Category Archives: Dammit


Long time no speak. The last two-and-a-half years have been very bad for astronomy or, more specifically, my involvement with it. I have done next to no observing – apart from a trip to Australia to attend OzSky 2016 in April this year, of which more in due course – and this has been nothing to do with the weather.

Back in August 2013, I was sent by a local employment agency to work in a local factory making wood-burning stoves. I didn’t want the job because it was badly paid, in awful conditions and well below my skills, but I agreed to go because, quite frankly, the recession had put paid to the normal computing/admin work I do and I needed the money.

To cut a long story short, the work, while just 4 days a week, consisted of 0700 starts and 1730 finishes with a paltry 30 minutes for lunch. Added to which, it was physical work so that meant that any thoughts of astronomy, even at weekends, wasn’t appealing and, not only that, I developed a bad upper back problem and severe tennis elbow both of which were directly related to the factory work I was doing. I spent the entire 2.5 years looking for another job, without success but, by Christmas 2015, I finally had enough and I handed my notice in after the Christmas break on 4th January 2016. My mum had died on New Years Day after a series of illnesses related to COPD and I decided that life was too short to be stuck doing something you hate.
Luckily I had saved up enough money to pay for a trip to OzSky 2016, so I went to Australia for 2 weeks and spent one of those weeks doing the only observing I had done for a good couple of years!

Fortunately I now have a much better job, in IT admin for a large US-German company, although whether the UK EU Leave campaign winning the referendum (unfortunately) will have affected this, only time will tell…the political shit has already hit the fan, despite the referendum actually being non-binding, so it’s probably only a matter of time until the arse falls out of the economy (again). We’ll probably end up scrabbling around for a few quid while our political ‘masters’ continue to stab each other in the back in a never-ending quest for power and to line their own pockets, all against a backdrop of cries of ‘We’re free!’ (from what exactly? We are hardly oppressed by the EU) and ‘We have got our country back!” (again, how exactly?) from the leave camp.

Rants over, is this preamble actually leading up to anything you ask? Apart from attempting to explain to my one remaining reader why I had apparently vanished off the face of the planet this past couple of years. Well, yes. This – my back and arm problems mean I can’t easily use my 18″ so, while I’ll keep it for spring/autumn galaxy observing (I have no immediate need to sell it) I am now planning on going back to a 12″ scope and I have my eye on an Explore Scientific Ultra Light 12″. I wanted to get a dob with some form of locating system but these were too expensive, so if I get one without, I should be able to fit my Argo Navis DSCs to it.

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:


Clusters in Moonlight, 7th October 2011

Date: 7th October 2011
Conditions: 84% illuminated Moon, chilly, breezy. A few high clouds and a halo around the Moon.
Seeing: Good to average
Transparency: Average to poor
NELM: 5.5 to 5.2 later (because of Moon)

The Moon is nearly full but I decided to have a quick observing session anyway. However, I left the 18 inch tucked up in the shed and used the little 8 inch Celestron Newtonian instead, as I decided it wasn’t worth getting the big one out in such poor conditions plus it was quite windy, which would have meant the big scope would be awkward to use.

The session began late as I was waiting for thick cloud cover to clear, which it eventually did. I decided to observe some open clusters, because of the Moonlight and decidedly poor transparency. There was no point in going after galaxies or faint planetary nebulae in those conditions.

NGC 7129, open cluster in Cepheus – A very small but obvious cluster next to NGC 7142. Bright and obvious T-shape, despite its small size. Compact. There are six bright stars made up of three doubles, including a very wide one, and several fainter stars among the six. However, the cluster is mostly washed out by the Moon. There is nebulosity with this cluster, which I would probably see on a Moonless, more transparent night, but I didn’t see it with either UHC or OIII filters. Fits into the field of view at 73x. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

NGC 7142, open cluster in Cepheus – The neighbour of NGC 7129, this is much larger and richer. Detached. The Moon is washing out the sky but I can count 11 brighter stars and about a dozen fainter ones. The rest are washed out. Fits into the field of view at 53x. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 53x

NGC 7380, open cluster in Cepheus – A rich, triangular cluster. With averted vision, I can see a hazy background, indicating many more stars. The cluster is at the end of a distinct curved line of three stars (the middle one of which is a double). At 73x I can count 20 stars but more remain unresolved. The nebulosity with the cluster was not seen with any filter.  8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

NGC 7510, open cluster in Cepheus – This one took an age to locate, mostly because I was using a small Newtonian on an equatorial mount and performing contortions to look through the Telrad finder! It is small, compact and bright with a wedge shape. It is rich and very concentrated. At 36x, I could see individual stars.
A nice view at 73x with about a dozen stars resolved, plus quite a few more fainter ones in the background. With averted vision there are plenty more stars in the background. A very nice object. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

NGC 1513, open cluster in Perseus – A faint oval patch of stars which is mostly obliterated by the Moon. I could see several members but the rest remained as a misty patch. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

NGC 1444, open cluster in Perseus – A pretty boring object as it is just a nondescript gathering of stars around a bright multiple. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

Packed up at 0100.


I am typing this while listening to the post mortem of yet another fail from an England sports team in a World Cup. This time, it was the Rugby Union side who let the country down, in the form of an atrocious capitulation to France. The team, with the sole exception of two decent wins in the group stages against Georgia and Romania, have been pretty awful, narrowly avoiding defeats against Argentina and Scotland. Typically the French, who have been equally awful in their group stages as well as mutinous, as only the French can be, decided to up their game against England. But, that doesn’t alter the fact that England were enfoncer la merde as the French might say. That said, I hope the French go on to beat Wales in the semis. I do NOT want to see Wales in the final…I’ve got Welsh friends and I don’t think I could stand the gloating!

The sky is clearing, the good weather is returning…

…and I can’t observe thanks to having done some damage to my left knee. It got twisted round at an unnatural angle yesterday morning and I felt something snap inside accompanied by an excruciating pain at the same time. I decided to ignore it in the hope it was nothing serious only for it to get worse and keep me awake last night. So, it was off to A&E this morning for them to take a look. I was in there four hours and, out of that four hours, I was actually only being seen by a member of staff for a grand total of about 10 minutes.
Anyway, when I eventually got seen, they X-rayed it, proclaimed it to be a possible ligament or cartilage tear and sent me on my way with crutches (which have to be the work of diabolical forces, I hate crutches), instructions to keep the knee up and an appointment to see a specialist next week.
This week has not got off to a brilliant start, I already have a slight bad case of the ‘I wish I was somewhere else, that somewhere being the TSP‘ blooz and now this. It also means I can’t work this week and no work means no pay. Anyway, I’ll keep off it for a few days and see what happens.
Still, it’s probably the best time of year to do yourself a mischief – nights are too light for any serious observing, and I was only planning to do some sketching of the brighter Messiers and DSOs anyway. Knee damage definitely rules out using the big scope but I can probably still do something with my little scopes and binoculars. Small scopes can go in bags, although I don’t know what can be done about carrying my tripod outside…I must have a spare camera strap somewhere.

While feeling sorry for myself this afternoon, I browsed through some of the astronomy stuff I have gleaned from the net and other sources. There’s plenty of material for observing projects when I want a change from the Herschel 2500. I’ve downloaded some of the TSP observing lists and I already have Larry Mitchell’s Advanced Observing Lists on computer and in a paper file I brought home in 2008. I am getting an 18″ f/4.5 dobsonian from David Lukehurst, thanks to a tax rebate a couple of months ago (that paid half the cost and my aunt is lending me the other half), so I have a good chance of doing Larry’s lists, apart from the stuff that’s too far south to be easily seen from here. An interesting project would be to sketch each of the objects on the ‘easier’ lists. Ok, I won’t get an ‘observing pin’ for it, as the lists have to be completed in situ at the TSP, but it’ll be a fun project to do.
The dob, by the way, should be completed by the end of July, just in time for the return of the dark skies after mid-summer. Like most deep sky observers, I have always wanted a big scope >16 inches. Life got in the way of me getting one last year, as the savings I had needed to be spent on something else but the chance came round again, thanks to the tax refund and my aunt lending me money, and I took it.


It seems like ages since I’ve posted and, indeed, it IS ages since I’ve posted. The reason is that I have very little to write about; we have had near unbroken cloud cover for over two months and the rare night it has been clear, or partly clear, there’s been snow on the ground and it’s been too cold and unfavourable for observing.

Added to which, I’ve developed a potentially serious liver problem (I have an enlarged and painful liver) and find bending around, e.g. to look through the finder or moved the scope in and out of the shed, difficult. It’s hopefully not life-threatening or anything like that but it is a nuisance. As to what the problem actually is, time and MRI scans will tell. The annoying thing is I am not a heavy drinker and, apart from getting a bit pissed at parties during my 20’s, I never have been.

The Webb Society AGM got postponed due to heavy snow so my talk will have to wait until the late spring or early summer when it is rescheduled.

Watching the news over the last few days made me think back to my trips to Australia. They are having their wettest summer in 100 years and half of Queensland is under water, while it is also raining in Sydney where the first day of the fifth and final Ashes Test is affected by the wet stuff. Last year, it rained a LOT when I was there and it was frustrating both for observing and birding. While it’s an awful situation to be in, having your premises flooded and possessions ruined, with no end in sight and I certainly take no pleasure in seeing the disaster unfold on the news, I can’t help thinking back to a Greyhound Australia coach driver last year, who could not resist the temptation to brag to the Poms on his bus about how we British ‘f**ked up’ (his words) by sending the convicts Down Under while continuing to live in the cold wet British Isles. “Mate, we live in paradise” he boasted to me. I am not sure about that at present, especially as his home town is Rockhampton which is currently being inundated by rising water.
Listening to some Australians, you’d think it’s endless sunshine there and they certainly like sticking it to us Europeans about how crap our weather is compared to theirs but, in truth, it’s not like that, even accounting for freak weather. Southern NSW and Victoria, especially the Melbourne area, has – or can have – very British weather, as does Tasmania.
I also can’t help thinking Australia’s climate is changing, certainly in the east, although I expect this is likely to be temporary. The years-long drought is over and it’s cloudier and rainier more than it used to be. Every time I see posts from Aussie observers on forums such as Ice In Space, clouds and rain seem to be a bigger issue than in previous years with no end in sight.
Anyway, I hope it doesn’t get any worse for them and that the weather clears up soon and it goes back to being a little slice of paradise because it is a pretty place. Good luck to the flood victims in Queensland, it is a horrible situation for them.

Now, the Ashes series…despite having already retained the little urn, I now hope England crush Australia in the final Test and win the series 3-1… 😀

‘Stargazing Live’ starts on the BBC for three nights tonight. Unfortunately the weather does not look as it it will co-operate. The Vectis AS has a public observing night on Wednesday the 5th and we currently have our fingers crossed for a clear evening.

I have no no plans for 2011 regarding travel. I am not going to TSP this year and the only astronomy-related things I have planned are the Isle of Wight Star Party and, depending on when it is re-scheduled, the Webb AGM. I do hope we get some good clear nights as my observing program has stalled, thanks to near-endless clouds, and I have made no inroads into the Herschel 400 or the Herschel II (which I am also doing at the same time) at all this winter.

Anyway, Happy New Year and may we all have many clear nights in 2011.


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…

Scope bother – the tale continues

A few posts ago I mentioned that the mirror cell of my home-made Dob was not very good, with the collimation slipping several times in a session. Also the mirror itself – unrelated to the mirror cell problem – has started to oxidise (looking through from the back it is like looking at a starry sky), but, I was told at our society’s weekly get together last night, that’s normal (funny, my old 8.5 inch never had this problem) and it also looks filthy. I washed it a few months ago, but got some instructions on how to try and – carefully! – get more of the crap off it.
Therein lies a lesson: never, ever, let a non-astronomy relative talk/nag you into storing a scope in the bloody garden shed!!! It was the mould that has done some of the damage.

Below is the mirror in its currently grubby state. I have labelled a cat hair, just in case it looks like a scratch – no, the cat has been nowhere near my mirror, but her hairs have a nasty habit of getting everywhere. I will get the mirror recoated sometime, but in the meantime, I have put it in a box in a cupboard until I decide what to do with it. The rest of the scope can go back in the shed!

Because the home made 12″ scope is a bit cumbersome and pretty big, plus takes up too much storage space, I have decided to buy an off-the-shelf 12″ Dob, such as a Revelation (made by GSO and sold by Telescope House here in the UK) or Lightbridge (sold by Meade but actually made by GSO). I have heard mixed reports about these, but at £550 for the Revelation, you can’t go too far wrong. Taking into account the mirror cell problem and mirror problem with my current scope, deciding to get something else is not a hard decision and besides a cheap scope will do until I can save up for a 16″ Orion Optics UK Dob.

I also have an 8″ Celestron Newtonian on a Vixen GP mount which I can use in the meantime. However, this scope’s mirror is also in a poor state! I hasten to add that it was like it when I acquired the scope (I was given it a few years ago by someone who no longer wanted the thing).

I hope that it won’t be too long before I can get back into observing with a decent-sized scope. I am currently temping (the economic climate is shot to shit and prospects are gloomy at present) and I am hoping that my current short-term contract lasts a few more weeks so I can get my hands on a new Dob.
In the meantime, I will carry on observing with my binoculars and other small instruments. I have a deep sky binocular project on the go at the moment, so it’s not as if I am wasting time.

Washout Down Under! A tale of woe.

I got back from a two-month trip to Australia and South East Asia last month. Fortunately this wasn’t an astronomy trip, although I was hoping to fit some observing in of course, because the weather was – let’s not beat around the bush here – frankly bloody awful! I joined some friends from the Texas Star Party who were visiting Australia for the ‘Deepest South Texas Star Safari‘ being held in Coonabarabran. We met up in Sydney and had a nice meal at a restaurant in The Rocks before meeting up again the following morning at Sydney Central railway station. The weather omens were already bad – it rained all day and we drove from Dubbo to Coonabarabran under leaden skies and driving rain.

Unfortunately I could only stay one night because the next day I had to return to Sydney and then travel onto the southern town of Wollongong 80kms south of Sydney, for a pelagic birdwatching trip which was scheduled for the Saturday. This one night was a complete washout, it rained all night, which was pretty disappointing. It became even more annoying when I got to Wollongong and the f*cking pelagic was cancelled due to high winds! Aaargh! So infuriating! I could have stayed in Coona and got some observing in a few days later as the weather improved. As it was, my sorely depleted finances wouldn’t allow me to return to Coona and I was flying to Thailand a few days later in any case. In the end, I consoled myself with some binocular observations from light-polluted Sydney. Scant consolation, but at least I got to poke around among what stars were visible.

We did, however, attend an interesting meeting of the local astronomy club and I got to see the famous Siding Spring Observatory, albeit from the road.

It wasn’t a complete disaster, it wasn’t as if I’d travelled 12000 miles just to observe, and I had been to Australia and pretty much scoped out the Southern Hemisphere winter skies in 1997. But one thing’s for sure – I am going back to Australia and the DSTSS properly in a couple of years’ time!
And I never did hear from the Astronomy Society of New South Wales, which is very disappointing.

Sky quality – the lack of quality

I have found over the past few years that observing in the UK is becoming more and more frustrating. It is not the lack of clear nights as the quality of clear nights, we still get as many (or as few!) as we ever did, but there seems to be a lot more haze about than there used to be. This is due to pollution in the atmosphere which is no great surprise bearing in mind that the UK is one of Europe’s (even the world’s perhaps) most densely populated countries (60+ million and rising all the time – ridiculous).
I brought back a stack of Larry Mitchell’s Advanced Observing Lists from the TSP last year and, while a proportion of the objects are within my 12-inch Dob’s capabilities (when I can get the mirror cell problem sorted), I have quickly come to the conclusion that I have no chance of doing the list, not from here.

About a week ago I emailed the Astronomy Society of New South Wales about observing but so far I have not received a reply. I hope it’s because they’ve not received the mail, rather than forgetting about it or, worse, ignoring it. I did use their contact form, so there’s no excuse for the mail having gone missing. I can’t imagine them having ignored it, amateur astronomers are a decent bunch and do not tend to ignore people. So I am assuming that it’s because these things are run on a voluntary basis that they haven’t got round to it yet.
Still annoying though.

Scope bother

I had been keeping my 12 inch in the shed. The scope was well covered over and the shed is dry as far as I could make out – I certainly wouldn’t keep an expensive mirror in a damp environment – but when I got it out yesterday the mirror was in a disgusting state, covered in dust and something that looked suspiciously like mould. I was not pleased but, following instructions I found on Cloudy Nights forum I decided to wash it. Anyway, I got it cleaned up okay, although there are still marks on the mirror but these are such that they won’t degrade the image. I have moved the scope back indoors, although my aunt doesn’t really want it in the house. I could take the mirror in and out of the scope but it is a time consuming operation and a huge pain in the arse to do.

Since getting the scope, collimation with it has always been a bother. As far as I’m concerned, collimation holds no fears, it’s a piece of cake, but I don’t want to be doing it five times in one observing session. The mirror moves around too much in the cell and the things that hold it in place are set too far apart. Also, I can never get it collimated perfectly, there’s always a cometary look to stars at high powers, which is no good. I am going to ask my friend who built it to makes some adjustments to it. I won’t need the scope for the next few months as I am going to be away in SE Asia and Australia (hoping for some southern sky observing – a small sky atlas, a printout of the AL’s Southern Sky Binocular Observing list and my binoculars are coming along).