Category Archives: Galaxies

Observing, 6th April 2011

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

Click to enlarge photos and charts.

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

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

Hickson 56, chart generated with MegaStar 5

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

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

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

Hickson 44, chart generated with MegaStar 5
NGC 3185, photo from DSS
NGC 3190 and 3187, photo from DSS
NGC 3193 and 3190, photo from DSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday evening at the local astro society

The weather recently has been clear, but murky, and last night was no exception. I went to our local society’s observatory last night (every Thursday is the open evening and we usually get a mix of members and sometimes interested members of the public) and we took out some scopes, including a 10″ Orion Intelliscope.
Unfortunately the mist and murk were worse than the previous night and we only were able to look at the brightest Messiers. Galaxies, as expected, were worst hit and even normally good Messier galaxies were almost obliterated. We did look at M105, NGC 3384, M65 and M66 (NGC 3628, one of the Leo Triplet with M65 and 66, was utterly wiped out by the murk), M81, M82, open clusters M93 and M46 (not a bad view despite their low altitude in Puppis and the misty conditions), perennial faves M42 and M43, plus the attractive blue and yellow double star Iota Cancri and, later when it rose, Saturn, whose rings have opened up since I last saw it.

I have never used an Intelliscope before. The concept is similar to the Argo Navis system, a digital setting circle. You enter your wanted Messier or NGC number, the display shows some numbers, which are how far you need to push the scope in altitude and azimuth to get to where you are going, along with arrows showing which direction you need to push the scope. The numbers get lower the nearer you are and when you arrive at the location the display will read 0<>0 0<>0. The society’s Intelliscope was a little off, with the objects being just out of the field of view, but not by much. It’s a neat system and I’d like a similar thing for my scope, maybe an Argo Navis, one day.

Despite the crap conditions it was a nice evening and we also spent the time putting the world to rights as well as observing. It was disappointing though, that only a handful of us were outside, with most people choosing to sit inside the building and chat. It’s an astronomy society, so it would be nice if everyone was outside but that seems to be the difference betwen UK and US amateurs. Over there, it seems to be a more vibrant and active scene.

Clocks go forward on Sunday morning. Yuck.

Observing, 23rd March 2011

With the waning gibbous Moon not now rising until a minute after midnight (after one of the brightest full Moons in 20 years, thanks to it being at perigee), I hauled the 12″ out for a galaxy-hunting session in Leo. We’ve had a nice run of lovely spring weather just recently, with lots of sunshine and some warmth, which makes a nice change after the coldest and cloudiest winter I can remember. Unfortunately, this has coincided with the rise of the Moon, so deep sky observing has been out of the question, but I’ve gone out several times with the binoculars for a general look round.

Date: 23rd March 2011
Conditions: Chilly (8C/46F), clear but murky; mist was coming down and making the skyglow worse. Very dewy indeed.
Transparency: III-IV (murk wiped out some of the fainter galaxies)
Seeing: II
NELM: Around 5.8
Equipment: 12″ f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x)

NGC 3628, galaxy in Leo – Fairly large, low surface brightness but not too faint. Elongated east-west. Dust lane visible with averted vision. In the 8mm Radian (190x) it stretches across the field of view. One of the ‘Leo Trio’ with M65 and M66. 69x, 101x, 190x

NGC 3593, galaxy in Leo – Fairly faint, elongated E-W oval. Brightens to a non-stellar core. 69x, 190x

NGC 3379, galaxy in Leo – M105, one of the Messier objects in the H400. Very bright. Round with gradual brightening towards the centre. Makes an attractive pair with NGC 3384. Nice. 69x, 190x.

NGC 3384, galaxy in Leo – Next to M105 this isn’t quite as bright and is slightly smaller. Brightens slightly towards its centre. 69x, 190x

NGC 3389, galaxy in Leo – Much fainter than 3379 and 3384. Elongated east-west. Featureless. Not easily seen at 69x, needs more magnification to be seen well. 69x, 101x, 190x

NGC 3379, 3384 and 3389 all fit into the same field of view at all powers (69x, 101x, 190x).

NGC 3377, galaxy in Leo – Bright oval. Oriented east-west. Bright, non-stellar core. 69x, 190x

NGC 3810, galaxy in Leo – Dim. Oval. Slightly brighter core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 3640, galaxy in Leo – Bright and round. Brightens gradually  to a non-stellar core. I looked for the tiny companion, NGC 3641, but only suspected I saw it. That will definitely have to wait for a less murky evening. 69x, 190x

NGC 3900, galaxy in Leo – Fairly bright. Oval, elongated north-south. Brightens gradually to core. 69x, 190x

I packed up at 2145 because it was getting mistier, murkier and generally yucky, causing lots of light scatter that you don’t normally see here, and the galaxies were getting wiped out. This takes me up to 140 out of the 400 Herschel objects, which is 35% of the total. I still have five objects in Leo to do, so hopefully I can get these remaining ones within the next few weeks. I know that, in order to complete the H400, I am going to have to go further south, either to the Canary Islands or TSP again one year – but that is no hardship!

Here’s the so-called ‘supermoon’ (which is what the media were calling it), one day after full, as it rose. I leaned out of an upstairs window, while handholding my Canon 7D and 400mm lens. It was low down and very golden. Even for a deep sky person it was a very attractive sight!

I haven’t given up on sketching, it’s because I want to get as much done of the Herschel 400 as possible so, for the time being, I am just finding things and doing written descriptions of them. I will go back to sketching as soon as possible.
I have got exciting news, but more on that soon…

Observing, early morning 17th September 2010

This was taken tonight, not last night, but is otherwise identical. Lovely pink sunset with the promise of things to come.

The forecast looked good but, unfortunately, a waxing gibbous Moon was in the way, not setting until 0020 BST (one of life’s mysteries is this – why does a waning Moon seem to take forever getting out of the way, yet the waxing stage seems really quick, only slowing down as it approaches Full Moon?). Because of this I decided not to go outside until it was out of the way, although I can never take a nap in these situations!

Date: 17th September 2010; 0130-0300 BST (0030-0200 GMT/UT)
Conditions: Cool, totally cloudless, no wind, slightly dewy

Seeing: Ant II-III
Transparency: I (excellent) – II (very good) later (M33 visible with unaided eye)
NELM: 6.5+
Equipment: 12″ f/5 Dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 11mm Televue Plossl (138x)

NGC 1857, open cluster in Auriga – Faint, fairly rich, irregular. 69x, 101x

NGC 1175, galaxy in Perseus – Faint, not quite round. Diffuse elongated core. 69x, 138x

NGC 1177, galaxy in Perseus – NE of 1175. Very faint indeed. Barely seen. Possibly elongated. 138x

NGC 1245, open cluster in Perseus – Very nice large irregular cluster. Faint, fairly rich. Many faint stars. 69x, 138x.

I packed up at 0300 BST after a less successful session than I hoped for; I couldn’t seem to track down most of the Herschel IIs I went for, yet there was nothing wrong with the sky conditions, however I put that down to being tired. An example of tiredness-related cock-ups was when I made some soup and attempted to defrost some bread in the microwave – I ended up nuking it because I pressed the wrong button! Still, an observing session with four objects is better than no observing session at all and a lot better than my sorry effort the other evening (9th September 2010).

However, observing in the early a.m. is a nice way to spend the time, maybe better than evening sessions. There is no-one around at all and it is very quiet, although when I dropped an eyepiece on the shed floor – fortunately without damage – it sounded like an explosion! Likewise when I went back to the kitchen to make the soup, the kettle sounded as loud as a volcano.

Apart from the sound of the horses in the next field, the snoring of my darling dog in her basket, the rustle and squeaks of rats and mice in the hedge and the snuffling of a badger in the lane, there were no other noises. That’s how I like my observing sounds to be. No machines, no loud TVs from the neighbours across the way, no music, just animals and the other sounds of the night.

Observing 12/13th September 2010

I got the poison, I got the remedy, I got the pulsating rhythmical remedy

…so goes the lyric of Prodigy’s song Poison, and fairly appropriate as they were coming down the valley loud and clear from the ‘Bestival’ last night – also appropriate as I found a Death Cap toadstool in the garden yesterday, which I promptly threw in the bin out of reach of the dogs (DCs are the most poisonous toadstools known). I like the Prodigy, but I don’t like the light pollution from the festival that was wiping out the north western, and most of the western, sky or Rob da Bank’s DJ set of bad music that went on to almost 4am this morning (1am’s fine, but later than that is not. I bet they’ve pissed off the entire Arreton valley). At least that’s over for another year.

The weather forecast called for it to clear at sunset, the BBC (Met Office) said it would be clear all night but the others (Accuweather, Metcheck and The Weather Outlook) disagreed, forecasting it to be partly clear, and, in the end, they were right and the BBC were wrong.

Would this clear? Btw, the tree is dead but the birds like it so it stays

Conditions: Cool, but not cold, some drifting clouds at first, becoming murkier later. Slight dew.
Seeing: Ant II, very good
Transparency: III to IV later (III. Clear, some haze visible. Milky Way still visible but not detailed; IV. Milky skies, moderately hazy but observing of brighter NGCs doable/drifting cloud).
Equipment: 12″ f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x), OIII filter. MegaStar 5 chart printouts, Sky Atlas 2000.0, Pocket Sky Atlas and NSOG Vols I and II

NGC 6996, open cluster in Cygnus – Located within NGC 7000 (the North America Nebula). Spiral shaped cluster of 30+ fairly faint stars. Spiral is anti-clockwise. Fainter stars among the brighter ones. Chain loops off to north before turning west. Quite large. Moderately rich. Observation interfered with by drifting clouds. 69x.

NGC 6824, galaxy in Cygnus – People think of Cygnus as a realm of open clusters, PNes and nebulae, but galaxies lurk here too. Fairly bright and easy to find as it stands out against the background sky. Almost round. Brightens gradually towards the core. Core diffuse, not bright. 69x, 190x.

NGC 6894, planetary nebula in Cygnus – A bit of a sod to find, faint and quite small. Not helped by milky sky. At low power, there is a hint of something fuzzy and oval. An OIII filter brings it out as a filled-in oval. At high power, and with the OIII,  it has a darker middle and looks annular. 69x, 190x, OIII filter.

The latter observation was being affected by the fireworks from the festival, I could see the flashes in the eyepiece while looking at NGC 6894, which was hard enough to see as it was. So I abandoned Cygnus and moved over to Triangulum and Aries, which were just clearing next door’s oak trees from my position.

NGC 772, galaxy in Aries – Round, quite faint (low), condenses to non-stellar, but obvious, core. 69x, 101x.

NGC 672, galaxy in Triangulum – Quite faint, elongated west-east. No brightening in centre. Faint halo around bar. IC 1727 nearby but very faint that I want another look at it on a better night. 69x, 101x, 190x.

NGC 925, galaxy in Triangulum – Elongated, faint. Evenly bright with halo. Some foreground stars. 69x, 190x

NGC 890, galaxy in Triangulum – Round, bright. Bright non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

By now, just before 0100 BST (midnight GMT/UT), the sky was getting progressively worse, with a lot of murk scattering light about so I packed in. There were a few other objects I hunted for, among them NGC 1156 and NGC 1012, both in Aries, as well as NGC 6857 in Cygnus and the infamous NGC 6772 in Aquila but these were all wiped out by murk and will have to wait until a better night.

Observing 3rd/4th September 2010

Another clear night, another observing session. That’s four in a week! I missed a couple of nights over the course of the week as they were murky and foggy and therefore no good for deep sky observing. Last night started off a little murky but gradually improved as the night went on.

Date: 3rd/4th September 2010
Conditions: Cool but not that chilly, a bit murky at first but improving later. No Moon. Started off clear, clouding over later.
Seeing: A I, superb.
Transparency: III, improving to II later (until clouds came)
NELM: 6.1 to 6.5 later on
Instrument: 12″ f/5 dobsonian, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x), 5mm Radian (304x), OIII filter

NGC 6804, galaxy in Aquila – Faint, slightly oval, stellar core. 69x, 190x

NGC 6772, planetary nebula in Aquila – I wasted more than 30 minutes looking for this (not plotted on atlases) and eventually gave up. Annoying. Will have another go at this with a MegaStar chart I’ve just printed out.

NGC 7448, galaxy in Pegasus – Bright, elongated NW-SE. Brightens gradually towards the centre. 69x, 190x

NGC 7814, galaxy in Pegasus – Bright and easy to find, located near ϒ Peg. Elongated NW-SE. Brightens towards the core which is bright but not stellar. 69x, 190x

NGC 7217, galaxy in Pegasus – Bright, round, condenses to bright but non-stellar core. 69x, 190x

Pegasus is now complete as far as the H400 is concerned, as I’d already observed some objects in it last autumn.

NGC 7686, open cluster in Andromeda – Irregular. Dominated by two bright yellow-orange stars. Loose. Fainter stars in background and around the two bright ones. Not particularly rich. 69x.

NGC 884 and 869 – the Double Cluster in Perseus – These are lovely things in a wide field eyepiece. Both clusters fit neatly into the field of view of my 22mm Panoptic (69x). If each one was isolated it would be a pretty object in its own right but, both together make one of the finest DSOs in the Northern Hemisphere – in fact the DC is (are) the best open cluster(s) in the sky and I genuinely think that we outdo the Southern Hemisphere with this one.
NGC 869 is smaller and more compact that its neighbour, 884. There are 2 bright stars in the centre, plus a compact triangular pattern of stars in the centre. 69x
NGC 884 is larger and looser. No central group of stars, unlike 869; there’s empty space at the centre. The stars of 884 are more concentrated to the western side. 69x.
All stars in both clusters are white.

NGC 650-1 (M76), planetary nebula in Perseus – Very bright indeed, looking like a miniature M27 (in fact, it is called ‘Little Dumbell’). It has a bi-lobed appearance with an outer shell extending off to the south west and north east; the south western one is slightly brighter. The south eastern lobe is slightly brighter but smaller, than the north western one.  An OIII filter brings it out nicely. 69x, 101x, OIII filter.

NGC 1023, galaxy in Perseus – Bright, elongated east-west. Condenses to very bright core. 69x, 101x

By this time, it was beginning to get very cloudy, so much so they were interfering with observing. In fact it took me several attempts to see NGC 1023 as cloud kept drifting across the field of view.
I finished the session with a look at Jupiter, which was shining incredibly brightly, like a searchlight, high in the south east. While I am not a planet observer, preferring deep sky, I was glad I had decided to look at the giant planet because the seeing was so good, in fact it was perfect, that I had incredible views and could put the magnification up to 304x without too much degradation of the image.
The North Equatorial Belt was detailed, while the STB was a bit fainter and there were festoons in some of the other bands on the planet; the North Temperate Belt showed a lot of detail, as did both polar regions. The zones also showed some marbling. The SEB, of course, is still missing or very faint.

Clusters by moonlight

It was the first clear night for a while so I decided to drag the scope out and do some observing, despite the waning gibbous moon. Because of the Moon, I thought that sticking to open clusters in the Herschel 400 was a good plan.
There was definitely an autumnal nip, as well as a ‘smell’ of autumn in the air. I put an extra layer on although, by the end of the session I was wanting to take it off as I was too warm.

Date: 29th – 30th August 2010
Conditions: Clear, slightly chilly, slight breeze
Seeing: Ant II – quite good, looked at Moon after session and there was not too much turbulence
Transparency: III – not too bad. Milky way washed out by rising moon
NELM: I didn’t check, although it would have got a right hammering from the moon and would be no better than 5.5 or 5.8.
Instrument: 12″ f/5 dobsonian with 22mm Televue Panoptic and 15mm Televue Plossl (69x and 101x)
2230 BST – 0015 BST (2130 UT – 2315 UT)

NGC 7044, open cluster in Cygnus – An absolute bugger to find. Small, compressed, not rich, faint. 69x, 101x

NGC 7062, open cluster in Cygnus – Much easier to find than 7044. Nice. rich, moderately faint cluster bordered by four brighter stars. Detached. Small. Stands out nicely. 69x, 101x

NGC 7086, open cluster in Cygnus – Compact, moderately faint. Rich. Detached. Set in a nice area. There are nine foreground stars with many more, resolved, fainter ones in background. Moon beginning to interfere. 69x, 101x

NGC 7128, open cluster in Cygnus – Very small, compact, compressed. There’s a ring of brighter stars on a hazy background. There is a conspicuous reddish star on the SE side, which is the brightest star in the cluster. Very nice. 69x, 101x

That finishes the H400 objects in Cygnus, so I moved on to Cepheus. The Moon was getting higher and about to clear the oak trees that border the north side of the garden, so it was beginning to interfere with finding things.

NGC 6939, open cluster in Cepheus – Compressed, rich. Bordered to east by distinctive pattern of three stars. Quite bright. Nice cluster. 69x, 101x.

NGC 6949, galaxy in Cepheus – The charts showed this was in the same low power field of view as NGC 6939, so I decided to give it a go despite the moonlight washing out the sky. At 69x, ‘something’ was possibly there, at 101x there was a definite faint elongated smudge. I’ll have another look at this when the moon’s out of the way. 69x, 101x

NGC 7160, open cluster in Cepheus – Easily found bright knot of stars, dominated by two bright white stars like eyes, plus 5 fainter ones. Many other fainter stars in background. 69x, 101x

By this time it was past midnight and, although I didn’t particularly want to go in, I packed up as the moon had cleared the tall trees which border the garden on the northern side and was becoming a real nuisance. I did have a quick look at the thing and it was quite spectacular, if horribly bright in the 12″ (felt a headache coming on, how do people observe this thing?? Too bright for me!) before wheeling the scope back inside and putting everything away.

I doubt if I’ll be observing tonight as, following closely on from my ankle injury, I’ve torn the rotator cuff in my left shoulder. Talk about accident prone!

From the notebooks 3 – TSP 2008 galaxies

Some galaxy sketches to brighten up your (and my) day – and mine is in serious need of a brighten up! These were made at the 2008 TSP, while observing with Larry Mitchell’s 36″.

NGC 5907, Draco
Spectacular, cutting right across the field of view in the 36″ at 232x. Prominent dark lane and a bright, elongated nucleus. Very thin, indeed. I am fond of edge on galaxies and this is one of the best.

Hickson 44, Leo.
A nice group of which NGC 3190 is the brightest member. 3190 (below centre) has a prominent dark lane. NGC 3187 (to the left of 3190) is faint and evenly bright. NGC 3185 (top) has a slight brightening towards the centre. NGC 3193 (bottom right) is round with a dense core and a fuzzy halo.
36″ at 232x.

NGC 4206 and 4216, Virgo
A lovely view. 4216, the large galaxy at right is very large, very bright and elongated. It also has a very bright compact core.
NGC 4206 is much smaller and fainter and does not have a bright core.
36″ at 232x.

M52 and NGC 5195, Arp 85, Canes Venatici
This is one of the best views I’ve ever had of this pair. You line up the huge dob, go up the ladder and this dinner plate, with the little saucer NGC 5195 next to it, is in the eyepiece.
It was hard to draw, as I was balancing near the very top of the ladder.
The arms are not uniformly circular as they appear in smaller apertures. They are bent, probably due to the influence of  5195 nearby distorting them. There are bright HII regions in the arms.
The bridge of material connecting them is easily seen and quite bright in the 36″ at 232x.
5195 is oval, distorted. the side nearest M51 is brighter than the side away from it. Fantastic.

‘From the notebooks’ does sound a little pretentious (I was going to say ‘poncey’!) but it’s quite a good title – and this stuff IS from the notebooks! – and posting old sketches is a good way of keeping the blog active while I scratch about for something interesting to post. It’s gone dead observing-wise here, due to the most appalling weather (August has been a total wash-out this year, with torrential rain, flooding and gales. I feel sorry for anyone on holiday here, especially if they’re camping) and the last few nights the Moon’s been in the way. The beginning of the month was okay for observing, with one okayish night, one good night, the Perseid peak, the Milky Way sketching session and that absolutely sensational night we had.
Anyway, some more ‘From the notebook’ type posts will appear over time, depending on what else I can talk about. It depends on how much observing I get in. I’m hoping the weather will improve during September.

Off topic, but still relevant (which I’ll come to in a minute) is my work situation. I’m currently doing a seasonal driving job delivering tourist guides to hotels, attractions, ferries and train stations, etc, which I like very much. It’s part time which suits me nicely as I can start what time I like – very handy after late observing sessions and all-night runs! However, with the tourist season winding down soon and just another couple of weeks to go of the main season, my hours will probably get reduced.
I can’t find anything else at the moment as the employment situation in the UK as a whole, not just where I live, is appalling. I’m getting interviews but then nothing comes of them, usually it’s because there’s always some git with more experience than me (although I am sure it comes down to pulling names out of a hat). Even the temping agencies have nothing – indeed the manager of one described the situation to me as ‘absolute crap’, and when even the agencies use words like ‘crap’ you know it’s bad indeed. The fact that a very real threat of a ‘double-dip’ recession is hanging over the country (although I do get the feeling the Bank of England and the Treasury are talking us into this, aided and abetted by the media) does not help the situation any.
Despite this, I am still planning to get a 20″ dob (I am one of these people who has to have something to aim for – I do NOT believe in just existing, because that’s just depressing and pointless), firstly buying that mirror-less scope I’ve mentioned in previous posts, as I already have most of the money for that. The mirror might take longer to acquire than I previously hoped, though, depending on what happens on the work front.

I am pleased to say the observing shed has held up in the recent bad weather. Some rain got blown in through the vents, as it has been pretty much torrential and blown horizontally for the past few days, but otherwise – touch wood – it seems more or less ok. I did seal up non-vent suspect points with duct tape and also fixed the roof down better, just in case as I don’t trust their flimsy method of attaching the roof. I also stuffed an old t-shirt into the vent where the rain was being blown in, I’ll remove this when the weather improves. Let’s hope it continues to be dry in there. The mirror also looks as if it’s remained condensation-free, so the silica gel cat litter seems to be doing the trick.

Milky Way sketch

After yesterday’s rather lengthy rant it’s back to the observing!
Last night, it unexpectedly cleared so it was time for some observing. However, the forecast called for it to cloud up so I decided on a short session and to do something a little different.
Back in 2006 I decided that doing a sketch of the Milky Way would be a cool thing to do. At that time, I’d torn a muscle in my back and couldn’t carry my scope in and out, so I began a naked eye sketch of our galaxy through Cygnus and down towards Sagittarius. I never finished that sketch as the weather closed in for a few weeks and my back got better. I dug out that sketch recently and decided to have another go at it. I decided that I’d start again from scratch as the 2006 sketch wasn’t that great.

Last night’s sketch was done while lying prone in a reclining garden lounger and it wasn’t easy, with the sketch book held upright on my chest it made for an awkward process. I decided to just do the part of the Milky Way that runs through Cygnus and slightly south. I included Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila in the sketch but left out the other constellations in that area. I also only added the brightest stars – I’d have been there a week if I’d tried to put all of them in, as it was mag 6.5+ at the zenith!
Unfortunately, by the time I’d got as far as adding the Milky Way glow the sky started to deteriorate with mist moving in.
For the sketch, I used an A4 (11.75×8.5 inches/297x210mm) sketchbook with heavy cartridge paper (my usual book for sketches), a 2B pencil for the stars, a 4B for the Milky Way and a chamois leather for the smudging. I’d never previously used a chamois leather before as it never even occurred to me, but it is ten times more effective for smudging nebulosity than a blending stump (tortillon) or finger tip is; how I’d heard about using a chamois was via Jeremy Perez’s excellent Astronomy Now series Drawn To The Universe. I bought mine from Halfords (for people outside the UK, Halfords are a retail chain who sell car and bike accessories), for around £3.99. It smells disgusting but works a treat!

The sketch isn’t totally complete, I really should have added more stars and the surrounding constellations, such as Delphinus, Lacerta and Sagitta, etc, but I daresay I will repeat this at another time, when conditions are better and I have more time.

Observing 4th August 2010

A day of intermittent heavy rain and thunder gave way to clear skies during the evening, for once exactly as the forecast had predicted. The BBC and Metcheck’s forecasts both agreed, which seems to be a rare event in itself, so as it got dark I went and unlocked the observatory (I like the sound of that!) and pulled the scope out.
Earlier in the evening I had been in a pretty awful mood, no reason just a bad day, and felt more like saying ‘sod it’ and going to bed but I am very glad I didn’t as the sky turned out to be magnificent.
All too often when you step outside and look up, what looks promising at first often proves to be pretty average, even poor, but not last night. After getting dark adapted, I checked the naked eye limiting magnitude, using charts of Ursa Minor and Cygnus, and it was better than 6.5! We have pretty dark skies here, but better than 6.5 is fairly rare. Usually we get between 6.0 and 6.5 but last night was as good as 6.7! I would guess that the heavy rain and thunder had cleared the atmosphere of pollutants and dust. During my trips to the TSP, I’ve seen people using ‘iridescence’ in the Milky Way to gauge transparency – the more iridescent the MW, the more transparent the sky. The Milky Way was just like that here last night, iridescent, which we rarely see because of summer haze. Visible to the unaided eye were M13, M31 (later on when clear of the trees) and NGC 7000, the North America Nebula These were truly great summer observing conditions and well worth the long wait for.

Conditions: Clear, quite chilly
Seeing: Very good: Ant II

Transparency: Excellent – I, but a few odd bits of drifting cloud later on
NELM: 6.5-6.7, dropping slightly when the waning crescent Moon rose later on

First was Aquila and a hunt for the few Herschel 400 objects (three) that are here:

NGC 6781, planetary Nebula in Aquila – Set in nice starry field this is large and oval and quite bright. It’s easily seen without a filter but my OIII brings it out nicely. With the OIII, the pn looks slightly rounder with some darkening in the centre, without the filter I can’t see the darkening very well. Very nice object. 69x, 101x + OIII

NGC 6755, open cluster in Aquila – An attractive, small, compressed cluster set in a nice Milky Way field. Stars all white and evenly bright. Found at 69x as a misty knot, detached from MW star field.
101x shows a tiny, vaguely triangular clump of stars, with around a dozen or so on a hazy background and with a fainter patch next to it but at 138x, the cluster looks like a butterfly with the left wing richer than the right one. Very pretty! 69x, 101x, 138x

NGC 6756, open cluster in Aquila – Next to NGC 6755 in the field of view of the 22mm Panoptic (69x). It’s half a dozen stars on a misty background. Not as rich or as compressed as its neighbour. Framed by a bight star at either end. 69x, 101x, 138x

I saw on my star charts that the globular cluster Palomar 11, also in Aquila, was nearby, and given the excellent conditions I decided to have a crack at seeing it. After quite a few false starts I eventually found it. It’s in quite a rich area and nailing it down was a bit hard. It appears as a roundish brightening of the sky. Its low surface brightness and location in quite a rich part of the sky made finding it difficult but I caught it eventually. The observation of the night, I think. 69x, 101x, 138x, 190x

I also decided to see if I could see ICs 59 and 63 in Cassiopeia. Given the great night it would have been a shame not to go for the faint stuff.

IC 59, IC 63, diffuse nebulae in Cassiopeia – These faint little buggers are right next to Gamma Cas, so it’s necessary to put that out of the field of view before attempting to look for them. IC 59 is a faint fan-shaped patch while IC 63 is fainter still – in fact I barely saw 63, just a mere brightening in the area. 69x + UHC filter.

M31, galaxy in Andromeda – this lovely piece of eye candy is one of my favourites to look at and I always drop in to say ‘hi’ when I am observing and M31 is high enough. Last night’s conditions gave me the best telescopic view I have ever had of this galaxy. Under average skies usually only the bright central area is visible but last night, I could see (using my big 35mm Panoptic, at 43x) the galactic disk spreading out across and beyond the field of view, and the dust lanes. It was spectacular, to say the least.

NGC 6229, globular cluster in Hercules – Very bright and easy to find (made a nice change from Pal 11 and the faint nebulae in Cassiopeia!). Small and round with a dense core at 69x.
At 138x, it began to look granular with some stars resolved, especially the outer ones.
At 190x, individual stars can be seen and the halo and core are very bright, still looked granular across the face. 69x, 138x, 190x.

NGC 6207, galaxy in Hercules – bright and easily seen at 69x. It is completely overshadowed by its big and bright famous neighbour, M13. Oval, with a brighter core. Elongated northeast-southwest. 69x, 101x
I also popped over to see the big showy eye candy neighbour, which was absolutely superb as usual and in the same field they make a nice pair, with the galaxy being a hidden treasure.

Before packing in, I dropped in on Jupiter, which was shining like a big searchlight in the eastern sky, as the seeing was so good, and it looked decidedly odd without the South Equatorial Belt, which has totally faded away.

By 0200, the waning crescent Moon was substantially interfering with the sky conditions and there was more drifting cloud around so that, along with the fact my feet were by now very cold (I was wearing thin trainers) made packing up a Very Good Idea. So did the prospect of work in a few hours. So within five minutes, I’d pulled the scope back into the shed, chucked my charts back in their box, gathered up my eyepieces, locked up and headed back to the house.
As mentioned in my previous post, I’d found that the addition of wheels made my scope eyepiece higher off the ground. I knew it would be higher but not *how* higher. Consequently, viewing stuff at the zenith required standing on tiptoes. This was awkward and uncomfortable, as it hurt my calf muscles and toes, so some sort of small stool was a must. I found a little plastic step stool in Tesco this afternoon, for £2.50, which will fit the bill nicely.