2768, galaxy in Ursa Major - A bright, flattened oval. Oriented east-west with a bright elongated core. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 5676, galaxy in Bootes - Fairly bright oval with a bright core. Elongated SE-NW. 69xx, 137x.

NGC 5689, galaxy in Bootes - Bright, almost edge-on. Elongated E-W. Brightens to core and has a stellar nucleus. NGC 5682 and 5683 lie just to the SW and NGC 5693 to the SE. 5682/83/93 are all faint and very small. 69x, 190x.

NGC 5248, galaxy in Bootes - Large, oval and bright, oriented east-west. A diffuse halo brightens to the core and a stellar nucleus. At 190x averted vision shows hint of spiral arms. 69x, 190x.
I made a sketch, which is shown at left. Click to enlarge. Excuse the poor quality sketch, by that time my fingers were frozen!

Packed up at 0100 BST. The signs of summer were already there, with Hercules up, Scorpius peeping above the horizon in the south east and Cygnus above the horizon on its side.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Observing, 25th April 2011

The recent high pressure has led to increasingly murky nights and tonight was no exception. It looked ok as dark fell and there were no light domes visible so I set up. Unfortunately, this state of affairs didn't last, as it got murkier and high clouds moved in, so it ended up being a much shorter session than intended.
I had intended to spend the session in Ursa Major but the combination of the 'dob hole' and high clouds prevented it.

Date: 25th April 2011
Conditions: Clear at first, slight breeze picked up later, slight haze, mild (11C, only needed a hoodie and observing vest on). No Moon. Conditions deteriorated badly less than an hour later, cutting the session short.
Seeing: II
Transparency: III to V (started out okay but deteriorated badly)
NELM: started out as 6.0 but got worse thanks to increasing murk and light scatter.
Equipment: 12" f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 11mm Televue Plossl (137x).

NGC 3726, galaxy in Ursa Major - Large, oval (not quite round) diffuse halo with a stellar core. Oriented north-south, with an 11th mag star on the northern end. 69x, 101x.

NGC 3675, galaxy in Ursa Major - Bright, almost edge-on. Elongated north-south. Brightens to an extended core. A scattering of mag 11/12 stars lies just to the west and a 12th mag star lies on the southern tip. 69x, 101x, 137x.

NGC 5466, globular cluster in Bootes - Faint and large. Dense. With averted vision some stars are resolved with others giving the whole thing a 'granular' appearance on a background glow. 69x.

NGC 5466 in Bootes. Image from in accordance with their image use policy (i.e. I haven't just nicked it!)

NGC 5557, galaxy in Bootes - Fairly bright and round with a bright core. 69x, 137x.

By now, the conditions had deteriorated so much that, after just three quarters of an hour and a meagre four objects, I had to pack it in and call it a night. The sky just got murkier and, in the end, it was impossible to continue with any sensible deep sky observing. It was disappointing as I was hoping for two or three hours, but 45 minutes is better than nothing.

We'll soon lose our dark skies for the summer as, from late May onwards, astronomical twilight lasts all night with no true darkness until late July/early August. I intend to carry on observing throughout, weather permitting, but I will go back to sketching the brighter stuff, something I have neglected recently as I have preferred to concentrate on seeing as much as possible because sketching is time-consuming so I get through fewer objects.

I'm off on a cruise on Friday, a four day trip on Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas from Southampton to Copenhagen via Amsterdam. I am taking my binoculars so, if the sky is clear, I'll do some binocular observing from any dark spots on the ship's deck I can find. Unfortunately, cruise ships tend to be lit up from just aft of the bridge to the stern and from the waterline to the wheelhouse roof so I don't have high expectations - either for darkness or clear skies! Hopefully by the time I get home next week, some thunderstorms and rain will have cleared out the atmosphere a bit.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Observing, 21st April 2011

'Hunting for galaxies among the dogs'

Now the Moon's on the wane, it's time to observe again. We've had some glorious weather just recently, with temperatures of 26C/78F, totally unlike April, but this has come at a price with high pressure haze (and smog in the cities). We're not in a city here, of course, but high pressure haze has been noticeable recently, with blue-white skies during the day and noticeable sky glow above the horizon at night (murk never helps the moonlight situation either, scattering it around).
However, I decided to give it a go anyway, as even hazy skies are better than nothing.

Conditions: No clouds but hazy, some dew, cool (10C/50F). Moon not risen (rises at 0048)
Transparency: III-IV
NELM: 6.0
Equipment: 12" f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 11mm Televue Plossl (137x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x)

Canes Venatici. Chart generated with MegaStar5

NGC 4258 = M106, galaxy in Canes Venatici - A nice lollipop, just to get the eye in! Large and bright with a very bright mottled core. Oval, oriented north-south. 69x, 101x

NGC 4248, galaxy in Canes Venatici - Small, faint elongated east-west. 69x, 137x

NGC 4490 = Arp 269 (with NGC 4485), galaxy in Canes Venatici - Bright, irregular galaxy. Broader on southern end than on the northern and has a mottled core. On the northern end, it is much narrower and has a 'tail' which bends towards its companion NGC 4485. Flattened on the east side. 69x, 137x, 190x

NGC 4485, galaxy in Canes Venatici - Seen easily at 69x, this is smaller and fainter than NGC 4490. Irregular with no condensation. Together NGCs 4485 and 4490 make a nice pair. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 4618, galaxy in Canes Venatici - Easily located and seen at 69x. An almost round glow, brighter in centre with a stellar nucleus. 69x, 190x.

NGC 5005, galaxy in Canes Venatici - Bright. Oriented WSW-ENE. Halo surrounding a bright core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 5033, galaxy in Canes Venatici - In the same 69x field of view as NGC 5005. 5033 is slightly brighter than 5005 and oriented SSW-NNE. A faint halo surrounds a bright elongated core with a stellar nucleus. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4914, galaxy in Canes Venatici - Located adjacent to a 9th mag star. Faint halo around an elongated core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4244, galaxy in Canes Venatici - This one is a real beaut. It's a huge, edge-on thin galaxy which cuts SSW-NNE across the field of view. In the 22mm Panoptic, it covers around a third of the diameter of the field of view, and stretches right across the field of view of the 15mm Plossl. It has no nuclear bulge in the middle but brightens slightly towards the core. The galaxy, expecially around the centre, looks mottled. Very nice indeed. It is one of the galaxies I observed at last year's Texas Star Party for Larry Mitchell's 'Super-thin Galaxies' Advanced Observing Pin. 69x, 101x

As I had to be up for work in the morning and the waning gibbous Moon would soon be rising, I packed up not long after midnight.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Observing, 8th April 2011

It was touch and go whether I'd have an observing session tonight as the antibiotics for a facial infection were making themselves felt in ways other than just clearing up the infection, but it was a reasonable evening so I made myself get the scope out. In the end I was glad I did.
The collimation, for some reason, was miles out, I think it's because generations of molehills have made the ground uneven and bumpy so the tube does get banged and rattled about in the 20 seconds or so it takes to get from inside the shed to the spot I observe from, I try and position myself so an oak tree the other side of the footpath is between me and an upstairs window of a neighbour's house so there's a few feet of bumpy lawn to negotiate. It took ten minutes in the twilight to sort it out but got there in the end, dare I say it but the Moon looked good at 190x and 304x!
I stayed in Virgo, starting in the north and east of the constellation and working my way south and west, in an effort to knock off as many Herschels (400 and 400 II) in there as possible.

Date: 8th April 2011 (into the morning of 9th April)
Conditions: Cloudless but some high pressure haze, waxing crescent Moon 22% illuminated. Some dew but not as bad as the other night.
Seeing: I-II
Transparency: II-III (improved slightly later on)
NELM: I didn't look at the naked eye limiting magnitude, as I knew it'd be a bit crap thanks to the Moon. The Moon was a crescent but was substantially affecting sky conditions so I would say it was worse than 5.8 at least. It improved later, as the Moon set.
Equipment: 12" f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 11mm Televue Plossl (137x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x).

MegaStar 5 chart of the main Virgo area, showing Herschel 400 objects. Click to enlarge.

NGC 4754, galaxy in Virgo - In a very pretty field with NGC 4762. 4754 is oval, elongated SW-NE. Moderately bright. The core is brighter than the halo, but not stellar. Very nice indeed. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4762, galaxy in Virgo - This one is very nice indeed. It is edge-on (edge-on galaxies are my favourites) oriented SW-NE. It has an obvious nuclear bulge and there are three bright stars immediately to the west. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4698, galaxy in Virgo - Located between a pair of mag 10 stars. Round, diffuse-looking halo brightens to a non-stellar nucleus. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4866, galaxy in Virgo - Edge on, oriented east-west. Moderately bright, despite competition from moon. There's a star superimposed on the NW side. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4550, galaxy in Virgo - In the same field as NGC 4551 where they make a nice pair. Elongated east-west. Bright, condenses to bright non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4551, galaxy in Virgo - Just east of 4550 this is smaller, rounder and not as bright. Brighter middle. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4900, galaxy in Virgo - Fairly faint diffuse oval glow elongated E-W. Condenses towards centre. Star on southern end. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4666, galaxy in Virgo - Almost edge on, oriented SW-NE. Brightens somewhat towards an elongated core. NGC 4668 in the same field. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 4668, galaxy in Virgo - This is located SE of 4666. It's a lot smaller and fainter and quite hard to see because of scattered moonlight but appeared as a soft faint glow elongated E-W. Quite small. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 4665, galaxy in Virgo - Bright and round with a bright stellar core. 69x, 137x

NGC 4643, galaxy in Virgo - Small, bright and round with a stellar core. Adjacent to 11th mag star to NE. 69x, 137x.

NGC 4636, galaxy in Virgo - Round halo with bright stellar core. In a nice area. 69x, 137x.

NGC 4179, galaxy in Virgo - Lovely spindle-shaped galaxy oriented N-S. bright non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4030, galaxy in Virgo - Bright oval located between and just to the east of two 10th mag stars. Brightens to non-stellar core. Elongated SW-NE. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4303 = M61, galaxy in Virgo - Large and very bright. Oval, elongated N-S with a bright elongated core running N-S. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4273, galaxy in Virgo - A fairly faint oval, elongated N-S. Brightens gradually to core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4281, galaxy in Virgo - Just east of 4273 this is at 90 degrees to it. Oval, elongated E-W. Slightly brighter than 4273. Brightens to core which is not stellar. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4277, galaxy in Virgo - Next to 4273, this is tiny and faint, elongated N-S. 190x.

NGC 4270, galaxy in Virgo - In the same group as 4281, etc. Oval, elongated SW-NE, with some brightening towards the centre. 190x.

NGC 4261, galaxy in Virgo - Bright, round and with a bright core and almost stellar nucleus. 190x.

NGC 4264, galaxy in Virgo - Located NE of 4261 this is much smaller and fainter. The core is brighter than the halo. 190x.

NGC 4546, galaxy in Virgo - Bright oval, elongated E-W. Bright non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4697, galaxy in Virgo - Bright, oval elongated E-W. Diffuse halo condenses to core and a bright stellar nucleus. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4958, galaxy in Virgo - Bright edge on galaxy oriented NE-SW. Very bright stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4995, galaxy in Virgo - Round glow with brighter centre. 69x, 190x.

Packed up at 0130. I didn't want to but after standing for nearly four hours, my back and feet were beginning to let me know it was time to quit! Because the Moon is now substantially interfereing, this will be my last session until after Full Moon. I was a little surprised at the fact I saw all my targets, all galaxies although none were fainter than 13th magnitude.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Observing, 6th April 2011

I hadn't been observing since 23rd March thanks to the weather. The one time it was clear was Friday and Saturday night last week and I couldn't observe thanks to dental problems (infected back tooth and root canal). Pity that because Friday night, especially, was as clear as clear could be with no haze and no light domes from nearby towns.
The weather this week has cleared up, although the high-pressure haze is back, so it was time to get into the galaxies. Among my targets were UGC 5470/Leo I (when Leo got high enough out of the murk), Hickson 44 and Hickson 56, as well as a few Herschel 400, and other, galaxies.

Click to enlarge photos and charts.

Date: 6th/7th April 2011
Conditions: Clear but with some haze, mist forming later, 9% illuminated waxing crescent moon. Chilly, around 9C. Very dewy.
Seeing: I
Transparency: II-III
NELM: 6.0
Equipment: 12" f/5 dobsonian, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x), 5mm Televue Radian (304x)

Hickson 56, galaxy group in Ursa Major - Just south of NGC 3718 this is a small faint group. With averted vision and plenty of looking, components 56B (UGC 6527), 56C (PGC 35618; the brightest member at mag 14.8v) and 56D (PGC 35615) all seen as an elongated area of brightening. 56A (MCG+9-19-113) and 56E (PGC 35609) were not seen. 190x, 304x.
Hickson 56, chart generated with MegaStar 5

NGC 3718, galaxy in Ursa Major - Large and bright eye candy after Hickson 56. Oval, not bright. Halo round non-stellar core. Elongated north-south. 190x

NGC 3729, galaxy in Ursa Major - Next to 3718, this is smaller and fainter. Round with non-stellar core. 190x

Hickson 44, galaxy group in Leo - Easily located in the head of Leo, this is eye candy for a Hickson! Three are visible at low power (69x) while all four are visible at higher power (190x). At 190x they all fit nicely into the field of view (31')
44A (NGC 3190/Arp 316) is the brightest member of the group. Oval with a nice dust lane on the south side of the galaxy seen at 190x. 3190 is a peculiar galaxy, Arp 316
44B (NGC 3193) is a round and bright even glow located next to a mag 9 star.
44C (NGC 3185) is oval and quite faint.
44D (NGC 3187) is the dimmest member of the group at mag13.4v. Elongated streak of light just east of 44A.

Hickson 44, chart generated with MegaStar 5
NGC 3185, photo from DSS

NGC 3190 and 3187, photo from DSS

NGC 3193 and 3190, photo from DSS

UGC 5470 (Leo I), galaxy in Leo - Next to, and just above, Regulus this is easy to find but not so easy to see. It is very dim oval glow, barely seen against the sky. 101x, 190x.

Leo I, showing position just above Regulus, concentric circles are Telrad field. Chart generated with MegaStar 5.

NGC 3412, galaxy in Leo - Small, oval, bright. Bright core. 190x.

NGC 4251, galaxy in Coma Berenices - Small and bright. Elongated east-west. Bright core. 69x, 190x

Messier 84 (NGC 4374), galaxy in Virgo - Large, bright and round galaxy in a busy area stuffed with galaxies. 69x, 101x

Messier 86 (NGC 4406), galaxy in Virgo - Next to M84, this is the same size as its neighbour and almost as bright. Also round. 69x, 101x

NGC 4388, galaxy in Virgo - Adjacent to M84 and M86 and is the apex of a triangle with the two big Messier galaxies. Considerably fainter than the Messiers. Flattened oval, elongated east-west. 190x

NGC 4438, galaxy in Virgo - Moderately faint. Oval. Elongated NNE-SSW. 190x

NGC 4435, galaxy in Virgo - Brighter and slightly rounder than NGC 4438. Elongated NE-SW. 190x

NGC 4402, galaxy in Virgo - Very faint, elongated east- west. 190x.

Packed up at 0010 BST after a quick sail around Markarian's Chain. I need to get in there properly to knock off a load of Herschels but with worsening dew I decided to call it a night.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Some photos 'from the archives'

My posts just recently have been a bit light on the visuals so, in the absence of any recent trips or new sketches, I have dug out some old star party photos, from my TSP visits, and here they are. I don't think I've posted them on the blog before (I don't want to become like one of the cable tv channels that only shows repeats!) but they are, or some are, on my website.
Click on each photo for sharper and, in some cases, larger ones.

Upper field 2008

Upper field 2008

Upper field 2008

L-R: Larry Mitchell, Stephen O'Meara, Alvin Huey, 'yours truly' and Robert Reeves, TSP 2006. I have since dyed my hair!!

Lower field 2008

Middle field 2008

82 inch dome at McDonald Observatory

Barbara Wilson's 20" Spacewalk dob

Alvin Huey's 30" Starmaster dob

Me at the eyepiece of Jimi Lowrey's 48". That ladder isn't as scary as it's scarier.

Upper field, dusk 2008

Dusk falls

And keeps falling

Larry Mitchell's 36" Obsession dob

12" dob, upper field 2006

Gateway to the TSP

Gate made famous in many astronomy magazine articles, books and web sites


Fire! The 'Great TSP Fire of 2008'

Valley of the Dobs, TSP 2006

Upper field

Upper field, another view

And another view

Yet another view

Upper field 2010 - no dust! It's green!

Bob Summerfield at the eyepiece of the 36" 'Yard Scope' (originally built by Tectron Telescopes)

I love the TSP, it's definitely my favourite vacation, and I want to go back one year, hopefully in 2012. We'll see what the rest of 2011 brings...