Category Archives: Australia

Visit to Siding Spring Observatory

One of the highlights of OzSky was a visit to Siding Spring Observatory, the home of the Anglo-Australian Telescope, the UK Schmidt Telescope and the Uppsala Telescope, among others. As an amateur, it’s always interesting to visit these big professional observatories, see the big telescopes and something of the work that goes on there.


Siding Spring Observatory, located on the peak of Siding Spring Mountain – Mt. Woorut in the local Aboriginal language – is run by the Australian National University and was opened in 1964. There are a number of telescopes on the site, including the 3.9 metre Anglo-Australian Telescope, the 1.2 metre UK Schmidt Telescope, the ANU 2.3m Telescope, the ANU SkyMapper, the 0.5m Uppsala Telescope, and Faulkes South among others.

As a group, we were getting a behind-the-scenes visit to the AAT and, because of the large group, we were divided into two smaller groups. One group went to the AAT first, while the second group (the one I was in) went up the mountain to look at the other domes.

I took as many photos of the observatory telescope buildings as I could; the information I’ve added with each one is largely taken from the Australian National Observatory’s visitor information leaflet ‘The Telescopes of Siding Spring Observatory’, which is available in the visitor centre.

The Anglo-Australian Telescope dome. The AAT was opened by Prince Charles in 1974 and is a joint operation between the UK and Australia and run by the Australian National Observatory (AAO). One if its roles is to hunt for planets around other stars. It also did the Galaxy Red Shift Survey.



The ANU 2.3 metre is in the box-like building – the story is that the ANU wanted a new observatory building and were told they couldn’t have one but they could have a new office building instead. They built this ‘office block’ which houses the 2.3 metre telescope!

ANU 2.3

Faulkes South was designed and built in the UK. Run by the Los Cumbres Observatory Global Network, it’s a 2 metre Ritchey-Chrétien telescope which is used for research and education.

Faulkes South

ANU SkyMapper. This is an automated telescope which is used for southern sky surveys, looking for trans Neptunian objects, supernovae, comets, NEOs and planets around other stars.


Solaris – built by the Polish Academy of Sciences, this 20″ Ritchey-Chrétien telescope uses photometry to look for planets around eclipsing binary stars.


UK Schmidt – operated by the AAO, this is a 1.2 metre survey telescope which has a wide field of view and is currently used to measure radial velocities of stars in our galaxy. Well known professional astronomer David Malin also used it to take detailed photos of southern sky objects.

UK Schmidt

Uppsala Telescope

Uppsala Telescope

One we’d walked back down to the visitors’ centre, it was time to go to the AAT dome. We were met by one of the staff, Chris, who gave us a guided tour. As with the ATCA visit, hard hats had to be worn (I did manage to avoid hitting my head this time!) inside the dome itself.
First, we saw the huge shipping crate the AAT’s mirror had been sent to Australia in. The 154″ mirror had been made by Grubb Parsons of Newcastle, England and shipped to Australia. Incidentally, the ‘Parsons’ of Grubb Parsons was Sir Charles Parsons, the inventor of the steam turbine engine which was used in many famous ships such as HMS Dreadnaught, Mauretania, Lusitania, Queen Mary, United States, etc. Turbines are still used today, although generally these are gas turbines used in some passenger ships and warships.

AAT Mirror crate

Inside the building we took the lifts up to the dome level and donned hard hats. First up was the control room; we didn’t know if we could get in there but the duty astronomer was happy for us to take a look.

AAT Control Room

From there, we went into the dome itself to look at the AAT.

The photo below shows a model of the AAT with the real thing behind it.


The back of the telescope and the horseshoe mount. The AAT had been lowered because it was in maintenance mode and the needed to do some work on the top end; luckily for us it meant they needed to move it while we were there.

The video shows the telescope and dome being moved, it starts off slightly out of focus but does sharpen up. As with the still photos I used my Canon 6D and 24-105mm lens but even with a full-frame camera I couldn’t fit it all in, even at the 24mm end.


The top end and upper cage.


Looking down the business end into the primary mirror. Attempts at selfies – which we all tried – weren’t that successful as it’s actually quite hard to get yourself in the mirror and take a photo!AAT

We went outside on to the dome catwalk. The view from there was fabulous, very scenic. It is, however, not for those with a fear of heights – you are, of course, perfectly safe but it is a long way down.

It's a long way down

The view from the top is fabulous with vistas across the Warrumbungles and beyond, as far as the eye could see. The evidence of the fires in January 2013 was plain to see, with blackened trees everywhere. The fire had come very close to destroying the observatory – it came right up to the AAT’s dome at one point – and they were very fortunate that there was little damage to the observatory itself, although the astronomers’ lodge was burned down and one astronomer, Rob McNaught, lost his house. One of the support staff at the AAT told us of how he escaped the fire; he had a very narrow escape because he took his motorbike, leaving his car on the mountain (his car survived), but by the time he realised he should have taken the car it was too late to turn back. As he said, he was very lucky.

The area is beginning to regenerate but there are some trees which won’t recover, simply because they are either too young and small or because they are on the upper slopes where the heat was more intense. Wildlife died, with the local koala population all but wiped out and kangaroos and emus decimated; domestic animals died and people lost homes. All this because of a couple of moron campers in the nearby Wambelong area who started a camp fire despite all the warning signs and being told not to.
In the first photo below, I think the green bit at centre is the Wambelong camping area where the disaster began.

View from the AAT dome View from AAT domeWe walked right round the outside of the dome before returning inside. From there we went down to the aluminising room where, once a year, the AAT primary mirror is recoated with a fresh layer of aluminium. As our guide said, if the mirror had to be removed for cleaning once a year, it may as well be recoated instead.
The 16 tonne mirror is removed from the telescope and lowered through a trap door down into the vacuum chamber, which is a task that has to be done with great care; if the mirror was damaged in any way, that would mean the end of the AAT’s life which would be tragic indeed.

Door through which mirror is lowered

Vacuum chamber  Notice on side of vacuum chamber

That was the end of the visit, which was very interesting. I’d always wanted to visit Siding Spring, which I didn’t do last time I was in the area, but the OzSky group got a great behind the scenes look at how one of the world’s biggest observatories operates. For me the highlight was watching the dome and the AAT moving, which wasn’t done to show off to visitors but just great timing on our part, showing up when they were moving the equipment to work on it.

Thanks to Donna Burton and her husband Chris (our guide) and the OzSky organisers as well as the staff at the AAT.

The Australia Telescope Compact Array at Narrabri


While at OzSky most of us made the 90 minute drive to the town of Narrabri and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), located outside the town at the Paul Wild Observatory. This is run by CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), along with facilities at Parkes (this was featured in the film ‘The Dish’), Coonabarabran (the Mopra Radio Telescope, just down the road from Siding Spring) and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, another radio telescope, out in Western Australia.
ATCA operates all year round, 24 hours a day, no matter what the weather is doing, as radio signals can be gathered all day – unlike optical telescopes which need a clear dark sky in order to gather data. The dishes use interferometry, which allows smaller telescopes to work together and act as a much larger instrument, meaning the telescope can see very fine detail. Several times a year, the Array will be used with other radio telescopes across Australia to observe very, very fine detail.
For larger, ‘fluffy’, objects the telescopes are moved closer together, for smaller ones they are moved further apart.

As you approach the observatory, signs ask you to turn off electronic devices such as cellphones and radio transmitters, because these will interfere with the observations being made; unlike optical telescopes, radio telescopes are making observations day and night and are vulnerable to radio and electrical interference, in the same way that optical telescopes are compromised by light pollution. WIFI will also interfere with the telescopes’ operation, so all iPads, iPods and similar devices were also turned off.


The group was split into two, because there is not much room in the dishes to accommodate large groups, so those of us in group two looked round the exhibition, which explained radio astronomy, before our turn to go up into one of the dishes.

Outside the exhibition was a small radio telescope which visitors could aim at the Sun; doing this produced a crackling noise which was solar activity translated into sound; the stronger the activity, the louder the hiss.narrabri8 narrabri9

Another solar radio telescope was nearby, this was used to study the Sun between 1966 and 1984.




There was a lot of information explaining how radio astronomy works which, to someone like me, who has never really got into the subject, was interesting and informative.

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Australia has some of the most venomous species on the planet, so there was a warning sign up on the door of the visitor centre telling the unwary to watch out for snakes and what to do in the event of getting bitten. I was rather disappointed because, of three visits to Australia over the years, I have not seen one snake (I did see a large huntsman spider and an even larger Golden Orb spider though, which I could have done without; I hate spiders); I don’t want too close a view but I’d like to see at least one! I did see snake tracks at the Sandstone Caves near Coonabarabran, though. Next time…

The array consists of six telescopes, five of which can be moved along a 3 kilometre railway-style track. The sixth dish is located 3 km west of the end of the main track. Each dish weighs 270 tonnes, about the same as a fully-loaded Boeing 747, and each is 22 metres wide.


On this day, telescope 4 was the nearest, so this was the one we visited. We had to don hard hats (just as well because – entirely typically – I hit my head!) and wear closed-toe footwear to go up onto the dish. We climbed several sets of stairs to the top and into a tiny room just under the dish itself where we could see the feedhorns and the receiver.

Antenna 4


From there we climbed out onto the dish itself; the photo below shows the subreflector at the very top, while the next three photos show the feedhorns and the receiver. The subreflector picks up the radio waves reflected from the dish surface and focuses them into the feedhorn which, in turn, converts them into electrical signals.
Each telescope has a set of different feedhorns, only one of which is used at a time, and each feedhorn is designed to pick up radio waves of certain lengths. The largest feedhorn collects 20cm waves while the smallest collects 3mm waves.
From the feedhorn, the receivers collect the signals and amplify them millions of times.



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The view from Antenna 4. Note the huge puddles, the area had a lot of rain prior to our visit. NB, this doesn’t affect observations because a radio telescope can operate in all weathers.

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After we left the antenna we had a look at the control room, located in a building across a paddock from the visitor centre before heading back to the motel, via Narrabri for something to eat, arriving back in the early evening just in time to get ready for the night’s observing.

I can’t claim to have remembered some of the more technical information we were given during our visit, so I raided ATCA’s web page for information about how the system actually works. For more, see their site here and, also, go to their live page to see what the antennas are up to right now.


Sydney Observatory

While in Sydney, prior to OzSky, I visited Sydney Observatory, a small observatory built in 1858 and Australia’s oldest observatory. Located just up a hill from The Rocks (a bit of a chore to walk up it in 30° C heat!), during the 19th and early 20th centuries it was important to astronomy, shipping, meteorology and time-keeping but these days it is a museum. It’s also used for public outreach and public stargazing (although how much they can see through Sydney’s light-pollution is anyone’s guess).

Here are a few photos from the visit. I did mean to go back and join a guided tour but never got round to it so that’s something for next time. Some of the photos are noisy because my 6D doesn’t have a flash and I had to use ISO 10,000 for a few of them.

Sydney Observatory sydney2 sydney15

The Transit Circle telescope


sydney3 Transit Circle Telescope sydney5

The 29-cm Lens Telescope

sydney16 29-cm Lens Telescope

Matthew Flinders’ bearing book and a sextant similar to the one he would have used. Flinders charted the coastline of Australia and is also, at least partly, responsible for the name ‘Australia’.

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The observatory also has a display about transits of Venus, to coincide with the 2012 Transit. Unfortunately for us in the UK, the 2012 Transit was only visible at sunrise here, as the Transit ended, and we were clouded out anyway (the weather in summer 2012 was vile) although I had seen the 2004 Transit which was well-placed for us and, then, the weather co-operated.

sydney6 sydney7 sydney8 sydney10

The object on display below is the Apollo feedhorn from the Parkes radio telescope. I didn’t get to visit Parkes on this trip, as it is a 6-hour round trip from Coonabarabran, which is a bit of a tall order to do in a day, but did go to the radio telescope facility at Narrabri, which will be in the next post.

Parkes Telescope Apollo Feedhorn

Sydney Observatory is a pleasant and interesting place to spend an hour or two, as is the allied Powerhouse Museum (near Darling Harbour) which also has some space-related stuff. If you’re in the area, go and take a look, it’s open from 1000 to 1700 every day, except Good Friday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

OzSky 2014

From 29th March to 5th April I was at OzSky 2014, a star party aimed at amateur astronomers from the northern hemisphere who normally do not get to see the full splendours of the southern sky. For those of us at (the obnoxious, astronomically-speaking, latitude of) 50° North, this is 50° of the sky denied to us – and the most spectacular 50° at that – unless we get on an airliner and head south.

I arrived in Sydney on 20th March, nine days ahead of the event, and spent the time doing non-astronomy things although I did visit the old Sydney Observatory, located on a low hill above The Rocks. I’ll put this in a separate post sometime this week as I will also put the visits to Siding Spring and the Australia Telescope Compact Array at Narrabri in separate posts. On 29th March, I met some of the other participants at Sydney Central Station where we boarded the train to Dubbo. At Dubbo we collected our rental cars and drove to Coonabarabran, where the star party is held at a motel, the Warrumbungles Mountain Motel, in the beautiful Warrumbungles a few miles outside the town.

There was some consternation among the other members of the OzSky email list about potential bad forecasts for the week but, in the end, we had mostly clear skies, only totally losing one night to cloud and fog, a couple of other nights were half clear while the rest were completely clear. This enabled everyone to get their fill of observing in the fabulous southern skies.

I made it a personal rule to observe only those objects with a negative declination and to observe nothing north of -30° as it seemed to me, with only a week, a waste of observing time to look at objects which I can see from home. I have my observations already typed up, as I transcribed these from my notebook to my iPad, then emailed them to myself as I went, and will post these at some point although some need verification with The Night Sky Observers Guide Volume 3: The Southern Skies, particularly the stuff I looked at in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is a rich area with a lot of small objects close together. I didn’t take the book with me, because of airline weight restrictions and I also didn’t want to lug it about during the nine days prior to travelling to Coonabarabran.
I spent a lot of time in the LMC on the first night. Apart from the LMC and SMC, I observed mostly far-southern globular clusters and galaxies – both very far south and those in Fornax and Eridanus which, while theoretically visible from here (thus breaking my self-imposed rule!), don’t rise high enough to see properly – with a few open clusters.

I also had a go at some wide-field astrophotography, using my Canon 6D and 24-105mm lens mounted on an iOptron sky tracking mount I borrowed from Andrew Murrell. The camera was set to ISO 1000 and f/4 with exposure times of 3 minutes each. I am really pleased with these and they’re a lot better than my woeful attempts at photographing the Australian night sky in 1997!

Milky Way rising over OzSky The Emu rises over OzSky The Southern Milky way and the Large Magellanic Cloud

Below are some of the telescopes we used during the week, ranging from 14″ to 30″ Dobsonians (plus 16″, two 18″ and two 25″ ones) and a pair of giant binoculars mounted on a motorised chair. There was also a 12″ binocular Dobsonian, which was interesting and not quite the sod to collimate as I imagined it might be. I used an 18″ Obsession for a couple of nights but then found myself in sole charge of an SDM 30″ for long periods of time during the rest of the week! I also got to use a binocular chair (below) with a pair of 25×150 Fujinon binoculars attached. The chair is fully motorised, powered by a marine or car battery, and can be moved using a joystick. This was great for cruising through the Milky Way, looking at things like the Coalsack and the Eta Carina Nebula but, unfortunately, the objectives dewed up pretty quickly.

Binocular chair 14" and 18" dobsonians The observing field 14" and 18" dobsonians 14" dob 14" dob ozsky2014_8 30" dob Observing field 25" 18" 18" Observing field Observing field

If anyone reading this has never gone south of the equator, do it. It’s well worth it if you can swing the costs (and even if you can’t! I could only do this trip thanks to a bit of a windfall last summer) and are happy to spend 20+ hours on an A380 or Boeing 747. Visually, the southern Milky Way completely blows ours out of the water. There’s no comparison. OzSky 2015 is open for registration…
Thanks go to the Three Rivers Foundation of Australia whose volunteers – Lachlan, Tony, Andrew, John, Petra, et al – make it all possible.

Visits to observatories – Sydney Observatory, the Australia Telescope Compact Array at Narrabri and Siding Spring Observatory – and the observations, will follow in later posts.

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.

Australia, here I come

I came into a little money (legally!) recently and it’s enough for a trip to Texas next year and a trip to Australia just before that, so I decided that, as I have Unfinished Business from last time, I am making a return trip to the Big Island Down Under and going to OzSky 2014.
Last time I was there I ran into some people I know from Texas – well I logged onto the net and found a message along the lines of ‘We know you’re here, come and join us for a meal’, so I did and I then got invited along to what was then called the ‘Deepest South Texas Star Safari’, so named because it began as an offshoot of the Texas Star Party.

Unfortunately I had a prior engagement in the coastal town of Wollongong a few days later, which was already booked, so I could only stay one night – and it was raining and rained all that night! – before having to return to Sydney and then on to Wollongong. Even more unfortunately the event I was supposed to go to at Wollongong was cancelled due to high winds and rain and I regretted not staying in Coonabarabran instead, as the weather there cleared for the rest of the week. Anyway, conditions permitting, I have now got a chance to rectify that.

I’ve booked my flights, got my visa for next year and have sent off my deposit and registration form for the star party. I am going to Australia for three weeks, setting out from Heathrow on March 18th and returning on April 9th, so hopefully I can meet up with other observers and get some observing in even before I get to Coonabarabran.

Kangaroos, from my last trip to the Warrumbungles:


And the mountains in the grey weather 🙁


And one of the domes of Siding Spring from Timor Road:

Siding Spring

SSO sign

Despite all the rain, the danger of fire was very high. In January 2013 the area around Coonabarabran was extensively damaged by bush fires which also came close to burning down Siding Spring Observatory itself – the observatory was damaged but fortunately survived, thanks mostly to precautions put into place in case of such an event after the disastrous bush fires which destroyed Mt. Stromlo Observatory near Canberra in 2003. The fires destroyed 80% of the Warrumbungles National Park, burning down dozens of homes.

Fire danger notice

This will be a much better visit than last time and, unlike the 2009 trip, it will be mostly for observing but with a bit of birding thrown in. I just hope the weather is a lot better! It should be, it’s nearly two months earlier, at the tail end of summer and into early autumn.


Just a quick post to say a few short things, simply because they’re really too small to warrant a post to themselves.

1. Solar observing…I have decided to have a go at solar observing. You can see The Sun Spot (witty title!) page by going to the link above.  At the moment, I am using my old 90mm refractor and projecting the Sun onto paper until I can get a proper Ha telescope.

2. Had a small observing session last Sunday but because the Moon was a waning gibbous, a day after full, I just took the 8″ Celeston Newtonian out to look at bright objects. I managed to look at a few bright galaxies and globulars before I got a bad attack of vertigo and had to pack up (our family have fallen victim to a particularly nasty cold virus that’s doing the rounds – mine gave me a sore throat and attacked my inner ear).

3. Australia! I am planning to go to OzSky 2014. I just hope it’s clear and starry during the first week of next April. It’s not booked yet, but watch this space.

From the notebooks 2 – Obscure Planetaries from Australia

Here are some more sketches from that 1997 trip Down Under. These are some of the more obscure planetary nebulae I observed on that trip. All of these sketches were made at the 1997 Queensland Astrofest at Lions Camp Duckadang, Linville, Queensland on 25/26th and 26/27th August 1997. The scope I used was a 20 inch Dobsonian.

Henize 2-111, Centaurus

Henize 2-141, Norma

Henize 2-207, Ara

Longmore 16, Scorpius

Menzel 1 (PK 322-2.1), Norma

Shapley 1 (PK 329+02.1), Norma


PK 322-5.1, Triangulum Australe

The observatory is still not up yet. That is because our weather has gone completely to pot and is now more like that of October than it is of mid-July. There are gale-force winds, low temperatures (17C/63F) and rain. Plenty of rain. This will please the miserable buggers who have moaned about the heat and lack of rain and who have now got their own way but I hate this crap and want summer back as soon as possible. Apart from anything else, there’s no observing to be had but even before the weather completely broke up we’d been stuck in a cycle of clear afternoons and cloudy nights for a couple of weeks.

I might have to rethink getting a big scope. I have not yet been able to find a permanent full-time job and the agency work has completely dried up, although I have some part-time seasonal work delivering tourist guides. I have an interview in two weeks’ time for a part-time data-entry job which offers just over £6000 ($9000) and if I get that, which won’t be enough on its own, I could at least combine it with the seasonal work. Unfortunately this seasonal job only lasts for the duration of the holiday season before dropping back to a few hours a week.
A 16″ Meade Lightbridge, at +/- £1800 is not beyond my financial reach on part-time/low wages but a custom-built scope at just over £3100 is, as things stand. Maybe I should just get a LB and then go for a custom-built David Lukehurst Dob when/if my work and financial situation improves? LB’s aren’t bad scopes with a bit of tweaking, although their mirror boxes are incredibly heavy for the size of the scope. Hopefully, though, by the time I have managed to put away £1.8K things might have improved.

From the notebooks – Australia 1997

I was going through old observing note books to scan in my sketches for my new website and I came across some from my observing trip to Australia in 1997. Those brought back some exciting and magical memories! I have decided to share some of the best ones here, as well as in their categories on my web site.
Click each image for a larger view.

NGC 5139, the great Omega Centauri. This ‘King of the Globular Clusters’ can be seen from southern Europe and the southern United States but has to be seen from the Southern Hemisphere in order to appreciate it in its full glory.
I looked at this wherever I went during both trips Downunder, from South America and also each time I have gone far enough south in the Northern Hemisphere to see it.
It’s huge, slightly elliptical and has a curious footprint-shaped area of less star density or obscuring dust, just off-centre. Spectacular.

8″ Cassegrain at 72x, Manly, Brisbane, Qld, Australia
August 11th, 1997

NGC 4755, the Jewel Box cluster in Crux.
This is my favourite star cluster, shaped like a capital ‘A’ and made up of blue and white stars of varying brightnesses but with a conspicuous red giant at the centre.

8″ Celestron SCT, Alice Springs, NT, Australia
July 21st, 1997

NGC 6822, galaxy in Sagittarius. This is Barnard’s Galaxy, a faint dwarf galaxy. The galaxy was a faint elliptical glow, quite faint against the background sky. Elongated 2:1 north-south with no central brightening.

20″ Dobsonian at 60x. Lions Camp Duckadang, Linville, Qld, Australia
August 26th 1997

NGC 55, galaxy in Sculptor.
At -39 S, this is too low to be seen from England, even from the IW (our theoretical cut off is -40 but with atmospheric extinction, not a chance). Huge elongated galaxy with a very bright, mottled core. Only just fits into field of view at 120x.

12.5″ Dall-Kirkham Cassegrain
Ellesmere, Qld, Australia
August 3rd 1997

NGC 7293, the Helix Nebula in Aquarius
I made two separate observations of this. One was from a rural site, the other from an urban one. Needless to say, I saw the nebula without an OIII filter more easily from the countryside than I did with a filter from the suburbs of Brisbane, where it was invisible. It was also 1st quarter Moon when I saw it in the suburbs.
Very large, oval ring with a low surface brightness and diffuse outer edges. No central star seen. Drawing made at the suburban site.
8″ Cassegrain at 72x, Manly, Brisbane, Qld, Australia
August 11th, 1997

Some sketches from TSP

I have finally got round to scanning in various sketches, as I was doing a rebuild of my website and needed to scan pictures for it. Among these are some of the pics from this year’s Texas Star Party. Click on each sketch for a larger image.

NGC 3245A, Leo Minor
Observed with Dennis Beckley’s 18″ Obsession at 258x.
Very thin and very faint. Pops into view with averted vision. Evenly bright throughout.
Prude Ranch, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 3279, Leo
18″ Obsession, 258x
Bright, very thin, elongated.
Prude Ranch, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 3432,Leo Minor
18″ Obsession, 258x
Very thin, irregular. Mottled, elongated centre.
Prude Ranch, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 5394 and 5395 (Arp 84), Canes Venatici.
48″ Dobsonian
Very large and bright through the 48″. Full of detail. 5395 is the larger of the two galaxies and is interacting with neighbour 5394. There is a bridge connecting the two galaxies. There is distortion in the spiral arms of 5395.
The Lowrey Observatory, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 3242, Hydra.
48″ Dobsonian, 814x.
This is, like all eye candies, pretty nice in more modest apertures but is absolutely sensational in the eyepiece of ‘Barbarella’. There are two green rings, the inner ring is more oval than the outer one and is thickened at each end while the outer one has a furry appearance. The central star is bright. Between the rings is ‘gauzy’ looking nebulosity which has a tinge of pink to it and the whole p.n. looks three-dimensional. I try not to write ‘wow’ in observing descriptions but…like, um…wow. As they say. Fabulous!
The Lowrey Observatory, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 4038 and 4039, Corvus
36″ f/5 Obsession Dobsonian, 352x.
Very large and bright at 352x in the 36″.
NGC 4038 is the thinner (uppermost in sketch) of the two galaxies. It is elongated and distorted with a brighter, mottled centre. NGC 4039 is fatter and not so elongated. It has bright HII regions and is very mottled. I can see 4039’s tidal tail easily but 4038’s is fainter and does not show up in the scan, although it is in the original sketch.
Prude Ranch, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

By the way, my website has been added to, with Messier galaxies the first observations up. Click here to visit the site.
I am getting itchy feet and am longing to visit Australia, or somewhere else south of the Equator, to see southern goodies again. Last year’s visit Downunder wasn’t the best for astronomy, although I wasn’t actually on an astronomy trip, with the single opportunity I got for some serious observing washed out by storms and torrential rain during Australia’s wettest and windiest winter for 25 years! However, any potential trips will have to wait until at least the end of 2011 as I want to get that 18″ scope first!