Author Archives: FJA

New 8 inch

My main telescope and the one used for most of my deep sky observing is, of course, my 18″ Dobsonian, built by David Lukehurst in 2011. However, there are times when it’s not worth getting the big telescope out, for short sessions, taking to a site with a better southern horizon or when the sky isn’t very co-operative and it’s at these times I get a smaller telescope out.

I’d been using a Celestron C8 Newtonian which was given to me 7 years ago but, to be honest, I don’t like it. The secondary mirror support keeps coming loose, with the result the secondary gets twisted so I have to realign it, and the f/4 primary mirror needs collimating each and every time, sometimes several times a night and the collimation bolts are a complete nightmare. Even my 18″, despite having to be wheeled out of the shed and assembled, doesn’t need collimating each time (but then the 18″ is extremely well-made). And, as for the equatorial mounting, that’s just a pain in the neck to use and I’m not fond of equatorial mounts anyway, not for visual use. I’ll sell this scope as soon as I can.

I found myself wishing for a small 8-inch Dobsonian to use and looked at the various websites of Telescope House, etc., but kept putting it off as I don’t have a spare £300 at present. Then I remembered that a friend, and fellow Vectis AS member, Graham Osborne, had an 8″ Dark Star Dobsonian that he’d been trying to sell for a while. I nearly bought it myself a few years ago but life got in the way and I forgot about it until today, so I emailed Graham and asked if he still had it. Turns out he did so I arranged to go and look at it. The mirrors are in good shape and the whole thing looks as good as new so I ended up parting with not a lot of money and coming home with a nice little scope.

Here it is, in its new home, with my 18″ (disassembled and under its cover) and the C8N for company. The photos had to be taken in the shed because it was raining outside.


A close up of the top of the tube


And with the dust cap removed


I am going to do some modifications to it. Firstly, I’ll put the Telrad on it in place of the finder, which is mounted in an inconvenient place (the other side of the focuser would have been better), and I will replace the focuser with a new one, maybe even a Moonlite, because I don’t like the existing one. Those minor issues aside, it’s in excellent condition and the mirror is 1/10th wave, which makes it a very, very good mirror indeed.

This telescope is actually an old acquaintance of mine. When I first joined VAS in 1992, I used to go observing with Graham and another friend Bob Bundell, we’d go to the car park at Rocken End, on the southern tip of the Island near St. Catherine’s Point and observe. I’d have my 6″ gas pipe Dob, Bob had an 8″ and Graham had this one, so it takes me right back to my early days of deep sky observing – and that’s another reason I am fond of 8″ scopes, some of my fondest memories are of observing with my old 8.75″ Newtonian.

New observing project and potential travel

While I am still doing the Herschel 2500 (and getting sidetracked into looking at other objects in the vicinity of whatever I’m observing) I am doing other things as well. I have drawn up a list of the easier Abell planetaries, i.e. not the really faint little horrors you’d need a 48″ to see, and I hope to begin that list once the Moon is out of the way if the weather, which is becoming more unsettled, co-operates. Short summer nights don’t help observing projects but being currently unemployed means that, at least, I can do some observing through the dark hours at this time.

I received a tax rebate this week for a bit of work I did over the winter. They still can’t get my tax code correct so I end up paying over the odds, but that doesn’t matter because I always get it back eventually and, when you look at it, it is a form of saving. While common sense dictates I ought to save it, I’m of the opinion that you only live once and life is too short, so I am hopefully going to the USA on an observing trip in autumn. Jimi Lowrey, who owns the 48″ at Fort Davis, TX, has suggested I could join him for an observing run and that sounds is mighty tempting. I’ll have to look into how much the air fare will cost and how I will actually manage to get to Fort Davis from the airport, but all this depends on whether my car needs any repairs during its annual inspection next month…

Today’s Sun


Sky Safari 3 Pro

Last year I bought an iPad Mini (64 Gb version) just after they came out and on it I’ve put music, all my astronomy reading material I have in pdf version (observing guides, Webb Society pdfs of all their journals over the years, etc, and stuff related to observing that I’ve collected from the net over the years) and a couple of apps. People on the various forums had been praising the virtues of Sky Safari 3 so I thought that, initially, I’d give the basic version a go. This costs about £1.99 on iTunes store and, with 222 deep sky objects, it’s good for basic observing but after using it for a while I decided to splash out £27.99 on the Pro version (there’s also a Plus version for around £10) which contains a massive 740,000 deep sky objects, mostly galaxies, and with which you can draw up observing lists and use the app as charting software, complete with Telrad circles.
It can also be used as a telescope pointing computer, which is something I am looking at doing once I work out how to squeeze encoders into the base of my 18″ telescope between the rocker box and the bottom of the mirror box.
The app looks great and, as it’s looking as if it’s going to be a poor night tonight, with haze and a first quarter Moon, I’ll spend some time later looking at it instead of observing. First impressions though are good.

Dark skies return from tonight, with 49 minutes of true darkness between 0051 and 0140 BST (2351 and 0040 UT).  Let’s hope the weather co-operates into autumn and winter.

Candidate for shortest-ever session

The downside of summer is that the hours of darkness are too short and it only gets dark enough to see bright objects around 0100 BST (midnight UT) and, between late May and mid June, we don’t get true darkness only astronomical twilight. This year, though, instead of not bothering I have attempted to get out when possible and so far haven’t done too badly. However, I think the night of 11/12 July 2013 must rank as one of my shortest-ever sessions and I’ve had quite a few prematurely curtailed sessions over the years!

I’d left the 18″ out for the past few days so it didn’t take long to set up (remove covers from the scope and the mirrors, align Telrad, and check the collimation). I managed to find NGC 6181 in Hercules before some high clouds came up from the south-east, wiping out all but the very brightest objects so I called it a night, re-covered the scope and went inside. It obviously didn’t clear as when I got up later that morning it was overcast, although the Sun burned off the clouds as the day went on.

I’ll have another go tonight, probably with the 8″ and the much-loathed equatorial mount, but it looks pretty hazy. I want to get into Sagittarius and Ophiuchus for the globular clusters; I’ve seen many of the globulars available from our latitude but there are still quite a lot left.

Observing, 9-10 July 2013

Date: 9/10 July 2013
Conditions: Cooler than previous night (10°C/50°F), 74% humidity with some dew. Astronomical twilight persists all night until mid-July
Seeing: Good; Transparency: Good, but not as good as previous evening.
Instrument: 18″ (457mm) f/4.3 Dobsonian with 22mm TeleVue Panoptic (90x); 12mm TeleVue Nagler (165x); 9mm TeleVue Nagler (219x)

Only a one-hour session due to tiredness and light skies. The objects are all globular clusters, except where stated.

NGC 6402 (M14), Ophiuchus – Easy to find, large and bright. Some stars resolved across face of cluster at 90x. At 165, almost totally resolved. Nice object.

NGC 6535, Ophiuchus – Smaller than M14 and quite faint against a not-quite-dark sky. At 219x it’s a roundish glow with some foreground stars superimposed on it. Slightly granular but mostly nebulous.

NGC 6517, Ophiuchus – Fairly small but easy to find. Quite bright but not helped by light summer sky and low altitude. At 90x, it is a round glow with a slightly brighter centre. At 165x it shows a brighter dense core and some granulation. No real improvement at 219x.

NGC 6426, Ophiuchus – Very easy to find, because it is located between ϒ and ß Ophiuchi, and is a round glow which is not resolved at 90x although it does have a vaguely granular appearance. It doesn’t brighten towards the core.
Granular at 165x but no improvement at higher powers.

NGC 6712, Scutum – Large, partly resolved with many stars on a nebulous background. Not concentrated towards the core. 90x, 165x.

NGC 6664, Scutum – Open cluster. Large, loose group of approx. 30 stars in NW-SE line. Mostly white stars of equal brightness but there are fainter ones scattered in between these. Located 1° from α Scuti.


Today (10th July) I did some solar observing, as usual, and encountered an unforeseen hazard of day time astronomy – a bird shit on my notebook! Better than on me, I suppose but clothes and hair can at least be washed!

Today’s solar sketch:


Observing, 8/9 July 2013

I hauled the 18″ out for some summer observing. Because it doesn’t get properly dark here at this time of year, I decided to go for some planetary nebulae as these are good targets for the less-than-dark skies.

Date: 8/9 July 2013
Conditions: Very mild (14°C/57°F), 74% humidity but minimal dew.
Seeing: Good; Transparency: Good, improving to very good later.
Instrument: 18″ (457mm) f/4.3 Dobsonian with 22mm TeleVue Panoptic (90x); 12mm TeleVue Nagler (165x); 9mm TeleVue Nagler (219x) and 5mm TeleVue Radian (395x)
Oxygen III (OIII) filter

I began with some eye-candy, M57, but the reason for this was that I was having a go at seeing the rather difficult central star from home. I’d seen it from TSP once, with a friend’s 18″, but not seen it from home.
It eventually popped out in moments of good seeing. Pretty faint, but it was there. 395x

NGC 6772, Aquila – This has eluded me in the past but  I finally got it tonight. At 90x, it’s invisible without OIII filter but looks like roundish irregular smudge with the filter. At 165x it is only just visible without the filter but with the filter added, it looks like a slightly oval with ragged edges. 90x, 165x

IC 1295, Scutum – Easily found, lying just east of M11. Very faint without the OIII filter but nice and obvious with the filter. At 90x it’s a uniformly oval glow, elongated east-west with a star lying just off the western end.
At 219x, it’s visible without a filter as an oval glow only just brighter than the background sky. The OIII improves the view and the PNe looks a little darker in the centre. 90x, 165x

NGC 6803, Aquila – small, bright and easily found at 90x without the OIII. With the OIII, the PNe looks larger. At 219x it is big and roundish with fuzzy edges. Slightly darker in the middle. 90x, 219x

NGC 6572, Ophiuchus – Easily found, looking like a fat, intensely blue-green star at 90x. At 219x it’s distinctly oval and very turquoise. OIII doesn’t do a lot except make the PNe look a bit larger while 395x shows a definite north-south oval, although at high magnification the colour gets washed out. 90x, 219x.

I also looked at the Veil Nebula, M11 and M27 before packing up at 0100 UT (0200 BST)



I don’t want to jinx it but we’re having a superb run of good weather at the moment, with temperatures in the high 20s°C/low 80s°F. In fact it’s not been too bad for the past month. Now that the worst of the familial problems seem to be over (my Mum, against the odds and predictions of the doctors, is looking as if she’ll make a good recovery although she’s still in the ICU) I can get out more with the scopes, both night time and day time.

I had a quick session with the 8″ Newtonian reflector last night, but the equatorial mount is a git to use – to be honest, I don’t really get on with equatorial mounts and am thinking of getting an 8″ Dob for those quick sessions – so I gave up with it and resorted to using my binoculars instead, scanning along the Milky Way through Cygnus, looking for clusters.

I’m planning to get the 18″ out tonight, although it hardly seems worth it when the sky doesn’t get properly dark (true darkness returns next week) but, that said, clear is clear!

I’ve been using the loaned PST and, with a 9mm Nagler, it gives excellent views of the Sun. Because of my trip to Australia next year, combined with not being able to find any work, I’ve had to put getting a solar scope on hold for a bit but I am considering a 60mm Coronado Skymax for when my fortunes change. You can see my solar sketches here but here’s the latest one, done today.



I’ve got a bit of a dilemma. I have a couple of observing trips planned for next year and, although they’re at star parties and I can get the use of larger scopes at the star parties, I am thinking of getting a smaller refractor or Maksutov-Cassegrain for the times I don’t have access to anything else, i.e. before and after the star parties.

Because of airline cabin baggage restrictions, and not wanting to trust anything to the deprivations of baggage handlers, I am going to be restricted to an 80 or 90mm short-tube refractor or a slightly larger (102mm or even 127mm) Maksutov-Cassegrain. But the question is, which? A short-tube refractor would give me nice wide-field views but a Mak-Cass would give me a bit more aperture and magnification.

Nice dilemma to have though.

On a totally unrelated note, I’m watching The Hunt For Red October and, in one scene the main character is boarding a flight from London to Washington DC. Naturally, it being an American film and showing a scene in England, it’s dark and pissing down. Nice bit of stereotyping there. Of course, it’s always dark and wet here, same as it’s always nice, hot and sunny in the US, even in winter.

New lease of life for an old friend

One of my favourite observing books is the Webb Society Deep-Sky Observer’s Handbook Volume 7: The Southern Sky, but my battered copy, which has had several trips abroad, including my first, big, trip to Australia in 1997, was falling apart. These books are glue-bound which is frankly hopeless and generally leads to books coming apart at the spine especially when, like me, you are prone to shoving printed observing lists inside the book.

I will take this book back to Australia with me next March so, as I didn’t want to lose any of the pages and these books are out of print now*, I cut the spine off and took the rest into Staples who rebound it with a much more robust wire binding.

Below is the repaired book, closed and open. The apparently loose pages you can see are printed observing lists and other information shoved inside the book.

Handbook no 7, Southern Skies

*I had an email from the Webb Deep-Sky Society’s Owen Brazell, they have a few left at £2 each. If you want a copy, you can get them through the Webb Society’s home page. All the other handbooks, Vols 1-6 and 8 are now unavailable.

More things…

I was going to the Webb Deep Sky Society AGM this weekend, as there are some really good talks scheduled and, also, my friend Larry Mitchell, of Houston TX, is doing a talk and I was hoping to catch up with him. However, some dire personal circumstances have intervened and I’ll have to give it a miss.  My mum is critically ill in intensive care with a sepsis infection, pneumonia and a suspected pulmonary embolism and her chances of recovery, we were told today, are extremely slim because her organs are shutting down.

What with one of the dogs dying, a family friend dying and now my mum looking as if she will not make it to the end of this week, this is a crummy year so far and we’re only half way through it. If someone tries to tell me that thirteen isn’t really an unlucky number I’m not going to believe them…!