Category Archives: General

Two massive boxes

…arrived this afternoon. They contain the 8ft x 6ft shed that will be the new home for my scopes. I got the Argos delivery blokes to dump the boxes on the patio, figuring it would be something of a mickey-take to ask them to take the boxes up to the top of the garden! So, over the weekend (although, that depends on what happens as my sister has invited herself and her kids down for the weekend which will no doubt chuck a spanner into these particular plans. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always a pleasure to see them but I would have liked to get this done), me and my aunt will have to – somehow – get these huge boxes up the garden so we can put the shed up. In the meantime, I have a slightly larger than 8ft by 6ft hole to dig one evening and blocks to put in.
I just hope this plan is successful…


Hopefully the new observatory/shed will arrive on Wednesday afternoon. It means I have to leave work early as I’ve got to sign for the thing, but as I am doing delivery driving for the summer and can almost work to my own timetable it isn’t a problem. I’ll be able to dig out a 8 foot by 6 foot hole in the ground and lay the blocks one evening this week and then put the shed up this coming weekend.
I also need to buy some casters for the scope base so I can roll it out onto the grass when I want to observe. I have found some with 4-inch wheels that should do the trick. These are available online and cost about £25 plus postage so I’ll send off for them when I have a bit more cash. They will definitely make life easier, as will having the shed, because carrying the scope out of the house every time I want to observe is a pain in the neck, although I put up with it rather than not observe. Something else I need to do is buy a small electric greenhouse heater and attach it to a solar panel, to keep moisture away from the optics.
I’ll be posting photos as things progress.

After today, the 28th, the sunsets start to get earlier. In a few weeks the sky will be darker and I can get outside at a more reasonable time. The late hours of darkness, between 0030 and 0300, are as much a pain as the fact it does not get quite properly dark – dark enough for bright objects but not for faint ones.

My old Windows XP laptop, which died not long back, has been resurrected by a friend who is an electrician and a computer repairer. The thing had originally been wrecked by malware but I managed to get rid of it, reformat the drive and restore it, only for the power supply to give out. I bought a Windows 7 desktop and, while it’s a good machine, it couldn’t run my website creating software and a few other things due to Windows 7’s totally crap non-compatability with some older software (another way of screwing money from people, no doubt), meaning I had to go out and buy new, not very good, software which is not as flexible and with an ftp. client which has an irritating habit of uploading the entire site everytime I do an update, instead of just the updated file, despite me selecting the ‘upload only modified files’ option. Now the XP machine is working again, I am going to rebuild my website.

On an unrelated note, here’s a gem I saw on the net following our (England’s) dismal, pathetic and gutless exit from the football World Cup after an abject campaign ended in humiliation at the hands of Germany: “The Met Office has issued a weather warning as a shower of shit is heading this way from South Africa“. Harsh but fair, I think. Gave me a laugh anyway, which is just as well after yesterday’s disappointments! 🙂

Comet, etc

England v Algeria in the World Cup is on ITV1 and the match is so good, I am typing this. Yes, it is terrible and England are embarrassingly woeful. It’s a pity that assistant coach David Beckham can’t go on, even in his nicely cut suit he’d play better than this lot. In fact my grandmother would do better than Rooney et al, and she’s been dead for nine years.

I did manage to get out and observe Comet C/2009 R1 McNaught the other night, I set my alarm for 0200 and was actually able to get out of bed to do so. I can’t usually get up early to go observing, but as this comet is only around for a short while, I made myself get up. I had to walk up the footpath in front of the house to get clear of the trees blocking the view of Perseus (which is why I used my 8×42 binoculars and not a telescope) which the comet is currently passing through. It took me a while to see it as the sky was not that dark (it is June at 50 degrees north, after all), there was a lot of murk in the sky and, hence, a lot of skyglow. The comet was faint and round and I could not see the tail.

My car passed its MOT with no problems today, although yesterday I noticed a judder in the clutch. However this type of electronically-controlled manual gearbox called a ‘Sensodrive’ is known for clutch judder, so I am hoping it is not a problem. Anyway, the car not needing anything done to it means I can begin saving for the 18″ Dob I want to get. I have two months worth of work starting on the 24th, although it won’t be anywhere near enough to save up all the nearly £3000 needed, it’ll be a start. Providing work keeps coming I should be able to save the money in 6-7 months.
I had been doing a separate blog for the Herschel 400 project, but I have decided to bin it and just put the posts here, after all I am duplicating 99% of the stuff and that’s pretty pointless, so I am just going to keep it all on this one.

Home Again

After an uneventful flight (during which I watched Avatar, an excellent film and better than I expected) and bus trip home from Heathrow to Portsmouth, then a ferry ride to the Island, I arrived home on Thursday afternoon. I am pleased to say that my astro-purchases also made it home in one piece. I had been concerned for my new Telrad dew shield, as that’s made of brittle plastic but, thanks to a small cake tin and clean underware acting as makeshift bubble wrap, that also made it home intact. It’s now been united with my Telrad and it will certainly make life easier on those humid, dewy nights.

I have hundreds of photos to sort out, process and upload and I’ll put some here and also on my Flickr page. I can’t do much at the moment as I have got a massive infection of my upper arm (again) and it hurts to sit up or do anything for too long but, hopefully, I’ll be able to get them done by the start of the new week. I am just grateful this infection didn’t happen last week.

I have come home to nice warm weather and clear skies but the moon’s now in the way so there’ll be no observing, although with this infection I can’t do much anyway. Annoying, really, as I’m looking forward to trying out my new purchases such as the dew shield and the twist-lock adapter.

TSP Day 6 – Farewells

I hate the last day of TSP. That Saturday is always a sad occasion, as the party is done for another year – or another two, at least, in my case – and we all have to go our separate ways.
Alvin dropped me back at the Ranch late morning and, after lunch, I packed my bag and then went birding. I did, at last, find Vermilion Flycatchers and I got what I hope are good pictures of one, a lovely bright red and black male bird.

The final meal of the 2010 TSP was steak and, unlike the rest of the meals during the week, it was pretty good, with baked potatoes and corn on the cob. After that there was a talk on meteorites, then observing awards and then the Great Texas Giveaway Part 2 – and I still didn’t win a thing. There was a 17mm Televue Ethos up for grabs as the grand prize but, as usual, I didn’t win. You’d have thought that, with a lot of people having packed up and gone home the odds would have shortened on winning stuff. Uh uh, no. Oh well, never mind, next time maybe.

Once the meeting was over, we all left the meeting hall, and some people headed home straight away, while those of us staying the night went to the observing fields, which resembled an astronomical Marie Celeste, especially the Middle and Lower Fields with most people having packed their scopes away ready for an early departure next morning.
After farewells to various people and chatting it was time for bed, as the sky had completely clouded over so observing clearly wasn’t going to happen. I finished packing and went to bed before a 6am departure back to San Antonio with Robert.

Sunday morning we headed out under the Adios, Vaya Con Dios sign on the ranch gate and, after a six hour drive which I mostly missed as I was asleep(!), arrived back in San Antonio just after lunch.

It had been a good TSP and the weather co-operated – well, co-operated most of the time – and I got some good observing with 18, 36 and 48 inch scopes. Thanks to all those who let me share their scopes: Dennis Beckley, Larry Mitchell and Jimi Lowrey – thanks guys, it is much appreciated. Also, Alvin for the invites and laughs. I got a binocular pin and a coveted Larry Mitchell Advanced Observing Pin and I got a lot of good observations and some good drawings, that I’ll post when I get home next week.

It’s now Monday and I am going home on Wednesday. That ash is back, though, so things could get a little interesting. I hope not.

TSP Day 4 – Thunderheads and the Skunk Nebula

The evening didn’t start out too promising as, during the late afternoon huge thunderheads built up, dominating the eastern and north-eastern sky. At one point, there was one huge and evil-looking cloud that looked unpleasantly like a mushroom cloud, prompting people to make jokes that someone had dropped a nuclear bomb nearby. The effect of late sunlight on the cloud enhanced its hideous appearance and people were pleased when it began to lose its shape. No thunderstorm materialised, although there was some lightning on the horizon.

The skies weren’t too great for observing, although useable, and by three a.m. we decided to pack up for the night which was a shame because we were just on halfway through another of Larry’s Lists, this time the 2000 list ‘Rings Over Texas’. Last night’s observing was a mix of the frustrating (clouds right where you want to look, bad seeing, not being able to find things) and the hilarious – a visitation from a skunk who was on the lookout for dropped food items. Unfortunately the little cutie came far too close for comfort and we spent ten minutes keeping an eye out for him and, at one point, abandoned Dennis’ 18″ and retreated to a safe distance while Mr. Skunk pottered around. He investigated people’s tents and my bag (and I was thinking ‘please don’t spray it, please don’t spray it!’) before wandering off somewhere into the darkness. We had to use dim red torches and averted vision to keep track of the Skunk Nebula but, luckily, he didn’t deploy his chemical warfare on us so the area around us and, more importantly, our possessions remained Eau de Skunk free.

Back to the observing and before being ‘skunked’ (ha ha) by the clouds and deteriorating sky we managed to observe about 14 of the objects on the list:  NGC 2685, NGC 5122, NGC 2793, AM 1358-221,  MCG-4-33-27, Arp 87, NGC 3681, Minkowski 1-64, 2H24, NGC 4650A, the central star in M57 and Mayall’s Object.

I also whipped quickly through the TSP Binocular list and added to my pin collection.

Going to bed at three a.m. at least meant I was able to get up early enough to go birding this morning and I saw some nice species, especially Blue Grosbeaks. I went up to Indian Lodge State Park with Keith Taggart of El Paso, TX and I got some (hopefully good) photos of different species at feeding areas specially set up. Unfortunately Vermilion Flycatchers, a species I’d particularly like to see are still eluding me at present. I am told they’re common but to me that seems they’re common when I am not about. That’s the story of my life when birding!

Epic trek

I arrived in San Antonio, TX, late on Friday night after delays caused by mechanical problems with the Continental Airlines Boeing 767-400 (a fault with the hydraulics on the braking system – very important on landing!) causing us to miss our take off slot from London Heathrow and then a big detour due to the volcanic ash, which meant the flight took 11 hours instead of the usual 8.5 and fighting 100mph headwinds over Canada and the northern US didn’t help. Because of this I was four hours late into Houston, and missed my connection to San Antonio.
The detour was interesting as it took us up the centre of the UK and over the coast of northern Scotland (there’s still snow in the Highlands), past the Faeroe Islands and north to just over the Arctic Circle. I could see Iceland – the cause of all the ash trouble – to the south and pack ice and icebergs in the Denmark Strait, between Iceland and Greenland. Other jets were in the sky, including one on a parallel course a few miles from us, on our port side, it looked highly impressive speeding along at 500mph with the contrail streaming behind – I expect we looked just as impressive to them.
Excuse the poor quality of the photos, airliner windows are not made of optical quality glass! The crap on the windows is ice crystals; according to the flight path map data, it was -64 outside.
Pack ice in the Denmark Strait
We flew over Greenland, and from the plane there were fantastic views of the coast just north of Angmagssalik; it was clear, displaying incredibly beautiful Arctic scenery with mountains, snow, huge cliffs and, at the coast, icebergs and pack ice. It looked lovely but I would not want to live there, too cold and it doesn’t get dark at all in summer although I would love to visit. 
Icebergs and pack ice on the Greenland coast

We left Greenland behind just south of Godthab (Nuuk) and flew down over Canada (which seemed to take forever), the Great Lakes and into the United States. Our route over the US took us over Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, the top left hand corner of Louisiana and into Texas before landing at George Bush Intercontinental in hot and humid Houston.
I’d missed my connection to San Antonio so, once I’d cleared US Immigration and Customs (the queueing took an hour, the actual process about three minutes) I had to go to Continental Airlines’ check in desk, fully expecting to be told there were no more flights to San Antonio that evening and already forming my contingency plan (find a hotel and try to get Continental to pay for it! At least find a hotel) but, fortunately, that proved not to be the case. I got the last remaining seat on the last departure of the evening and made it to San Antonio just after 10 pm.
We’re setting off for TSP tomorrow (Monday) and hoping the weather will be good. The forecast has already changed twice from good to bad to indifferent. Let’s hope it changes back to good again. At the moment we’re in for one totally clear night, four partially clear ones and a cloudy one with thunderstorms. I hope it improves! But, even if the weather’s crap, it’ll still be a fun event with great people and scenery. And it’s a change of scene.

Bugger OFF!

More volcanic ash is heading our way from Iceland. At the moment it is predicted to cover Ireland and Scotland, with warnings of flight restrictions. I just hope it stays away from the rest of the UK, certainly until I am safely out of here on Friday. The winds aren’t helping as they are unusually (because our winds usually come from the west but a high pressure system in the Atlantic is bringing in a northerly airflow) coming from the north and north west, although they are predicted to swing to the north east by Friday, which will hopefully help keep the stuff away.

Met Office London VAAC website latest ash prediction as of 1800Z

New website!

I have moved my website from (who are truly excellent, but a tad limited) to a new host and I have my own domain name The reason I changed was that I was in PC World yesterday, looking for some new web-building software, and the program I bought included free hosting. How good the host is remains to be seen but you can’t go wrong if you don’t have to pay. If they prove to be unreliable with loads of down time then I will move in due course to another host, but they are supposed to be quite good and, normally, their hosting starts at £33 per year but they have done a deal with the makers of the software.
My new site looks great and I am really pleased with it as the software was incredibly easy to use and comes with an FTP client, which is always better than cumbersomely using a web browser. Click here to see it: FJ Astronomy

Off to TSP on Friday, all being well. I leave home on Thursday and fly to San Antonio via Houston on Friday. I’ll spend a couple of days in San Antonio with Robert and Mary Reeves before driving out with Robert on Monday to the Prude Ranch. The couple of days in the city will be spend birding (I am hoping to photograph Cardinals among others) and shopping for those bits I’ll inevitably forget to bring from the UK.
Eyjafjallajokull is still erupting, with ash blowing south over the Atlantic. I have my fingers firmly crossed that the winds, which are currently keeping the ash away from the UK continue to remain favourable and I can get away ok. I don’t mind being stranded in the States but I’ll be pissed off if I can’t get there! Funnily enough I’ll be going through Heathrow Departures on my way to the States and my sister, who has been to a wedding in the US Virgin Islands, will be coming through Arrivals at the same time.
I have bought myself a sweet little laptop to take with me, for blog updates, which I got in PC World yesterday. My other laptop is a big heavy thing but this is small, with a 10 inch screen and will easily go in my camera bag. It has a 250GB hard drive so I can put my photos on it as well.

Volcanic sunset

Here in the UK, the big news of the day (discounting the, frankly boring, General Election and the various political parties trying to outdo each other with the various packs of lies and promises they have no intention of keeping) is the huge cloud of volcanic ash that has covered the country, and most of Europe, from Eyjafjallajökull volcano in south west Iceland, which is currently erupting. The eruption has grounded all flights into and out of the UK and most of Europe and this is set to continue into the weekend.
However, with the ash covering the UK, it has provided the potential for decent sunsets. This evening’s sunset was a little redder and darker than usual.

More practically, I sincerely hope the eruption has died down, or the eruptive material is blowing away from us, in three weeks’ time, as I will not be best pleased if my flight to the US is disrupted or cancelled. The trouble is, with nature, you never know