Category Archives: Equipment

One of those sessions…

Last night was One of Those Sessions where I actually began to regret setting up…I dropped my Telrad (fortunately it didn’t break), stepped in some dog crap that got overlooked earlier (why do they need to go on the path?!) and, when I was wheeling my scope back down the garden later, a large globe thistle caught up in it, then broke free and smacked me in the mouth, which hurt but, although the plant is prickly, at least it didn’t draw blood.
It was also one of those sessions when I couldn’t find half of what I went after but, although I have decent dark skies here, last night’s transparency wasn’t as good as I’d hoped and as I was looking for faint objects that wasn’t really surprising, so I went back to the brighter stuff. Oh and my sister, and her kids plus their hyperactive spaniel, are visiting for a week so the house lights kept going on, as well as the upstairs bedroom and landing lights which she keeps on for her kids who, at ten and twelve years old, surely no longer need lights on at night. She let her boisterous spaniel out at one point, so not only did the garden get blitzed when she put the light on, I also had a suddenly-aggressive/nervous dog, who is in an unfamiliar place, barking his head off at me.

The dew was appalling. Everything was wet and it was like observing in a swimming pool. I persevered but packed in just before 3 am when clouds began to roll in; I dismantled my 18 inch Dob and just shoved it into the shed, uncovered, to give it a chance to dry out, gathered up my by now sodden charts and notebook, which were rapidly turning into paper mache, and went to bed not in the best of moods and regretting the three cups of very strong filter coffee I’d drunk!

Anyway, here’s what I actually DID manage to see:
NGC 6440, 6445, M51 (just for something really nice and bright to look at), Abell 2, NGC 7013, NGC 5832 and NGC 6011. Seven objects in a four-hour period is a pretty poor return but I spent (wasted) a lot of time looking for stuff that was a bit too faint for the conditions.

I am looking into getting some digital setting circles for the 18 inch, which will make finding stuff a lot easier. I’ve been talking to Gary at Wildcard Innovations of Australia who makes the Argo Navis DSCs and, although I can make some modifications to my scope’s mirror and/or rocker boxes to accommodate the encoders, it will be a tight fit. The only problem right now is money, with no job (and, looking like no prospect of actually getting one) I can’t justify spending over £600 – which it will be once I have paid import taxes and VAT – on something like this, especially with my car’s annual inspection due on 20th August. I may have to look for alternatives.


Observing 1st August: 8 inch Dob

The 8 inch got its first outing on 1st August, as it was clearer than forecast and I couldn’t be bothered to get the 18 inch out and assembled.

Apart from the substandard 1.25 inch focuser it’s a pretty good little scope. I used my 25mm and 15mm Plossls and my 9mm Nagler with it; I also tried the 22mm Panoptic, which wouldn’t quite come to focus because the travel of the draw tube isn’t enough, and the 12mm Nagler which seriously unbalanced the scope below a 45° angle. A friend of mine from VAS, Richard, has got a Crayford focuser which he will fit to the tube. The Crayford is a lot heavier than the 1.25 inch rack and pinion but we will do something about the balance, whether it’s moving the tube back on the rocker box or using counter weights.
I have already removed the finder, which was located in an awkward place below the focuser and added a Telrad base. The photo shows the base in position and tape put over the holes where I had taken off the finder bracket (to the lower right hand side of the focuser); as you can see, it was in a stupid and awkward place.

The stars are nice pin points, once the mirror has cooled, and there is no coma, as you’d expect in an f/6 mirror, totally unlike my 8 inch f/4.

I looked at NGC 6401, M107, NGC 6568, the Veil Nebula, N27 and M57 before it clouded over and thunderstorms moved in.

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.

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.

The new ‘observashed’

After a few days of de-cluttering, de-spidering (there were some huge monsters, fortunately mostly deceased, in there. One was curled up dead and I dread to think how big it was when it was alive) and cleaning up, plus a couple of tip runs, I was able to move my 18″ and other stuff into the large wooden shed yesterday. The 18″ is the large object beneath the silver cover, at left. I had to disassemble it to move it safely down the garden. The ramp arrived from Amazon on Tuesday and is perfect for moving the scope in and out of the shed.

My previous scope storage shed, which is plastic, has now been filled with various bits and pieces for the garden. I noticed this afternoon that the inside walls of it are covered with mould, presumably as a consequence of the dire ‘summer’ we’ve had. Eeek, not good. I have now plucked up the courage to look at my 18’s mirror and, while it is pretty grubby and in need of a wash, it doesn’t appear to have mould on it; the silica gel cat litter in socks placed inside the rocker and mirror boxes seems to have done the trick.

The mirror would always be covered in condensation in the mornings, regardless of having been used or not, during its year (I have had it one year tomorrow) in the plastic shed. Having moved it down to the wooden shed yesterday, I noticed this morning, when I decided to inspect it, that there was no condensation on it at all. A good sign…and this will be far better for the mirror.

Costs, clouds and canines

The sheer cost of anything astronomy-related here in Britain – indeed in the rest of the EU, and I believe Australia has the same problem – is a hot topic among amateur astronomers. Here, there are huge mark-ups put on items by the retailers, an eye-watering 20% VAT (which is even higher in some parts of Europe) and everything costs at least as half again here as it does in the USA. This is the reason why I buy eyepieces when I go to the USA, I am sick of being ripped-off for stuff on this side of the Atlantic.

Therefore I was not best pleased to read on Deep Sky Forum that CCTS only brought along one copy of each current Delos eyepiece to TSP. I had wanted to get the 6mm and 10mm at TSP but some guy on DSF informed me that he bought the only two that CCTS had so I settled for two second-hand Naglers instead – a 9mm Type 1 and a 12mm Type 4. Not that it’s that guy’s fault, it’s Jeff’s for not bringing enough stuff along. Next time I come over and there’s something I want to get, I’ll try to remember to email Jeff at CCTS and see if he can bring it with him and keep it to one side.
It’s even more annoying when every man and his dog is telling you how much better than any other known eyepiece the Deloses are – which is true, I have actually seen it for myself when comparing a prototype 8mm Delos with an 8mm Ethos in Larry’s 36″ scope. The Delos was more contrasty and went a bit deeper than the Ethos did, so if it can comfortably beat a nearly new eyepiece, it would probably wipe the floor with a near 30-year old design.

My dog needs expensive vet treatment next week (an operation whose cost is going to run into at least three figures) so any further purchases have to wait but when the 12mm Delos comes out, I may well get rid of the second hand 12mm Nagler I bought and get the Delos instead.
This reads like a rant but it’s the end of a very shitty week indeed so it is as exactly as it appears, a moan. Things like that don’t usually piss me off too much but I have the ‘back in Britain blooz’ after that great trip to Texas, I have a toothache caused by an abscess in a molar root – so I am having to take some antibiotics and can’t even have a drink – my dog needs the aforementioned vet treatment, which is going to cost an arm and a leg, and the weather is crap…cold, grey and wet. The calendar says it’s May, usually one of the best months of the year for nice weather, but it’s more like November. It has barely stopped raining and the heating is on…in MAY, ffs!

The other new TSP purchase

The other new item I bought at TSP was a 2″ Howie Glatter laser collimator, with Barlow attachment. I always try and buy new astro ‘stuff’ at TSP because buying stuff in the States is so much cheaper than here in ‘Rip-off Britain’ (Rip-off EU).

The Howie Glatter collimator has rave reviews and ensures perfect collimation each time. I may yet get a TuBlug to go with it, as I might not be bothered to remove the shroud every time but, for now, this’ll do the job in place of my old SkyWatcher, which will be kept for use with my 8″ scope which doesn’t accept 2″ fit equipment.

2" Howie Glatter laser collimator


With people ditching their older eyepieces in favour of the newer Ethos and Delos eyepieces, there are bargains to be had. Quite a lot of Naglers are appearing for sale second hand. These haven’t become rubbish over night but, human nature being what it is, people want the newest and – to them – best. I got a couple of second-hand Naglers at TSP last week, a 9mm Type 1 and a 12mm Type 4. The 9mm belonged to my friend Jimi Lowrey, so it’s come from a good home. The 12mm I got from CCTS, of New York State.
I was planning to buy a 10mm and 6mm Delos but there were none to be had, all gone within a couple of days! However, there are 5 new Deloses coming out later in the year, so I might replace my 15mm Plossl with one of these unless I get another Nagler.

My Naglers: 9mm Type 1 (left) and 12mm Type 4 (right)

I met Al Nagler himself during TSP and he signed the box my 12mm came in.

Al Nagler's signature on the 12mm box

I have plenty to post from my visit to TSP, which I will do over the weekend. Suffice to say it was the best TSP of the four I have attended with clear skies all week and, usually in the early hours after the crap has had time to settle, very transparent skies with NELMs of better than 7.0.

A light screen

I live in a reasonably dark area with fairly good, although not great, skies by most standards (certainly UK ones) but there are still some annoying lights to contend with, such as the lights from the couple of neighbours whose houses and gardens border the north of this one. These houses are not that close to us and there is a footpath between the end of their gardens and the side of ours but there is still a significant degree of light trespass from them. One set of neighbours’ lights, in particular, is irritating, simply because they encroach onto my observing space. They have an outside light they put on when they let their dogs out but this, while a bit aggravating, isn’t so bad as it goes off again ten minutes later, but an upstairs window is really annoying because the light is on all evening and they have no curtains at the window, resulting in light spilling across the garden, and the whole place is lit up like Crystal Palace. Yes, I *could* ask them if they wouldn’t mind doing something about the lights but I don’t know these people and I’d feel awkward asking them, they might think I was some sort of crank and tell me to get stuffed. I know some people do approach neighbours but I am not that forward, although I would be if their house was right next to this one and we were being totally blitzed.
The light trespass situation was made worse last week when the hedge, an evergreen one of mixed species, was cut and a foot of foliage was removed from the top and a foot from the side, meaning that the light now comes right through as well as over the top. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed off when I found out what had been done. The hedge belongs to us but my aunt gets a bloke in to cut the hedges and mow the lawn and he took too much off. ‘Well, it’ll grow back’. Yes it will, but not for two or three years and it’s now nearly winter when nothing grows anyway.
To be honest, my observing site is really in the wrong place for light-avoiding but there is nowhere else for it to go and, where it is, I have good views south, west and east. Further down the garden, the house would wipe out the view to the east and south-east.

So, necessity being the mother of invention, I decided to erect some sort of light screen to counteract the lights, although I’d been meaning to do this for some time because there was some light trespass from the house across the way, even before the hedge’s radical hair cut, and the leaves will be off the oak trees soon.
I solicited opinion on Cloudy Nights as to what was the best way to make such a light screen and got a lot of excellent suggestions. Unfortunately these also looked like quite costly suggestions, involving making a frame from a lot of interconnecting plastic water pipes, which I’d have to buy. However my aunt suggested that I used 7ft garden canes and stick them into the hedge, the density of which (despite the cut!) will hold up the canes even with a heavy tarpaulin fixed to them. I shoved four canes through the centre of the hedge and fixed the tarp to them, initially with string, but I will probably get some heavy-duty clips and use those instead because it will be quicker to put up and take down again. I will probably get some black cloth and use that instead of the tarp as it will be lighter to put up and won’t be as noisy as the tarp is.


Without the screen, offending window visible from observing area.



Two of the four canes in place


The tarpaulin in place.


It’s not an ideal solution – that would be me winning the lottery and moving to the Arizona, New Mexico or West Texas deserts, away from neighbours and their stupid overbright and irritating lights, not to mention the crap North Atlantic weather – but it should do the trick. If the neighbours ever notice the light screen – which will be taken down after each session or the following morning – and ask me about it, then I will tell them it is to block out excess light…maybe they’d take the hint.

While I’m in the mood for a moan, why is it that, as soon as the Moon is past last quarter do the effing clouds move back in and the weather turn to crap again?!

Dew busting

I had always got by without a dew heater system or shield and just put up with it, but during recent observing sessions I got so fed up with the Telrad and, especially, the secondary mirror dewing up (which brought sessions to a premature end because there is no way of getting dew off a mirror without resorting to using a hair dryer, which would be unbelievably loud in the dead of night!), I decided to do something about it.

I have invested in a dew-busting system, which consists of a dew heater controller, a Telrad dew heater and a secondary mirror strip, from Astronomia in Surrey. I am waiting for the secondary heater (a Kendrick split secondary heater) to arrive, as Astronomia didn’t have one in stock. The dew controller is powered by a 12 volt power supply, in this case a power supply with inverter, which is intended by its manufacturer to jump start cars and supply back up power for caravans and boats, which I got from a car parts supplier.

AWR dew heater controller


Telrad dew heater


The dew heater fitted to the Telrad


While I was spending money (the proceeds of the sale of my 12 inch) I decided to get a TeleGizmos scope cover from the Widescreen Centre. It was expensive but worth it to protect the scope. The particular one I got is designed to fit 18-20 inch f/4.5 truss dobs, with a bit of room to spare. It should also help keep condensation off the primary mirror because it will keep the scope cool even when the shed heats up during the morning, as it will do on all but the coldest winter day.

Something else I am going to try in order to keep condensation off the mirror is to put a heated mat, of the sort used to keep reptiles’ tanks warm, in the rocker box. The mat won’t get hot but should keep the mirror from looking like it was dumped in a swimming pool each morning.


In the current edition of the local paper, in the Nature Notes section, there is a piece by Helen Shaw, all about light pollution and its effects on wildlife, titled ‘We are in the dark over light pollution‘. It’s good to see that people other than amateur astronomers are concerned about this as it shows it has far-reaching effects and doesn’t just affect a tiny minority of the population. At an event our society attended back in August, the general public were pretty clued-up about light pollution and nearly everyone agreed that it needs to be addressed, so we are getting somewhere. I feel as if someone else’s lights trespassing is the equivalent of cigarette smoke being blown in your face and just as anti-social – I got told off for using that analogy on Cloudy Nights a few days ago (I have no idea why) but I make no apologies for it as I think it is a good one. If not cigarette smoke, then excessive noise, perhaps.
I have sent in the following, for the letters section, and it will be interesting to see what the reply will be – if they publish it. I am not given to writing to the press, especially local press, but light pollution is something I feel strongly about enough to do so.

I was pleased to see Helen Slade’s Nature Notes article on light pollution in the October 7th IWCP. Light pollution is a problem which has been allowed to get out of hand over the years, to the extent that an ugly orange glow hangs above our towns and cities from street lighting.
All that orange glow hanging over Newport, Sandown, Shanklin, Ryde, etc, at night represents our council taxes – and electricity – being wasted by light being shone into the sky where it is not needed, rather than down onto the ground where it is. In this age of energy prices rising all the time and with concerns over CO2 emissions, surely this can’t be allowed to continue?
Light pollution also results from badly-directed security lights and other lighting fixtures on homes and businesses, fixtures which have proliferated over the past couple of decades, and a lot of excess light spills onto other people’s properties and onto roads. If you want to illuminate your property no-one is saying you can’t but, please, just keep it to yourselves. We all need to see where we are going, but zillion-watt security lights shining across roads and into neighbours’ gardens is just overkill. Also, light trespass (light nuisance) is also actually against the law, as of April 2006.
Amateur astronomers, naturalists, environmentalists and people who would just like to see a natural night sky without hideous and intrusive artificial lighting don’t want to turn off the lights completely. We all know that some light is needed but only where it is most effective, which is downward onto the ground and not up into the sky or shining onto other people’s property.
People tend to think that lots of light equals safety. It doesn’t, particularly if you’re dazzled by misdirected lighting. Neither does it reduce crime. Criminals and people indulging in anti-social behaviour don’t have better night vision than law-abiding people, they need light to see, too.
Also, according to a report in the Independent newspaper recently, light pollution can affect property prices because people don’t want to live in an excessively-lit area.
However, it does seem that light pollution is beginning to be recognised as the anti-social and unpleasant thing it is and it is good to see that more people are becoming aware of the problem.
More information can be found at the Campaign for Dark Skies: and also from the Campaign to Protect Rural England: (I am not, by the way, a representative of either CfDS or CPRE).

By the way, here is a link to the Independent article: ‘Homebuyers are looking for splendid isolation and a pristine view of a star-filled sky