Category Archives: Observing

Observing, 6th May 2013

Finally managed a decent observing session for the first time since May last year. After a warm spring day the temps had dropped considerably, so it was wrapping up time with several layers.
I’d got the scope out of the shed earlier in the day so all I needed to do was assemble it and check all was OK. It was and the mirrors looked none the worse for not being used in nearly a year, albeit they were a bit grubby, which was good. I’d been concerned about condensation although dust wasn’t a factor because the scope was well covered and the main mirror has a dust cover on it in any case.

Because it was well-placed, I decided to observe galaxies in Leo Minor. The conditions were chilly, 4°C, with humidity of 77%, no clouds and no wind and I used my 18″ f/4.3 Dobsonian reflector with TeleVue 22mm Panoptic (90x) and 9mm Nagler (219x).
Over the course of three hours I observed NGC 3611 (in Leo and I’ve seen it before but it was easy to find and a quick way to get back into finding stuff again!), NGCs 3381, 3395 and 3396 (very nice pair), 3430, 3424, 3413, 3158, 3160, 3163, 3161, 3159, 3150 and 3152, all in Leo Minor. The last four were faint little buggers, especially 3152 which was the faintest of the lot.
Finally I took a look at Saturn, which looked nice with its rings wide open, Cassini’s Division easily visible and at least 5 moons on display. There was also a bit of detail on the disk, including the shadow of the rings before moving on to NGC 4565, one of my all-time favourite DSOs and then finishing with a look round that busy area of Virgo with Markarian’s Chain before the fog came up and I packed up.

Nice to be observing again!

Back in business…

…I hope!

After 11 months of crap and cold weather plus a bit of de-motivation on my part, my observing stuff has been found and gathered together and the 18″ scope is out awaiting assembly later. I am hoping to knock off a few galaxies in the usual constellations this evening but I am also hoping it doesn’t cloud over. It shouldn’t do, according to the forecasts, but BBC/Met Office forecasts should be taken lightly. Anyway, the weather is predicted to go downhill after tomorrow.

It’s TSP week this week, I wish I was there but, from what I’ve heard the forecast isn’t looking promising for them either. Hopefully they’ll have a good week but they’ll have their work cut out to beat last year, which was epic.

2012 – The Year That Was(n’t much)

2012 was a very poor year for me personally, from an astronomy point of view.

Highlights were the IoW Star Party in late March. As usual this was a superb event and we were rewarded with quite a bit of observing time. Also the Texas Star Party, my fourth, in late April. Every single night was clear right through, if cold, and I did more observing that week than I did all year. I managed to do most of the Astronomical League’s Globular Cluster program during TSP, using a 10″ Orion dob I borrowed from San Antonio Astronomy Association. More importantly, though, I caught up with my friends, which is more of a reason to go to TSP than just the observing.

Lowlights – well, 2012 was completely rotten as the weather took a turn for the worse in April and stayed that way. Next time a water company official or a government minister states we need rain and asks for water measures to be put in place, will someone please gag the twat?

The deaths of Sir Bernard Lovell and Neil Armstrong, in August, and Sir Patrick Moore, in December, meant it was a particularly bad year in that respect, too. On a more personal note, I was sad to hear of the passing of John W. Smith, one of the founding and most long-standing members of Vectis Astronomical Society. Although he was more into astrophotography, John was an influence on me in my first years in astronomy and he will be sadly missed by everyone at VAS.

I also got made redundant, with no sign of anything new on the horizon as yet, so I am hoping 2013 will be a better year!




Nothing whatsoever has happened here. Nothing worth posting about anyway. The weather continues to be mostly shit, apart from the odd few nice hot days here and there. The nights are mostly cloudy, with the few clear ones around a fat Moon. Now we’re nearly into September I am hoping for the usual autumn clear spell but I honestly can’t see it happening, as everything is so wet that any hot sunny spells see a lot of evaporation and yet more cloud. We have had NO clear nights in August this year, we’ve had a few partly clear ones but no totally clear nights. The one night that looked promising was quickly ruined by thick fog.

Good luck to Southampton back in the Premier League (good performance last Sunday at Manchester City, despite ultimately losing) and why are Portsmouth FC still in business?


More bling on its way

My Deep Sky Binocular award is in the post. I am on a roll! For my next AL project, I now have to decide between Galaxy Groups and Clusters, Planetary Nebulae or Flat Galaxies. Well, I don’t have to do any of them, but it would be nice to get some more pins.

You can now chuck those England flags in the bin after another tournament exit on penalties. England’s participation in penalty shoot-outs always have that air of doom-laden inevitability about them, don’t they? The FA need to take a leaf out of Germany’s book, change the system and rebuild. And practise those bloody penalties.


On Friday I had an email from the AL Award Co-ordinator for the Globular Cluster Program, Bob Kerr, to say my award was in the post. A large envelope duly arrived this afternoon containing a nice letter from Bob, a certificate and the award pin.


I know some people look down their noses at observing awards but who cares what they think? Observe however you think fit, not how others tell you to. And if you can get a nice bit of bling in the process then what’s not to like?

I’m now waiting to hear from the Binocular Deep Sky award co-ordinator; I sent the observations off to her about two weeks before the Globular Cluster observations but so far I’ve not heard anything back. All in good time…

Well done England for qualifying for the knock-out stages of Euro 2012 and top of the group, no less. Italy are up next.

Season’s end…

With the Moon getting fatter each night (full Moon is on 3rd June) and the nights getting shorter, it’s time to pack the scope away until mid-late July. Last night, 23rd May, we had an hour and a half of true darkness and, by 21st June, this will be down to no true darkness. Astronomical darkness will return in mid to late July.

I did attempt some observing last night but it was so murky – the weather has dramatically improved with daytime temperatures of 84°F/29°C and bright sunshine but the haze is atrocious! – I gave up. I had a list of galaxies in Bootes to look at but I could only find one, and even then it was faint, and the stars all had haloes around them.

Time to turn my attention towards different things over the summer. I’m off on a trip on the P&O cruise ship Oriana (a friend is going on that cruise but the friend who was going with her dropped out so she asked if I’d like to go) in July; nowhere exotic just Amsterdam, NL, and Zeebrugge in Belgium, but it’ll be a bit of fun. I’m planning to do some photography over the summer, ships, birds, insects…anything that catches my eye, to kill time until the observing season starts again. And not to mention all the observations I have yet to type up.

Observing, 12th and 13th May 2012

The run of crap weather ended for a brief period over the weekend (but is back to being rubbish today), so I was able to do some observing on Saturday and Sunday night. Saturday night’s session was excellent, but Sunday’s was less so, thanks to some pretty woeful transparency due to some thin high cloud.

I hadn’t used my 18″ since the Isle of Wight Star Party, back in March, so it was nice to get it out of the shed and set it up. The new 2″ Howie Glatter laser collimator worked brilliantly but I will get a TuBlug for use with it, otherwise I have to look in the top of the scope to see the laser and the shadow, then go to the back of the scope to make the necessary adjustments. The collimation was only slightly out, which wasn’t bad, considering the telescope had been disassembled after the star party, driven over shoddily-maintained roads which resemble Afghan goat tracks (at the risk of insulting Afghan goat tracks), carried up the garden and reassembled.

As well as the H2500 I have been doing the AL’s Globular Cluster program. As well as observing 26 of these at TSP last month, I was going to use some ‘ancient’ observations from my 1997 Australia trip but I decided against this, apart from NGC 5139 (Omega Centauri) and NGC 104 (47 Tucanae) which I will keep in the list, as I have enough observations from recent years (2010 to now) I can  use, including some from this weekend. You need 50 observations to complete the program, I now have about 70-odd so I’ll select my best ones to send in, including the Challenge Object (I have Palomar 11, NGC 5466 and 5053 to choose from). One of the good things about these programs is the fact that doing them often takes care of objects on the Herschel lists, as well.

I have loads of observations to type up, from the Isle of Wight Star Party, the Texas Star Party and the past two nights but I’ll save these for the next rainy day – and I don’t think I’ll have long to wait, as the unsettled period goes on.

Galaxy groups and clusters are also among my favourite targets, mainly because find one and you have found half a dozen or more, so I put Abell 1656, the Coma Galaxy Cluster, on my list.


Date: 12th May 2012
Conditions: Clear, very dewy, no Moon (rises at 0200)
Transparency: II-III; Seeing: II; NE Limiting Mag: 6.0
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob with 22mm TeleVue Panoptic (90x), 15mm TeleVue Plossl (132x), 12mm TeleVue Nagler (165x) and 9mm TeleVue Nagler (219x).

I began with some eye candy (M53), then went on to some fainter stuff before returning to bright objects. Objects observed were M53, a globular cluster in Coma Berenices, NGC 4147, a globular also in Coma B, an attempted observation of NGC 5053 in Coma B, Abell 1656, the Coma Galaxy Cluster, M5, M56 and M3. The Messiers were objects that I hadn’t looked at in about 17 years so it was nice to catch up with them again, besides I wanted them for my Globular Cluster observing progam mentioned above.

I failed to find NGC 5053, a notoriously hard object to observe because of its low surface brightness (I returned to it on Sunday night with more success).

I identified 14 members of Abell 1656 during the course of an hour and a half, plus I saw many others that’ll have to remain nameless until a better night, as the transparency, while ok, wasn’t as good as it could be. The ones I could put names to were NGC 4889, NGC 4874, NGC 4864, NGC 4869, NGC 4865, NGC 4881, NGC 4860, NGC 4848, NGC 4921, NGC 4911, NGC 4923, NGC 4908, IC 4051 and MGC+5-31-46, the latter object only visible with averted vision. I used my new (second-hand) Naglers on these and was pleased with their performance.

I finished with some more Messier globulars, M5, M56 and M3, before packing up.


Date: 13th May 2012
Conditions: Cool, slight dew, breezy.
Transparency: II-III; Seeing: II, NE Limiting Mag: 5.8 to 6.0 later before deteriorating badly.
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob with 22mm TeleVue Panoptic (90x), 15mm TeleVue Plossl (132x)

The sky was not that good although the transparency did improve slightly later. I ended up just observing three objects, all globular clusters, NGC 6229 in Hercules (another re-visit to something I’d not seen in years), M92 (the last time I looked at this was in 1999) and I had another crack at NGC 5053, this time successfully, despite the less-than-optimal sky conditions. NGC 5053 was faint, very faint and amounted to nothing more than a roundish glow with stellarings in moments of good seeing and no central condensation whatsoever.  As globular clusters go, it is a pretty poor specimen!
I decided to go after some more galaxy clusters but the transparency gave out completely and the sky became extremely milky. When it’s like that, it’s no good for anything, much less faint galaxies which vanish if even the slightest bit of haze appears.

So, it was a couple of good sessions – well, one excellent session and one not-so-hot one. It’s been a mediocre year so far for observing, with not many sessions because ‘life’ has just plain got in the way, although it had been quite clear up until the second week of April when the period of bad weather set in. I’ve done most of my observing at the IoW and Texas SPs.

IoW Star Party

We got some reasonable observing in at the star party, despite poor transparency on Thursday and Friday nights. Sunday night was pretty transparent but hampered by a stiff breeze, which forced Owen Brazell to call it a night at 3am because his 22″ was moving around so much that it was impossible to observe and also becoming dangerous, both to observer and scope. I ended up dismantling mine totally and stowing it beside the chalets, out of the wind. Others, in more sheltered locations, continued for a while longer before also giving up for what was left of the night.

I didn’t get through as much of my lists as I would have liked, due mainly to the poor transparency and to Sunday night/Monday morning’s stiff breeze. I spent a lot of time in Leo, Virgo and even down in Crater and Corvus. I’m not going to post all the observations I made but, suffice to say, it was nearly all galaxies apart from NGC 4361, a planetary nebula in Corvus (and this was a second visit, I’d previously observed this in May 2008, with my 12″ Dob), NGC 5634, a globular cluster in Virgo, plus some eye candy in the form of the best views I have ever had of M42 (come on, it’d be rude not to!), Saturn, Mars and NGC 869/884 (the Double Cluster).

Thursday, 22nd March, was the day of arrival. I arrived late morning, and set up my scope once I’d stowed my other stuff in the chalet and parked the car. Other people were also arriving through the afternoon and the ‘serious visual observers’ area (as designated) soon began to fill with large Dobsonians plus some smaller fry, in the shape of a couple of SCTs and a few refractors.

The visual area, with large Dobs. Mine, minus shroud, is in the foreground.

Thursday night was fairly cloudy, with a lot of high stuff, mist and generally poor transparency so I messed about for a while, looked at one of my favourite galaxies NGC 4565 and its neighbour NGC 4562, as well as NGC 4494 and some bright eye candy. I packed up at 2330 GMT and went to bed. Apparently it cleared a while later but as I was tired I wasn’t that unhappy about missing it. We did see an iridium flare earlier in the evening.

Friday was clearer but, as chairman, I had to go to the VAS meeting in Newport first but I managed to escape at half time because the sky looked promising. I got back to the observing field at around 9.45pm and set up. The transparency still wasn’t the greatest but I got my observing lists out and started hunting for galaxies in Leo before moving on to Virgo.
A lot of the session was spent in and around the Realm of the Galaxies in Virgo, as soon as it was high enough out of the crap in the atmosphere. Here, the 18″ really showed what it can do, especially given the fact it had more than 24 hours to cool down to ambient temperature, something it doesn’t always get to do at home. Galaxies were simply everywhere. Find one and you have found dozens, maybe even hundreds, including some faint little sprites not on my charts (these were evident on the Sunday night when the transparency had improved and the naked eye limiting magnitude was 6.4) and, what’s more, the brighter NGCs and the Messiers showed detail – this is what I bought the 18″ for! Simply put, I got totally blown away by these galaxies!

Saturday evening started off with an ‘eye-candy’ session. The eye candy included M42, which was simply stunning in the 18″, and several people commented on how good my telescope and mirror are which pleased me no end, of course, as it is nice to know your ‘investment’ is as good as the money it cost. It does need a few modifications and what I want to do is get a decent focuser for it (I’d originally ordered it with a bog-standard rack-and-pinion focuser, on grounds of cost, which does the job of course, but could be better) such as a Moonlite Crayford or a Starlite FeatherTouch, adjust my crappy shroud* (easily the one poor thing about the scope is that the shroud is rubbish) so it doesn’t blow about all over the place, plus waterproof it to prevent dew soaking through and dripping onto the mirror, and finally get round to adjusting the position of the Telrad base, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages** (I had a brain-fade when putting it on the scope and put it in the wrong place – it still worked, of course, but meant I needed to walk round the scope to look in the eyepiece). I’d also like to put some sort of light-absorbing material on the truss poles to reduce light scatter and improve contrast.

Most of the session was, again, looking for galaxies. I spent a good amount of time in Corvus and Crater, which meant bending down or kneeling on the ground to look through the eyepiece – it therefore wasn’t surprising when I had severe knee pains and back ache for three days afterwards, but at least I managed to cross a few of the objects off my observing lists.

Sunday was much clearer. After a very interesting visit to St Catherine’s Lighthouse in the afternoon, we spent the evening in the Crown pub at Shorwell, before returning to BHC and a stunning sunset.

The lantern at St Catherine's Lighthouse

Although Sunday night into Monday morning was very transparent, a stiff breeze had arrived, which made observing difficult. I gave up by 3am, fearing my scope would blow over, so I dismantled it and moved it to a more sheltered location, with other people packing up shortly afterwards. As Monday was the day we all went our separate ways, I stowed a few things I didn’t need, such as the truss poles and a few other bits and pieces, in my car. I did, however, manage to observe some more galaxies in and around Virgo, as well as the globular cluster NGC 5634.

It was an excellent star party and I had a good time. This was the 5th IOWSP and the 4th I have attended (I missed 2011); in 2008 and 2009 I could only come for one evening and went home afterwards while in 2010 I came for two nights, camped and nearly died of hypothermia – I have never been so cold in all my life! This year, I was at the star party for all four nights, staying in a chalet, and it was so much nicer and I also felt more part of things.

Next year’s star party is in early March. Unfortunately I think it coincides with OzSky 2013 which I would like to go to, depending on finances.

* I have altered the shroud, using some velcro and I have attempted to waterproof it with some tent waterproofer I bought in Mountain Warehouse – this failed but I’ll get some better stuff from Goodyears in Sandown.
** I have now altered the Telrad position. Much better.

For all the photos from the star party, please click here.


Observing, 25th February 2012

The Moon, Venus and (upper left of them, but fainter) Jupiter

February has a reputation for being a disgusting, wet and horrible month, at least here in Britain. This February, however, has been markedly different so far, very spring-like (at least in the latter couple of weeks) and with some clear nights. Climate change? Maybe or, as likely, maybe not. Who cares, I hate cold and/or wet weather, so if it’s like this for evermore I’ll be happy!

25th February 2012
Conditions: Clear, chilly (2°C/35.6°F), very dewy (humidity was 85%), waxing crescent Moon.
Seeing: I-II
Transparency: III-IV (NELM not checked but I suspect it was not as good as 6)
Equipment: 8″ f/4 Newtonian on GEM (undriven), 22mm Televue Panoptic (36x), 8mm Televue Radian (100x)

I decided to have a session with my small 20cm (8 inch) Celestron Newtonian, simply because I’d felt sick all day and didn’t feel like going to the top of the garden and getting the big scope out (although, paradoxically, the 18 inch is easier to get out and use – wheel out of shed, collimate, stick eyepiece in and observe). I am not a massive fan of equatorial mounts but the small Newt can be fun to use, when it isn’t in one of *those* moods and being bloody awkward, and reminds me of my early days in astronomy 20 years ago.

The transparency was pretty dismal, so I stuck to open clusters in and around Monoceros.

NGC 2215, open cluster in Monoceros – Easily found at 36x. A detached, loose group of stars with an irregular shape. There are about 18 10-11th magnitude stars plus many more fainter ones in the background. No dark areas. 36x, 100x.

NGC 2324, open cluster in Monoceros – At 36x, this showed an irregular cross shape of brighter stars on a hazy background of fainter stars. The longer axis of the cross points south, where there is a roundish patch of just-resolved stars which gets larger with averted vision. At 100x, the patch is grainy and barely resolved. The stars are all white. 36x, 100x.

NGC 2252, open cluster in Monoceros – Lying just to the north of the Rosette Nebula this detached open cluster is easily found at 36x. It’s a largish, rich open cluster shaped like a rounded ‘Y’ or a wish bone, whose ‘arms’ spread to the SW and SE from the stem, which runs N-S. There are around 12 stars on a grainy background but 100x reveals more of them although many fainters ones stay unresolved. 36x, 100x

NGC 2251, open cluster in Monoceros – A fairly large irregular group of faint stars. A long chain of 11 stars stretches off to the south-east while a short line of 3 stars goes off to the north-west and on the west side is a semi-circle of 5 stars. The overall shape of the cluster reminds me of an ‘Aladdin’s lamp’. There is some nebulosity involved in the southern chain, which is visible even without filters. The cluster is elongated NW-SE. 36x, 100x

NGC 2331, open cluster in Gemini – A large and coast open cluster, made up of around 25 stars. Not bright. 36x.

NGC 2234, open cluster in Gemini – A large, loose cluster of about 30-40 stars. Listed as ‘non-existent’ but it is there… 36x

By this time, as the dew was making life awkward, I packed up. I have to confess that open clusters are not my favourite class of objects to observe; I much prefer galaxies, globular clusters and planetary/diffuse nebulae but it is nice to look at something different from time to time. Also, doing the Herschel 2500 means that I have to observe open clusters as, although most of the H2500 are galaxies, there are a good number of open clusters in  there too.

The 8 inch Newt showing how dewy the conditions were.


I am considering the possiblity of building a run-off roof observatory, depending on costs and other factors. I didn’t use the big scope this session but I am confined to the top of the garden when I use it, meaning I can’t get away from neighbours’ lights. Also, the proximity to a footpath (just a few feet away the other side of a hedge) means that, although it is extremely rare for anyone to be walking along it at night, I feel a little exposed, although the hedge is six feet high and fairly thick.
I put up a tarpaulin as a light screen each time I want to observe but this is, frankly, a pain to do and I have to remember to do it each and every time I want to observe. Not only that, it is noisy to erect and attracts attention so, if I can put up a roll-off roof observatory, adapted from an ordinary wooden garden shed, I can incorporate a light screen with the added bonus of not having to wheel my telescope outside each time, not that this is difficult. Also, while the plastic shed I currently use is great, it is not insulated and my stuff gets damp from condensation (I can see myself having to get the 18 inch mirror recoated in a couple of years). A more permanent wooden structure, which will be properly insulated, and on a concrete base, should prevent this. It’ll be a year or two before this happens, though, especially as I have a couple of foreign observing trips lined up.