Category Archives: Nebulae


The new shed is now in place. We started putting it up yesterday and after six hours, a lot of swearing and a few ‘teddies chucked out of prams’ (patience is not one of my strong points; fortunately the neighbours appeared to be out and thus, hopefully, did not hear an ‘f-word-every-other-word’ rant at one stage in the proceedings!) it was just about finished with only a few finishing touches to be added. I did make a couple of cock ups but it seems largely straight, secure and solid so I don’t think it’ll blow down in a gale. It also appears to keep the rain out. There was a thundery downpour this morning and, apart from rain coming in the windows as I hadn’t installed them, it looked to be bone dry with the sole exception of one side which let in a few drops in at floor level. I’ll get some sealant and sort that out. The real test will come when the autumn and winter set in and we get howling gales and driving rain. I am going to leave it for a while before I put my scope in it to see how it fares, that’ll let me see what needs doing to keep any weather out. I went to a party last night and a friend told me that any flat pack assemble-it-yourself item comes with free swear words, the amount of which directly correlates to the nature of the item and the annoyance factor of putting it up; i.e. kitchen units come with 100 free swear words, a shed like mine comes with about 100,000 while a greenhouse comes with several million!
I put the windows in this afternoon, unlike the rest of the thing there were no annoying mini-crises to put up with!

I have not done any serious observing for a while, apart from a couple of mini-sessions with the refractor on a couple of evenings two weeks back. This is because the weather is so highly variable at the moment and evenings which start off clear are not staying that way. We are having a very unsettled summer, apart from a hot couple of weeks in late June/early July. I did manage to sketch a couple of Messiers, just to keep my hand in, while cloud-dodging.

M8, the Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius. 3.5″ refractor at 36x

M27, the Dumbell Nebula in Vulpecula. 3.5″ refractor at 36x.

I have no idea what these sketches look like on most people’s monitors. My 20″ widescreen monitor went bang just over a week ago so I took it back to PC World (who did not want to know, despite the monitor being well under a year old, so I had to resort to playing the arsey customer which, to be honest, I hate doing. I’ve worked in retail myself – it sucks) and am waiting for the repaired monitor or a replacement. In the meantime I am using an elderly borrowed 17″ square matte flat screen job which isn’t that good for picture editing or viewing. The sketches look appalling on this one, I am hoping that they look a lot better elsewhere!

I also aimed my 400mm Canon telephoto lens at the Moon the other evening – yes, you did read that right. The Moon. Not only that, it meant I was doing some astronomical imaging – the shame. ;-D
Here’s the result of that. I was quite pleased with it, especially as I was handholding the lens at 400 ISO and using a shutter speed of 1/320 sec at f/5.6. I sent a copy to my friend, the well-known author and astro-imager Robert Reeves, who sent me some feedback.
No, I am not going to become an imager, but I do like taking the odd shot now and then. It shows how desperate one can get to do something astronomical!

I have decided that I won’t mess around getting a 16″ Lightbridge. I do want a decent scope of 18 or 20 inches, so I will carry on saving and get a custom-built, quality Dob. One route, and one that I am currently investigating, is to buy an existing Dob chassis and get the optics to fit. I know someone who has a lovely one (a 20″) for sale, minus the optics. However, I’d need an f/3.7 mirror and secondary to fit it as buying a more common f/4 or f/5 would involve a bit of a rebuild, something I don’t want to get into. If I can’t easily get hold of an f/3.7 mirror for a reasonable price (i.e. comparable to that of an f/4) then I’ll probably revert back to Plan A, which is buy a custom-made dob.

IWSP – observing

Here on the Isle of Wight we are fortunate in that we have a southerly aspect with unobstructed and un-lightpolluted views out over the English Channel, from the island’s south coast where the star party is held. The only source of light pollution are passing ships and the light houses at St Catherines Point and Portland Bill (unlike the north east part of the island which is as light polluted as anywhere on the UK mainland).
This year’s IW Star Party had a mix of cloud and clear spells, on the nights I was there, Friday and Saturday. Friday night was clear for an hour, then the weather closed in again and it rained for the rest of the night. Saturday was a lot better, giving us a good couple of hours and what I hear about Sunday was that it was clear for the most part, but I had to miss it because of having to be at work on Monday morning.
I was fortunate enough to share Owen Brazell’s 20 inch Obsession, as well as take peeks though other people’s scopes including a rather nice Orion Optics UK 14 inch Dob (which has a same length, but lighter, tube than my 12″), here are the observations all made with the 20 inch. These aren’t in order, as I was scribbling the notes down on Post-it notes, a pad of which happened to be in my pocket – unlike a notebook – and they got mixed up.

Date: 13th March 2010
Conditions: chilly, cold breeze, some high cloud. No Moon.
NELM: 6.3
Seeing: Ant I-II
Instrument: 20 inch f5 Obsession Dobsonian, 21mm Televue Ethos, 13mm Televue Ethos, 8mm Televue Ethos and OIII filter.
M42 in Orion: I’ve seen this in every instrument I have looked through but this was the best view I have ever had. So much detail, wisps, tendrils, dark areas…and the Trapezium was as detailed as ever I’ve seen it. You could clearly see the hole, caused by the young stars blowing the gas away from their surroundings. The E and F components were easily seen, as were much fainter stars in the nebulosity immediately surrounding the Trapezium.
Jonckheere 900, planetary nebula in Gemini: Small, round and fuzzy. Quite bright. 318x + OIII
Jonckheere 320, planetary nebula in Orion: I have tried for this with my 12 inch from home without success. In the 20 inch it is small, not quite stellar, round and has a fuzzy appearance, this fuzziness preventing it appearing stellar. 318x + OIII
B33/IC 434 (Horsehead Nebula) in Orion: At last! I have made numerous attempts to see this, with no success. However, I suggested to Owen that we have a crack at this, so he put the 13mm Ethos and a HBeta filter in and we saw it comparatively easily. B33 (the Horsehead) stood out against IC434, as a large, dark, semicircular area cutting into the ribbon of IC434. With averted vision, we could just make out the horse’s nose. For me, this was the observation – and the highlight – of the weekend. 120x
Abell 21 (aka Medusa Nebula) planetary nebula in Gemini: Eastern side is the brighter and is crescent shaped, in fact almost triangular. There is also some nebulosity on the western side. (Magnification unknown) + OIII
NGC 2022, planetary nebula in Orion: Oval, bright and slightly darker in middle. 318x + OIII.
NGC 2683, galaxy in Lynx: Large, bright edge-on spiral. Brightens beautifully towards centre.
NGC 2371-2, planetary nebula in Gemini. This is a very interesting planetary, consisting of two lobes, the western lobe being the brighter of the two. It does look like its nickname of the ‘peanut’ nebula, especially at low power. 318x + OIII
NGC 3242, (nickname Ghost of Jupiter) planetary nebula in Hydra: Very bright, oval with brighter middle. 318x + OIII
The clouds rolled in again just after midnight, so after a talk, I headed back to my tent (although I ended up abandoning it due to the cold!). It was a short, but good, session and the undoubted highlight was seeing the Horsehead Nebula for the first time as well as M42 in such incredible detail.

Abell 12 (PK 198-6.1)

Cold: -2°C, no breeze, icy (treacherous underfoot).

Seeing Ant I (excellent seeing), transparency around II-III (mediocre). 
NELM 6.0 to 6.2, waxing crescent Moon (33% of full) just setting
Scope: 12 inch Dobsonian.

As it was a clear evening, I decided to take the scope out in slightly unfavourable conditions (ice underfoot, freezing fog forming) to have another go at Abell 12 (PK 198-6.1). While I saw it briefly the other evening, I didn’t get a good enough view and I used a lower power. This evening I wanted to use a high power on it.

I eventually saw it after a LOT of averted vision staring (I think it would be easier on a better night) at 304x, located just west of Mu Orionis. It is almost right next to the star so a filter is needed to cut down the glare, I used my usual filter for PNs, an OIII. It is round, even, largish and faint. It is utterly invisible without the OIII filter. 304x + OIII

After coming back in I checked it out on the net, via Google, and people talk of it popping into view with an OIII, in various scopes, from 8 inch upwards. This was not my experience. I had to use a hood, high power and an OIII filter plus a fair bit of averted vision looking to see this, and I think the conditions were the reason I didn’t get a good view – this is not a hard object, by all accounts. I definitely want to return to this on a better night.
I also had a crack at the planetary nebula Jonckheere 320, also in Orion, but no joy there. With the icing up of my Telrad and finder, things ‘out in the boondocks’ were not going to be easy to locate!

I did, however, take a high powered trip into the heart of M42, with my 5mm Radian (304x) and OIII filter. To say that this is an awesome sight is not doing it enough justice. It is bright and incredibly detailed, with mottling, dark areas, bright areas, the Trapezium all hitting the back of the eyes in spectacular fashion. I will do a sketch of this before the spring comes. I suppose one could ask ‘why aren’t all deep sky objects as easy to see as this’ – but then, what would be the fun in that, if all DSOs were a piece of cake to find and see?

Now the infernal Moon – as a deep sky observer, it is hard not to loathe and detest the bloody thing – is on the way back up again (currently 33% of Full), there’ll be no more deep sky observing until next month – weather permitting, of course.

Winter clusters and nebulae, 20 December 2009

The first nearly cloudless evening for ages prompted me to carry out the big scope for an evening’s chasing of winter nebulae. I set up the scope and left it to cool while it got dark and I gathered my stuff together. The weather has been very cold of late, with snow last Friday and subsequent days being below zero, with plenty of ice on the ground. Because of the ice, and not wanting to slip over, I didn’t set up in my usual place on the patio, but further up the garden, on a concrete patch I often use as it does afford a better view of the sky (the patio is closer to the house and is more convenient for going in and out of the kitchen extension, which I use as a kind of ‘observatory’, with my eyepieces, charts and other stuff spread out over the work surfaces and the top of the freezer).
20th December 2009
Cold: -2


C, stiff breeze, 78% humidity.

Some cloud on southern horizon and a waxing crescent Moon, 17% of full. NELM 6.0 TO 6.5 later. Some intermittent interference from neighbours’ indoor lights (why do some people not have curtains?).
Seeing Ant II, transparency II-III
Instruments used: 12 inch f5 Dobsonian and 8×42 binoculars
After satisfying myself that the clouds were not about to spread out, they were hugging the southern horizon (‘Don’t even think about it, you sods!’ I found myself saying out loud), I began with an attempt on IC59 and IC63 which are located close to Gamma Cassiopeiae. These are very faint nebulae and, after searching around the area with a medium power eyepiece and UHC filter I can’t say in all honesty that I saw these. I saw a slight brightening in the area but that was it.The waxing 17% of full crescent Moon was a sod, surprisingly bright, and it seemed to take an age to set, if I hadn’t known better I’d have sworn that the damned thing was stuck where it was!
Next was the planetary nebula IC 2003 in Perseus. This was easy to find, being located exactly halfway between Menkib (Xi Persei) and Atik (Zeta Persei) – put the Telrad finder between those two stars and you will find the nebula. It is stellar at low powers and needs an OIII filter to make it stand out and confirm the sighting. At high power it takes on a slightly fuzzy appearance. There is a slight bluish tinge to this (without the filter) and it has a definitely brighter middle to it. 101x + Lumicon UHC
IC 351 in Perseus. Slightly more difficult to find than IC 2003, it took me a search of around ten minutes to locate it, to the east of IC 2003. This is a tiny, very stellar-looking PN which is pretty bright. Definitely needs the OIII filter ‘blinked’ in front of the eyepiece to be certain of sighting. Does not look as fuzzy as IC 2003. 190x + Lumicon UHC
While waiting for Orion to clear the house roof (I wanted a crack at PK 198-6.1, located right next to Mu Orionis as well as to look at NGC 2024 and the other stuff in that area) I got the 8×42 binoculars out and looked at a couple of large open clusters in Taurus:
NGC 1647 in Taurus. Huge open cluster. Irregular, not quite round shape. Quite a lot of stars resolved, although hand-holding the binoculars meant it was almost impossible to count them properly. Impression of some brighter foreground stars and a lot of fainter backgrounds ones. I also looked at this with the scope but the overall impression with the scope was of a large, but not rich cluster. Nice. 8×42 binoculars
NGC 1746 in Taurus. This is even larger than N1647, almost twice its size. Contains brighter stars than N1647 but even less rich. 8×42 binoculars

NGC 1952 (M1) in Taurus. While in the area, I decided to take a look at M1, the famous Crab Nebula, as it is a number of years since I last looked at it. It can safely be said that this thing is not famous for being spectacular, as it is a rather nondescript elongated smudge of light. It is, however, famous for being the first item on Charles Messier’s list of objects to avoid (for the purposes of not getting them confused with comets, which was what CM was really after) and for being observed by the Earl of Rosse at Birr Castle in Ireland, and it got the ‘Crab’ nickname from Lord Rosse, his sketch shows tendrils like a crab’s appendages – but he had a much bigger scope than me! 190x
NGC 1907 in Auriga. Completely overshadowed by its neighbour, the vast open cluster M38, this open cluster is a nice small, rich cluster. Oval, with a number of brighter stars and a hazy background of much fainter ones. 190x.

PK198-6.1 (Abell 12) in Orion. Easy to find, being located right next to Mu Orionis, but easy to see? Not particularly due to the star’s proximity. It is right in the glare from the star and it took high magnification, an OIII filter and a cover over my head to block out stray light for me to see something round, largish and faint next to the star, but I want to have another go at this when Orion is higher and the conditions are better. 190x + Lumicon OIII
NGC 2024 in Orion. Right next to Alnitak (Zeta Orionis, the eastern most belt star), this is slightly overwhelmed by the star’s glare but is not hard to spot. The big dark rift  which cuts it in two is the most obvious feature with averted vision bringing out the faint nebulosity either side of it. A UHC filter works quite well on this, while OIII and H-beta kill it. The western half of the nebula, nearest the star, is brighter than the easten half. 60x + Lumicon UHC

By this time it was 2135 GMT (UT) and the clouds were moving in so I finished the session with the obligatory look at M42, the Great Orion Nebula and the detached portion M43. This, in the 40mm Plossl (38x) with the UHC filter attached, was spectacular with tendrils and nebulosity everywhere. The dark indent next to the Trapezium was very obvious as were other dark areas, giving the brightest portion of it a mottled appearance. 38x + UHC 

Packed up as the clouds began to fill the sky.

A few more sketches

Here are a few more sketches from the summer/early autumn. These, too, have been scanned straight from the original sketch and processed a bit in PS Elements 6. I have tried to make the stars rounder but without making them appear bloated. By the way, the light patches in the corners and sides are the result of the scanning process: my sketchbook is spiral bound and so the scanner lid does not shut properly, causing light to leak in.

Click images for larger versions.

NGC 7662 ^

M33 with HII regions NGCs 595 and 604^
NGC 604 is the elongated patch just below centre, 595 is labelled at bottom left
NGC 205^

Binocular observing session 11-12 December 2009

Sod’s Law was in action last night as I had a severe cold which prevented a proper observing session with the 12 inch, and it was the clearest and most transparent sky we have had in ages. I had spent most of the day in bed with coughs, sneezes and fever, having been sent home from work at lunchtime, but something compelled me to look out of the window at 2330, I am not sure why I expected it to be clear as most of the day had been cloudy and a bit foggy. I felt a bit better and I hate wasting clear skies so decided on a short session; besides it would have been a bit foolish to have stayed out for any real length of time and get cold.
Obviously I didn’t feel like lugging the big scope out, or even one of its smaller friends, but I put on jeans, jumper and shoes and went out with the 8×42 binoculars instead. I also pulled out my UHC and OIII filters out to see what winter nebulae I could see with the binoculars.

11-12 December 2009; 2330 – 0005 GMT/UT

° above freezing
No wind
Excellent transparency apart from the odd bit of clouds on the horizon; out of 5, where 1 is bad and 5 excellent, it was 5. The seeing was reasonably steady too, Antoniadi II.
Naked eye limiting visual magnitude was 6.5

Of course, I just had to go for M42, the Orion Nebula. It is an irresistible object in any instrument, including binoculars, and is worth looking for even if it is the most observed deep sky object in the sky. I make a point of saying hello to it every year, as I do all my favourites, and I can’t wait to see it in the 12 inch. Huge, very bright, fan shaped, with four stars visible in the Trapezium. Needs no filtration, although UHC brings it out slightly better (OIII not as effective). M43 also visible as a little round patch.
Also looked at NGC 1981 and NGC 1980.

I also had a (over optimistic it has to be said) look for NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula, but I did not see it. I didn’t think I would in binoculars but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

NGC 2237-8/NGC 2246; the Rosette Nebula in Monoceros.
Large, round and bright with the star cluster NGC 2244 at the centre. The nebula is only just visible without a filter, but the UHC makes it very easy to see. The OIII is also effective but it’s best with the UHC.

Ursa Major was low behind the trees but M81 and M82 were above the trees and easily seen with the 8x42s.

M31 was bright and huge through the binoculars, spanning the entire field of view. The core was bright and the spiral arms extensive. Good view of the dust lanes.

NGC 869 and NGC 884; the Double Cluster
Gorgeous through the binoculars. Very rich and large with the stars easily resolved.

Trumpler 2
Small fuzzy patch just SE of DC. Also NGC 957, another hazy patch.

NGC 1499; the California Nebula. This isn’t quite as easy to see as the Rosette, especially without a filter, but the UHC filter brings it out and you can see a hazy brightening of faint nebulosity extending east-west, immediately north of Menkib.

By then it was 0035 (GMT/UT) and I was getting cold and coughing a lot so I had to reluctantly drag myself away from the sky and head indoors and back to bed.


The odds on me attending the 2010 Texas Star Party have slightly improved. I have got a temporary job until Christmas and have so far, managed to save nearly half the air fare. Hopefully, a run of employment between now and April will enable me to get there. The air fare’s most of the battle, with prices ranging between £350 and £550 (of course I can’t leave it too late before getting the plane ticket, must get that in January or February or it’ll become more expensive), while the TSP, including accommodation, is fairly cheap and doesn’t require a lot of saving for. The other big ‘expense’ is the cash for any goodies that might catch my eye when I am there such as a 2-inch UHC filter that I want for viewing large nebulae with my 35mm Televue Panoptic.


I have retrieved my clear sky spreadsheet from the wreckage, scanned it twice with Norton, and loaded it onto the new computer. I had been keeping a note of the weather in the intervening period – not exactly hard when it’s mostly been cloudy! – and have been able to pick up where I left off. November makes dismal viewing with two clear nights and one partially clear night in the whole month, but I wasn’t able to take advantage of those clear nights unfortunately. As noted in a previous entry, it has been two months of nearly continuous wind and rain, with a large part of the UK affected by flooding.

Nebula chasing around Cygnus. And a few other things.

It was again a clear night last night and it turned out to be a pretty good session.

25-26 September 2009. Conditions: Chilly at 8 degrees C (later 6 degrees C), humidity 84%. Seeing Antoniadi scale II-III, transparency II-III. Limiting magnitude 6 to 6.2 later on.
Instruments: 12 inch f/5 Dobsonian and 8×42 binoculars

After the previous night’s hassles I didn’t bother collimating the scope and, as it turned out, it was slightly out (as expected) but otherwise not too bad.

After the requisite time spent getting dark adapted, I went for a bit of an ambitious first target: Pease 1, the planetary nebula in the Pegasus globular cluster M15. After locating the cluster itself, I put an OIII filter onto the eyepiece, the highest power I could get. I have to admit, that I am not sure if I saw Pease 1 or not. The OIII dims the cluster nicely, but the planetary is a teeny little thing and could have been any one of the stars not dimmed too much by the OIII. I am going to print some decent charts off and have another go at it next time (and when my scope is properly collimated – I have sent off for a new laser collimator today, my Revelation one is totally buggered and refuses to work at all now. I think my hurling it across the garden the other evening has completely finished it off!). Even blinking the filter in and out of the eyepiece didn’t really make anything stand out.
M15 itself, as ever was a pleasant sight. Bright condensed core and with many stars resolved. 190x

I gave up on Pease 1 and moved onto brighter things.

NGC 6800 is a nice open cluster in Vulpecula, easy to locate. It is large, loose and irregular. Not bright, stars of uniform brightness. Some of the stars form a circle around the middle of the cluster, but the centre of this circle contains no stars. Nice with the 35mm TV Panoptic (43x). Sketched with the 25mm Plossl (61x).

Next was the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. This is one of my all time favourite objects and tonight I spent over an hour looking at, and sketching, the components NGC 6960, NGC 6992 and NGC 6995 (these last two form a large loop).

NGC 6960 is the western portion of the Veil and is visible without a filter but UHC brings it out nicely. However, OIII gives the best view and the nebulosity looks fatter and more detailed with the OIII. It looks like a witches broom (in fact I think ‘Witches Broom’ is a nickname for it) with a bright star where the handle meets the brush. The northern part of NGC 6960 is brighter than the southern part and reminds me of cigarette smoke as it leaves the cigarette. In the southern end, it widens and gradually fades out. 38x + OIII

NGC 6992 and NGC 6995 form the eastern portion of the Veil. This is huge and does not all fit into the 1 degree field of view of the 40mm TV Plossl (38x). it is very bright and I can see filaments, especially at the southern end. The eastern side is much brighter, while the western side is faintern and fades out. 38x + OIII

NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary in Cygnus: Very small and bright. Obvious as an out-of-focus star. It’s bright even unfiltered, but an OIII filter makes a big difference. This is visible with direct vision but averted vision makes it look twice as bright and twice as big. Blueish tinge without the filter. 101x + OIII

NGC 7008, planetary nebula in Cygnus: Small, bright pn located within irregularly-shaped dark nebula Le Gentil 3 – itself easily visible to the unaided eye. This is bright and triangular. There is a star at the apex of the triangle. It is brighter on the north eastern side. Only the brighter portions are immediately visible without a filter, but an OIII shows the whole object. 101x + OIII.

Le Gentil 3, dark nebula on border of Cepheus and Cygnus: large, irregular dark nebula. Visible to unaided eye. Also looked at through binoculars.

Sharpless 2-112, nebula in Cygnus: Easy to find. Faint. Small. Roundish. 101x + UHC.

NGC 1907, open cluster in Auriga. Auriga has some nice open clusters. NGC 1907 is one such, although a tad overlooked due to its close proximity to M38. Small, compressed and hazy looking at low powers. Increased magnification shows lots of foreground stars although the background stays nebulous. Rich. 101x.

After a cup of coffee and a general poke around the sky, I packed up at 0330. By then my feet were cold (and the cold was getting into the ankle joints, too; standing on concrete is not good because it’s hard and cold) and it was getting more of a chore looking for stuff.

A good session and made up for the previous night’s aggravations! Although I still didn’t find the Perseus Galaxy Cluster…

Observing session 16 September 2009

Another clear night, we’re doing fairly well this past month or so (in the past month, we have had 20 – yes TWENTY! – clear or partially clear nights. Can’t use all of them, unfortunately, but it’s nice to see), so I lugged the scope out onto the patio for a, hopefully lengthy as I have no work on at the moment, observing session.

There was a nice sunset:


Cool: 11C, 75% humidity (no dew, thankfully) and a very slight breeze, which picked up now and again and died down at intervals. No Moon. Transparency was not too good at first, quite obvious from the higher-than-usual extent of light domes from nearby towns, picking up at around 0030 BST to 0200 BST, and there were isolated drifting clouds although they weren’t enough to interfere with observing. The naked eye limiting magnitude was not as good as usual, around 6.0 to 6.2.

Again I spent a little too much time hunting for elusive stuff, mainly faintish galaxies that I should not have bothered with, given the less-than-great transparency. However, I am pleased with what I did observe, and got some good sketches too.

Instrument: 12 inch f/5 Dobsonian.

I have popped some sketches into this post, but they are rough as they are the original sketches and not redrawn ones.

First up was NGC 40, a planetary nebula in Cepheus. Bit of a rough sketch, though – my writing is terrible and it’s not scanned properly! The nebula was bright and obvious, looking like a fat star at low power, and obviously nebulous at higher powers. It’s round with a bright middle, appearing fatter when looked at with averted vision. Averted vision also hints at a darker area round the bright middle portion. OIII does not enhance the view or provide more detail.

I also found NGC 7662, the Blue Snowball, in Andromeda, easily enough this time. Heaven knows why I failed to find it the other evening, probably a combination of factors, not least the dew making life awkward. NGC 7662 is strikingly sky blue, and round with slightly fluffy-looking edges. Hint of darker centre. OIII makes little difference to the view, UHC even less so.

I had intended to make the pn blue in Photoshop, as it appeared in the scope, but having scanned it in greyscale this obviously wasn’t going to work! The pic hasn’t scanned very well, also I think I need to draw the eyepiece representation circle a bit darker in future.

I also spent quite a lot of time on M33, the big galaxy in Triangulum. Ok, it’s a Messier lollipop, but I wasn’t looking at the galaxy as a whole, I was looking for HII regions within the galaxy. Using a chart from the net I identified NGC 595 and NGC 604. I thought I saw more, but a larger scope and darker, more transparent skies would be a help. NGC 604 is easy to find, a triangle of stars pointing straight at it helps in locating it, it looked elongated, east to west, and showed a bit of brightening within. NGC 595 was much smaller, a roundish knot of light. It is always interesting to see ‘objects within objects’ particularly within external galaxies (M31 also contains ‘objects within objects, as do the Magellanic Clouds, although these, sadly, are not visible from Europe or the United States).

I attempted the Pegasus 1 galaxy cluster, which at mag 11.1 should be accessible to the 12 inch, but there was nothing doing on this front, due mainly to the fairly murky sky. The same went for the Perseus Cluster, with ranges of magnitudes between 11.6 and 12.5. I’ll have another go at these, on a more transparent night sometime this autumn and, in the case of Perseus, when it rises a bit higher. By the time Pegasus was higher the galaxies were behind the garden shed and the 12 inch is not exactly portable so I didn’t bother to try again.

The last object – or objects – was Stephan’s Quintet (Hickson 92) again. The transparency had improved by this time and the part of the sky where this is located was high. The Quintet was easy to find, located at the end of a chain of stars just SW of the bright galaxy NGC 7331, although not so easy to see. I sketched them, although I couldn’t finish the sketch due to the fact the transparency gave out again and the galaxies vanished like smoke. Btw, what looks like a galaxy to the bottom of NGC 7319 isn’t, it’s a smudge on the paper I forgot to rub out and which I failed to see in Photoshop.

The last object of the night was NGC 7000, the North America Nebula in Cygnus. This large nebula is naked eye in the right conditions. I could see it without the aid of scope or binoculars. OIII made it more obvious but UHC was even better, making it very obvious, and I could easily see the ‘Gulf of Mexico’ dark area.

Called it a night at just after 0210 as the transparency was giving out again and the clouds, formerly the odd one or two, were increasing.

Observing, 9th Feb 2008

Conditions: Clear, a little hazy, much dew and mist
Instrument: 4″ refractor, 8×42 binoculars
Place: Near Sandown, Isle of Wight, UK

Tried out OIII and UHC filters with my binoculars on the Rosette Nebula, the nebula is easier seen using the UHC filter. I also had a bash at the California Nebula (NGC 1499) in Perseus, but the sky conditions were not good enough for much of a view – I could see some brightening in the area of the nebula, but that was it.

Telescoping observing with the refractor was a dead loss, because of the amount of moisture in the air (it was pretty misty) causing severe fogging of the optics, despite the dew shield. I managed to see a few brighter galaxies in Leo with it, but as soon as I cleaned the objective it fogged again and the galaxies were reduced to being even more smudge like than usual in the small scope. The conditions were way too dismal to even attempt any sketching. Refractors are good in dry climates, where there is little moisture, but not so good in a damp area like northern Europe, which is one reason I prefer reflectors.

I packed the scope up and used the rest of the session for binocular observing, picking up open clusters Stock 2, Trumpler 2, Melotte 15, NGC 1027 and Collinder 13 in Cassiopeia, and not forgetting NGC 869 and NGC 884 which make up the Double Cluster in Perseus.

Observing session 8th February 2008

Conditions: Clear but misty at ground level, +3 degrees C. Seeing very steady.
Instrument: 4″ refractor and 8×42 binoculars.
Place: near Sandown, Isle of Wight, England
Naked-eye limiting magnitude: around 6.0 to 6.2

For once the weather forecast was accurate. We’re currently in a spell of pleasant, quiet weather with clear skies. After the rotten weather of the past few weeks this is a nice change.

I took the refractor out and set it up, but not without a fair bit of swearing as I dropped the tripod screws on the ground more than once.

I spent the time poking around Monoceros, a constellation I have shamefully ignored in the past. Monoceros is a constellation which deserves more attention, overshadowed as it is by its’ more illustrious and object-packed neighbours, Orion and Canis Major.

The Rosette Nebula, NGC 2237-9: Monoceros’ most famous feature is the Rosette Nebula. This is a ring of nebulosity around an open cluster NGC 2244. It is large and with a low surface brightness but is visible through binoculars under a dark sky. I used my 8×42 binoculars with an OIII filter stuck in the right eyepiece and could easily see the nebula as a round glow, slightly darker in the middle, around NGC 2244. Without the filter and with averted vision I could just about make out the nebulous glow. I had never previously attempted the Rosette, believing it to be beyond my binoculars’ and local sky’s capabilities. Obviously this is not so and this goes to show that it pays to have a go at these things.
I sketched NGC 2244 through the refractor at 45x.

There are loads of open clusters in the vicinity and I came across an interesting-looking one while scanning around the area with the binoculars. This was NGC 2301, a pretty group of stars stretched out in a north-south orientation, looking a little like one of those modern longbows used in present day sports archery. I used the refractor for a quick sketch.

The sky conditions were by now beginning to deteriorate somewhat due to increasing mist and the refractor was, despite the dew cap, becoming unusable because of vast amounts of condensation forming. No sooner had I cleaned the moisture off of the objective then the eyepiece fogged and when I wiped the wet from that then the objective fogged so I took down the refractor and resorted to using binoculars only. The mist was also attenuating the light from an upstairs window making life more difficult so I packed in, finishing up with a couple of planetary ‘lollipops’ – Saturn (with Titan) and Mars.

I will scan and post the sketches sometime in the next few days, plus some from the other evening,