Category Archives: Observing

Back in the groove – observing on 18th and 19th February 2012



Jupiter (top left) and Venus, just after sunset. Canon EOS 7D with Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS lens

After a bit of a break (my last observing session had been on 27th November) I managed to get a bit of observing in, over the past two evenings (18th and 19th February). So far, 2012 has been very clear but what with work – my current temporary job means having to get up at 0615 – and temperatures often getting as low as -10°C/14°F, not conducive to wanting to get outside, I have been idle.

Rather than putting an observing session in each post, I’ll include the previous two in this one, starting with 18th February’s.

18th February 2012
Conditions: Chilly (2°C/35.6°F), slight breeze, no Moon, dew (torrential rain earlier in the afternoon had cleared away)
Transparency: III
Seeing: I-II
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob; 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 8mm Televue Radian (247x), UHC, OIII filters

NGC 1982 (=M43) – I started off with an easy object, some ‘low-hanging fruit’ to get back into the observing groove. NGC 1982, a.k.a. M43, is on the Herschel list. It’s something I’ve looked at hundreds of times before but it is easily overshadowed by its immediate neighbour, the spectacular M42 which lies to the south. M43 is part of the same nebulous complex as M42 but appears to be separated from it by a dark gulf. It is smaller and fainter than M42 but, if the big nebula wasn’t there M43 would be a showpiece in its own right.
Very bright and fits into the same field of view as M42 at 90x. It is bright, comma-shaped and has a greenish-grey colour. In the centre of the comma’s ‘body’ there is a bright star, with a couple of fainter stars in the rest of the nebula.
247x shows extensive nebulosity with a ‘lumpy’ effect with dark areas in among the bright nebulosity. 90x, 247x + UHC

N.B. M42 in the 18″ is nothing short of absolutely spectacular. This was the first time I’d managed to observe it properly this winter, apart from a quick look in November when it was low on the horizon, and without filtration the centre portion, around the Trapezium, is bright green with dark lanes criss-crossing it. Nebulosity extends everywhere and it completely fills the field of view at 90x. I will attempt a sketch of this before the winter is out.

NGC 1762, galaxy in Orion –  Easily found at 90x this is small, round and bright. There is a bright star superimposed on the foreground to the east. A fuzzy halo surrounds a bright stellar core. 90x, 247x

NGC 2023, nebula in Orion – Just S of NGC 2024, this is a bright reflection nebula around a star. 90x.

(Had a go at the IC434/B33 complex – the Horsehead Nebula – not seen as the transparency was not great).

NGC 1977, nebula in Orion –  This is a large, fairly bright reflection nebula surrounding three stars. It is elongated east to west. The view is enhanced with the UHC filter but not by the OIII. 90x.

NGC 1682, galaxy in Orion – Fairly small, round and fairly bright. A diffuse halo surrounds a brighter core. 247x

NGC 1684, galaxy in Orion – Elongated 2:1 NNE-SSW, this is larger and brighter than 1682. It has a fuzzy halo surrounding a bright core. 90x, 247x.

Packed up at 2130. The good thing about this time of year is that you can have a reasonable session and still get indoors in time to watch Casualty and the Football League Show!

The following night, Sunday 19th, was even clearer, but cold, so I put the light screen up (I hadn’t bothered the previous evening) and wheeled the 18″ out for a short session. I had planned to observe H2500 objects in Monoceros but ended up losing my way a little and hopping around nearby constellations. I also spent some considerable time cruising the winter Milky Way and looking at IC434/B33

19th February 2012
Conditions:  Cold (-4°C/24.8°F), no breeze, no Moon. Dry, with slight frost.
Transparency: II
Seeing: II-III
NELM: 6.1
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob, 2mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 15mm Televue Plossl (132x), 8mm Televue Radian (247x), UHC, OIII and Hß filters.

I began with another piece of low-hanging fruit, the easy to find and bright NGC 2261, Hubble’s Variable Nebula.

NGC 2261 (=Hubble’s Variable Nebula), nebula in Monoceros – Very easy to find, this is bright and fan-shaped, with the variable star R Monocerotis – which is the star associated with the nebula and gives it its variability – at its apex (on the southern end). The nebula is very bright, especially around and to the north of R Mon but fades out at the broadest part. A UHC filter makes no difference at all while OIII, as expected (NGC 2261 is a reflection nebula) kills the view. 90x, 132x + UHC, OIII filters.

NGC 2402, galaxy in Canis Minor – Located at the southern end of a chain of 4 stars, this is small, round and fairly bright. It has a diffuse halo surrounding a bright, stellar core. 90x, 132x, 247x.

NGC 2508, galaxy in Canis Minor – This lies to the east of two stars and is small, round and fairly bright. A diffuse halo brightens to the core and a stellar nucleus. 90x, 132x, 247x

NGC 2513, galaxy in Cancer – Easy to find, just north of NGC 2508. A round, bright, diffuse hal0 surrounds a bright core and stellar nucleus. 90x, 247x.

As the transparency was much improved over the previous evening, I had another go at looking at IC434/B33, the Horsehead nebula area. I did see it this time, although it was very faint, even with the Hß filter. This was only my second view of it, the first having been with Owen Brazell’s 20″ Dob at the Isle of Wight Star Party in 2010.

I packed up after a fairly short session.

Observing, 27th November 2011

Finally got some observing in after what seemed like weeks – in fact was weeks – of nothing but thick cloud and mist. It’s felt like the world has had a lid on it. The only glimpse of the sky beyond has been a few bloated stars and the Moon. It was very depressing and not just from the astronomy point of view either; no one likes endless murk. Yesterday was clear so, before it got dark, I got the 18 inch out and set it up, as well as erecting the light screen.

Last night’s session wasn’t the greatest, as the transparency was crap and I ran into a hitherto unforeseen problem – moles. After a hiatus they are back (and have brought all their friends and relations), molehills have sprung up everywhere and the top lawn is totally undermined, as I found out last night when one side of the ladder sank into one of the tunnels and I fell off as I was observing the NGC 1129 galaxy group in Perseus! I need to come up with some sort of solution that is non-lethal to the moles (the damage is now done and I hate killing things) and non-hazardous to me; what I have in mind is a meter-square piece of plywood to go beneath the ladder which will prevent it sinking into tunnels.

I’ll add the object details in later but I observed NGC 7711 and some members of the NGC 1129 group – NGC 1129 itself, NGC 1130, NGC 1131 and MCG+7-7-3 – before I was rudely interrupted by the kitchen light going on and obliterating the fainter members of the group (my aunt had switched it an and forgotten about it so I went down to the house, with my observing eye tightly shut, to turn it off) and, once I’d relocated the galaxies and repositioned the ladder, one side of the ladder then sank into a mole tunnel. Because of this, my notes are sparse and half the cluster went unobserved, so I’ll need to return to that group at some point. I then couldn’t refind the galaxies because the transparency had given out completely, with mist coming in, so I gave up and looked at Jupiter instead. Because the seeing was so good, Jupiter was fabulous at 247x, looking like a yellow-and-brown barcode with plenty of bands on show and the Great Red Spot was very obvious indeed. The Galilean Moons were also good, showing colour (Io) and they were little disks rather than mere points of light. This is almost the best view I have had of Jupiter from just about anywhere – the only better view was through Jimi Lowrey’s 48 inch scope in West Texas in 2008.

Before packing up, I noticed Orion was rising, so I aimed the scope at M42. Despite being so low down in the murk, with the Trapezium looking bloated and twinkling in many colours, the nebula itself was still very bright and obvious. I had to crouch down to look through the eyepiece but I have now said ‘Hello’ to the Great Nebula as I do every winter.

So it wasn’t the best session ever but it was nice to get outside, see some deep sky objects and get those fabulous views of Jupiter. Oh, and I knocked a whole two objects off my Herschel 2500 list. The light screen also worked very well, blocking out the neighbour’s lights as well as affording a little more privacy.

Observing, 19th October 2011

Date: 19th October 2011
Conditions: Clear, cold (2°C/35.6°F), no Moon, slight dew.
Transparency: Very good, M33 visible to unaided eye
Seeing: Very good
NELM: 6.2
Equipment: 18 inch f/4.3 dob; 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 8mm Televue Radian (247x)

I made my assault on Triangulum, postponed from a couple of weeks ago thanks to dew, before moving up to the Pisces/Andromeda border for the Pisces Chain of galaxies. In an 18 inch, there is plenty to see!

(Images used are from the STScI Digitized Sky Survey)

NGC 672 – A moderately bright galaxy elongated NE-SW, which brightens slightly to a non-stellar core with some mottling.  The halo has diffuse edges. 90x, 247x

IC 1727 – Just to the west of N672, this is faint and elongated SE-NW. 247x

NGC 672 and IC 1727. Image from DSS


NGC 670 – Bright, flattened oval elongated 4:1 NNW-SSE. Diffuse halo brightens to a stellar nucleus. 247x

NGC 777 – Bright, slightly elongated NNW-SSE, with diffuse halo surrounding a bright core and stellar nucleus. 247x

NGC 777 and 778. Image from DSS


NGC 778 – Close to N777 this is much fainter and smaller with a bright centre. It is also elongated NNW-SSE. 247x

NGC 661 – Moderately  bright and slightly elongated SW-NE. It has a bright core and stellar nucleus. 247x

NGC 750 – Bright and obvious. It has a round diffuse halo with a bright stellar core. It also has a little pal, NGC 751. 247x

NGC 751 – Next to 750, this is much smaller and fainter. It is also round but doesn’t have a bright core, instead being more uniformly bright. 247x

NGC 740 – A fairly faint edge-on galaxy which shows some brightening along its length. It is elongated 3:1 NW-SE.

NGC 740. Image from DSS


Then it was over to the Pisces/Andromeda border for the NGC 383 cluster, the Pisces Chain. This is an attractive chain of eight bright galaxies, centred on NGC 383 (the brightest galaxy in the chain) with numerous faint ones also in the area. The entire chain fit neatly into the field of view at 90x although individual observations were made at 247x.

Chart of Pisces Chain area. Chart generated with MegaStar


Pisces Chain (NGC 383). Image from DSS

NGC 379 – Small and moderately faint. Elongated N-S. It has a slightly brighter middle and a non-stellar core. 247x

NGC 380 – Round. Diffuse halo and some slight brightening to the centre. 247x

NGC 383 (Arp 331) – The largest and brightest of the group. Very slightly oval, elongated NE-SW. Brightens to the centre and a non-stellar core. 247x

NGC 382 – Right next to N383, this is much smaller and fainter. Round. No brightening in centre. 247x

NGC 387 – Faint, round, small. 247x

NGC 386 – Faint, round, small. 247x

NGC 385 – Fairly bright halo which brightens to the centre and a non-stellar core. Elongated NW-SE. 247x

NGC 384 – Bright. More oval than 385 and with a brighter core. Elongated NW-SE. 247x

NGC 388 – Moderately faint, very slightly oval, elongated NW-SE. 247x

NGC 375 – Faint, round, not much brightening to centre. 247x

There are quite a few MAC (Mitchell Anonymous Catalog) and other non-NGC galaxies in the vicinity, so I thought it would be entertaining to try and find some of them. I should really have put some more magnification on these but, by now, it was late and I was feeling lazy! The MACs I went after were MAC 0107+3220 and MAC 0106+3225 and they were faint, faint, faint – I am not entirely certain I saw them, after 10 minutes of averted vision, deep breathing and use of a hood for each one. There was the suspicion of *something* fuzzy at each position.

UGC 679/PGC 3950 – Faint, edge-on and elongated E-W. No detail. 247x

Packed up at midnight.

Clusters in Moonlight, 7th October 2011

Date: 7th October 2011
Conditions: 84% illuminated Moon, chilly, breezy. A few high clouds and a halo around the Moon.
Seeing: Good to average
Transparency: Average to poor
NELM: 5.5 to 5.2 later (because of Moon)

The Moon is nearly full but I decided to have a quick observing session anyway. However, I left the 18 inch tucked up in the shed and used the little 8 inch Celestron Newtonian instead, as I decided it wasn’t worth getting the big one out in such poor conditions plus it was quite windy, which would have meant the big scope would be awkward to use.

The session began late as I was waiting for thick cloud cover to clear, which it eventually did. I decided to observe some open clusters, because of the Moonlight and decidedly poor transparency. There was no point in going after galaxies or faint planetary nebulae in those conditions.

NGC 7129, open cluster in Cepheus – A very small but obvious cluster next to NGC 7142. Bright and obvious T-shape, despite its small size. Compact. There are six bright stars made up of three doubles, including a very wide one, and several fainter stars among the six. However, the cluster is mostly washed out by the Moon. There is nebulosity with this cluster, which I would probably see on a Moonless, more transparent night, but I didn’t see it with either UHC or OIII filters. Fits into the field of view at 73x. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

NGC 7142, open cluster in Cepheus – The neighbour of NGC 7129, this is much larger and richer. Detached. The Moon is washing out the sky but I can count 11 brighter stars and about a dozen fainter ones. The rest are washed out. Fits into the field of view at 53x. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 53x

NGC 7380, open cluster in Cepheus – A rich, triangular cluster. With averted vision, I can see a hazy background, indicating many more stars. The cluster is at the end of a distinct curved line of three stars (the middle one of which is a double). At 73x I can count 20 stars but more remain unresolved. The nebulosity with the cluster was not seen with any filter.  8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

NGC 7510, open cluster in Cepheus – This one took an age to locate, mostly because I was using a small Newtonian on an equatorial mount and performing contortions to look through the Telrad finder! It is small, compact and bright with a wedge shape. It is rich and very concentrated. At 36x, I could see individual stars.
A nice view at 73x with about a dozen stars resolved, plus quite a few more fainter ones in the background. With averted vision there are plenty more stars in the background. A very nice object. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

NGC 1513, open cluster in Perseus – A faint oval patch of stars which is mostly obliterated by the Moon. I could see several members but the rest remained as a misty patch. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

NGC 1444, open cluster in Perseus – A pretty boring object as it is just a nondescript gathering of stars around a bright multiple. 8 inch f/4 Newtonian, 36x, 73x

Packed up at 0100.


I am typing this while listening to the post mortem of yet another fail from an England sports team in a World Cup. This time, it was the Rugby Union side who let the country down, in the form of an atrocious capitulation to France. The team, with the sole exception of two decent wins in the group stages against Georgia and Romania, have been pretty awful, narrowly avoiding defeats against Argentina and Scotland. Typically the French, who have been equally awful in their group stages as well as mutinous, as only the French can be, decided to up their game against England. But, that doesn’t alter the fact that England were enfoncer la merde as the French might say. That said, I hope the French go on to beat Wales in the semis. I do NOT want to see Wales in the final…I’ve got Welsh friends and I don’t think I could stand the gloating!

Observing, 1st October 2011

Date: 1st October 2011
Conditions: Cloudless, dewy (88% humidity), some mist. Hazy. Warm, about 16°C (61°F). Lots of owl activity (Barn Owls and Little Owls mostly) plus the intermittent ‘pop’ of acorns falling from the oak trees.
Seeing: II (Good)
Transparency: III (Average)
NELM: 6.0
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 8mm Televue Radian (247x)

The early autumn heatwave continues, with hot days and clear nights. However, there has been a downside, high humidity leading to formation of mist and fog at night with masses of dew, and Thursday night (29th September) ended up as an ‘eye candy-only’ session and an early finish. I did, however, compare my 18 inch and 12 inch (now sold) scopes side by side, with eyepieces of comparable local length (20 and 22mm) and quality on M13 and the difference was even bigger than I expected, with the 18 inch absolutely blowing the 12 inch out of the water in detail seen. I could see the propeller feature quite easily in the 18 inch but not very easily in the 12 inch. If you look at Obsession’s M13 comparison chart (scroll down the page), it shows the difference between a 12 inch (12.5 inch in the example) and an 18 inch but in real life, the difference was even more apparent.

Back to last night (I’d not bothered observing on the 30th, simply because the mist was so bad that deep sky observing would have been a dead loss) and I’d lined up some galaxies in Pegasus, Pisces and Triangulum to observe. Last night’s conditions weren’t great but an improvement on the previous night. I’ve made an addition to the telescope in the form of black plastic dustbin bags taped over the shroud, this is in an effort to keep the shroud from getting soaked with dew. A wet shroud isn’t nice but the water dripping on to the primary mirror is even less nice – but the garbage bags did their job. Garbage sacks aren’t exactly pretty but who cares in the dark – and it’s better than water marks on the mirror!

I used what has become my favourite eyepiece combination with the 18 inch, my 22mm Televue Panoptic and 8mm Televue Radian.

NGC 7479, galaxy in Pegasus – Large, fairly bright galaxy elongated north-south. It has a diffuse halo with some brightening towards the centre. There is a star on the northern end, plus a fainter one on the western side. Looks mottled. This galaxy has spiral arms which should be visible in the 18 inch but, because of the high humidity and hazy conditions, I didn’t see them. One for a better night. 90x, 247x.

NGC 7626, galaxy in Pisces – Forms a bright pair with NGC 7619. Both galaxies, part of the Pegasus 1 galaxy group, are easily found at 90x. Elliptical with bright core and non-stellar nucleus. Oval, elongated SW-NE. 90x, 247x

NGC 7619, galaxy in Pisces – Very similar to 7626 this also is oval, elongated SW-NE and has a bright core with a non-stellar nucleus. It is slightly brighter than 7626 and the core is also brighter. 90x, 247x

NGC 7617, galaxy in Pisces – Much fainter and smaller than 7626 and 7619 this is a tiny oval glow just to the SW of 7619. Brightens slightly towards the core. Not seen at low power (90x). 247x

NGC 7541, galaxy in Pisces – Easily found at low power (90x) this is a bright spindle elongated 3:1 west-east which stands out well against the background sky, despite its lowish altitude and the murk. It’s fairly featureless, with no sign of becoming any brighter towards its middle. 90x, 247x

NGC 7537, galaxy in Pisces – This lies immediately to the south of 7541 and is smaller and fainter. It is elongated SW-NE. Not seen at low power but easily seen at 247x.

NGC 7785, galaxy in Pegasus – An obvious, bright galaxy set among a triangle of stars. Fairly small and elongated NW-SE. It has a fairly bright centre and a non-stellar core. 90x, 247x

NGC 7742, galaxy in Pegasus – Bright and obvious at 90x. At 247x, it has a round halo with a bright centre and non-stellar nucleus. 90x, 247x

By this time my secondary had dewed up badly and my Telrad, despite the dew shield, had become almost unusable so I packed up, my planned assault on Triangulum will have to wait until another time. It had got to the point where I couldn’t see any galaxies and the brighter stars all sported fetching halos. I am going to be investing in a dew prevention system. I have already bought a power supply, I now need a controller and a couple of heaters for the secondary and the Telrad.
I have sprung for a Telegizmos scope cover from the Widescreen Centre. It’s expensive (too expensive) but it will help keep dust and other crap off of the scope and mirrors. As I have sold my 12 inch, I now have more room in the shed for the 18 inch and I can keep it assembled, so it can just be wheeled in and out each session. The assembled scope, with wheelbarrow handles attached, fits into the shed with a tiny bit of room to spare. At present, the primary is protected by a chamois leather (as recommended by David Lukehurst) and the plywood cover, while the shroud (and bin liners!) is kept on and a sheet thrown over the top to prevent stuff getting onto the secondary, but the Telegizmos cover will give it proper protection.

Sketches will follow once I have scanned them.

Observing, 28th September 2011 – shooting fish in a barrel

The subtitle of this post should be ‘Wet, wet, wet’ as the dew last night was epic, I have never seen so much moisture when it isn’t actually raining. Everything was wet, the ground, the scope (by the end of the session the secondary looked like it had no coating on, it was so wet), the inside of the shed and the Telrad dew shield may as well have not been on there – the scope shroud was so wet it was dripping. The moisture got into everything. I think it was because we’re in a sudden warm spell, an Indian Summer, with daytime temps of around 75-80°F and nighttime lows of 63°F, but the ground is still wet after the dismal summer. It was misty but a threatening fog bank did stay out in the English Channel.


Clearest it's been for ages...

Date: 28th September 2011
Conditions: Cloudless but with some mist. 90% humidity resulting in a lot of dew. Light domes more apparent than usual.
Seeing: II (Good to fair)
Transparency: III (would have been good if not for the mist)
NELM: 6.0 to 6.1 at zenith
Equipment: 18 inch f/4.3 Dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 8mm Panoptic Radian (247x)

Picking off galaxies with the 18 inch is like shooting fish in a barrel, it’s that easy, even under far-from-pristine conditions. I’ve gained a magnitude over the 12 inch and it’s so much easier to see fainter galaxies, of course.

I began with some galaxies in Pegasus.

NGC 7448 – Large, bright galaxy elongated north-south with brighter centre. 247x

NGC 7465 – Round with bright core surrounded by fuzzy halo. 247x

NGC 7463 – Elongated east-west. Fainter than 7465. Some slight brightening towards the centre. 247x

NGC 7464 is very close to 7463, faint. 247x

These galaxies were very faint indeed at 90x. Probably not helped by the dewy conditions.

NGC 7332 – Beautiful bright edge-on spiral elongated NNW-SSE. Very bright and obvious at low power (90x). Brightens to compact core and very bright almost stellar nucleus. 90x, 247x

NGC 7339 – Large and much fainter than NGC 7332. Featureless. Fairly blunt, rather than tapered, ends. 247x

NGC 7177 – Bright round galaxy. Fuzzy edges and a bright non-stellar nucleus.  247x

On to Pisces…

NGC 467 – One of an attractive line of galaxies. Diffuse halo brightens to a compact, but non-stellar, core (MAC 0119 + 0317, next to it, wasn’t seen). 247x

NGC 470 – Slightly larger than 467. Round with bright, compact core surrounded by a diffuse halo. 247x

NGC 474 – This is the same brightness as 470. Slightly oval and elongated WSW-ENE. Brightens to a bright, non-stellar, core. 247x

Then Andromeda…

NGC 214 – Fairly large and moderately bright. Elongated NE-SW. No nucleus. 247x

Eye candy:
Jupiter was excellent, very detailed and took magnification well in moments of good seeing. The four Galilean Moons were strung out either side, with two on each side. The SEB returned a while back and is nicely on show again.
M31, also in the eye candy department, was spectacular. I’d never seen it in anything larger than my 12 inch, and it was very bright and the dust lane was as prominent as ever I have seen it. I’m going to hunt for globular clusters in it one night, when the seeing is better. M32 and M110 were also very bright and prominent: M32 is the brighter and smaller of the two.

By now, the optics were so badly dewed up, it was becoming difficult to see anything so I packed up. I am going to invest in a dew heater once I have flogged off the 12 inch; actually I am going to invest in a dew heater even if I don’t manage to flog off the 12 inch! If the optics get dewed badly too often then a recoat will be necessary in a couple of years, something I’d prefer to avoid if possible. The Telrad, despite shield, was also badly dewed and made it nearly impossible to find anything.

I’d been using the stepladder a fair bit and, because the top lawn is undermined by generations of moles, one side of the ladder would occasionally sink into one of the tunnels. I never once fell off but it made life difficult and annoying. Not only that, the lawn has a very uneven surface but it is going to be hard to level it out and fill in all the mole holes.

Observing, 24th September 2011


The clouds magically cleared earlier in the evening and the sky was predicted to remain clear until around 2200, so I wheeled the Big One out and set it up for its second look at the sky.

The sky wasn’t the best last night, both the seeing and the transparency were poor as fog arrived in the middle of the session and the humidity was 80%. I know that McDonald Observatory close their domes when the humidity gets to something like 7% there, as does my friend Jimi Lowrey with his 48inch, but their West Texas skies are mostly clear, unlike over here in the UK where we have to take what we can get. As the summer was cool and damp, the ground hasn’t had a chance to dry out, so we’re getting lots of fog and mist which hampers observations, especially of faint objects.

As I was setting up I looked at the primary mirror and…’What the f***? Scratches??!’…I knew it couldn’t be scratches, as the mirror was fine the other day, so I got a large rocket blower I use for cleaning my cameras and lenses, used it to blow on the mirror and the ‘scratches’ vanished. They were fibres from the tissue paper and, inexplicably, a dog hair had also found its way in there. ‘Inexplicably’ because the dogs (long-haired dachshunds) have been nowhere near the scope apart from Joe deciding to cock his leg on it the evening I brought it home (fortunately, being a dachshund, albeit a standard one [largeish], his legs are too short to allow any damage to be done!), although a dog hair could have fallen from my jacket or the shroud, as I take that in the house to dry off when it gets wet with dew.

Date: 24th September 2011
Conditions: Cloudless but murky, fog later. 80% humidity – normally inconspicuous light domes were visible
Seeing: IV
Transparency: III (for seeing and transparency scales used, click here)
NELM: Not checked but probably no better than 6.0, if that
Equipment: 18 inch f/4.3 dob with 35mm Televue Panoptic (56x), 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x) and 8mm Televue Radian (247x).

I began with a general look round and decided on a couple of bits of eye candy to look at first. I aimed at the Ring Nebula, M57, and I am sure I detected some colour in it, green with hints of pink. Subtle but I don’t think I was imagining it. The last time I saw colour in M57 was in Texas in 2008 and that was with Jimi’s 48 inch. I decided to try some high magnifications, 395x (5mm Radian) and 658x (3mm Radian) but, thanks to the poor seeing, it was as mushy as hell (especially at 658x) so I put those eyepieces away. Also, the big mirror needs more cooling down time than I’ve given it. It is still fairly warm during the day and, although the mirror is not especially thick at 40mm (1.5 inches), it still needs over an hour, probably more, to cool.

Then I headed over to M27, the Dumbell Nebula, which was very bright and also with a hint of colour, this time green. Although the conditions weren’t good, M27 was incredibly bright and detailed. Knock-your-socks-off bright and detailed, too. 18 inches is the largest aperture I have looked at M27 with, so it’ll be nice to have a look on a much better night.

I was thinking of selling my 35mm Panoptic and, indeed, I’ve advertised it in our astronomy society’s monthly newsletter, mainly because the exit pupil would be too large for use with the 18 inch, thanks to the focal ratio of the scope, and £250 would come in handy at the moment. However, I decided to give it a try in the big scope and, judging by what I saw, I won’t be parting with it after all and I will withdraw it from sale. NGC 7000 and the Milky Way through Cygnus was spectacular. The exit pupil is a tad too big but not by much, so but it actually doesn’t matter. I will definitely need a Paracorr with this one, though.

Using a stepladder takes a bit of getting used to. At one point, I’d forgotten that I was standing on the second step and stepped off, landing on my bad ankle harder than I’d expected.

So much for the messing around with eye candy. I’d brought some galaxy group information out with me (one of the free downloadable guides from my friend Alvin Huey’s website – follow the links to Downloadable Observing Guides) and went for some galaxy groups in Pegasus. The NGC 7436 group was well placed so I went for that. The notes are sparse.

NGC 7436 – Bright and round with very slight brightening towards the centre. NGC 7433 is right next to 7436 and together at lower power the two galaxies look like an elongated glow east-west. 90x, 247x

NGC 7433 – Reasonably bright elongated glow right next to NGC 7436. 247x

NGC 7435 – Fairly bright, oval, brighter middle. 247x

NGC 7431 – Barely seen elongated glow. 247x

By this time, the transparency had got so bad I decided to pack up, go in and watch Match of the Day. Car lights coming down the hill were huge beams and the kitchen light coming on was a dim glow through fog. A look at NGC 7331 confirmed the transparency had deteriorated, although it wasn’t great to begin with and an hour later the clouds were back.

The weather forecasters are predicting an ‘Indian Summer’ for the next week into October, so I am hoping we get a few more clear nights – preferably with no fog. The actual summer was dismal, so an Indian one will be very nice indeed.


The 18 inch gets to see the sky

The 18 inch finally got its first look at the sky, as it cleared just before sunset after a day of thundery showers, some of which were torrential. The forecast called for a clear night so I hoped to get at least an hour in. I put the scope together, which at least is getting easier and waited – impatiently it has to be said! – for darkness. Collimation was a breeze as, despite the scope being loaded into a van, driven along 200 miles of motorway network, carried on a ship across a bumpy Solent, driven across the appalling goat tracks that pass for roads on the Isle of Wight, unloaded from the van and bumped across the cratered and uneven back lawn, it was not that far out and even if it had been, the large bolts make it a joy to do and not a boring chore. It took 30 seconds to line up the secondary and then the primary – it was FAR easier than either my 12 inch or my 8″ scopes.

I did discover a slight Telrad fail – I’ve put the base in the wrong position. It’s not a big problem but I could have done with putting it next to the finder. I’ll move it at some point, and I’d like to screw the base to the UTA, rather than have it fixed by means of the adhesive base, but it’s going to be ‘fun’ getting it off to move it. It’s not a big deal, it just means that I have to walk round the scope to the eyepiece once I have located something.

When it got dark, the Milky Way was as good as I have ever seen it, with the Cygnus rift very striking and the rest iridescent. It was very prominent right down into Sagittarius. I forgot the SQM, but the naked eye limiting magnitude was at least 6.2.
The neighbours’ lights were annoying as usual, and I wish they’d adjust their insecurity light as it blitzes everything. Luckily that only seems to be put on when their dogs are out having their late night piddle. I wish they’d move away and a nice elderly couple who go to bed at 8.30 and who don’t have all the house lights on would move in instead!

Date: 18th September 2011
Conditions: Clear at first, clouds moving in later. Very dewy (88% humidity) and wet underfoot.
Seeing: II
Transparency: II-III; IV later when clouds arrived.
NELM: ~6.2
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob, with 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 8mm Televue Radian (247x)

First up, as it wasn’t dark and I was just itching to look at something, was the Alcor-Mizar system.Very nice at 90x, with the jewels blazing brightly. As this is an f/4.3 mirror it was evident that I need a coma corrector, such as a Paracorr but I can live with it for now.
I didn’t take any notes, beyond writing names down, either; this wasn’t a ‘serious session’, it was more a case of getting used to the scope and to the ladder I needed to use with it, rather than a proper serious observing session.

NGC 7006, globular cluster in Delphinus – I’ve seen this on quite a few occasions but never as good as this, and this was with the sky still dark blue. At 247x, it was resolved and the core was very dense. 90x, 247x

NGC 7331, galaxy in Pegasus – This was the best ever view, the galaxy appeared very large and bright, with a bright tiny core. Elongated north-south. 90x, 247x.

I also viewed NGC 7337, NGC 7335, NGC 7336, NGC 7340 and MCG+6-49-44, the ‘Fleas’ in the Deerlick group. The fainter Fleas were quite hard with my 12″ but are easy in the 18″. NGC 7336 was pretty faint and the faintest of the group. 247x

The scope is a bit stiff to move, although not hugely so and I expect the stiffness will wear off in time. Besides, it’s better for it to be slightly too stiff than too easily moved.

I packed up at 2130 just before the moon rose as the clouds had returned (contrary to the weather forecast!). I took the scope to bits and returned it to the shed, after carefully drying it off. The shroud was wet through and that’s now hanging over the landing rail to dry.

In unrelated news, I have decided to get another car. My Citroen is getting a bit old and I’ve never really liked the thing as it’s too small, feels ‘cheap’ and is easily ‘bullied’ off the road, so I have traded it in for a Renault estate. Hopefully I can pick the new one up on the 24th. It has an added bonus in that the big telescope will fit into it, as I decided on the spur of the moment to change my car, I thought I may as well get a bigger one while I was at it. The only downside is that the tax will cost more and it will also cost more to run.

Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd)

It was a lovely clear night last night, typical when you can’t make full use of it. Serious deep sky observing was right out of the question because I can’t set up or use my 8″ or 12″ scopes, so I decided to compromise, hobble outside and sit on a garden chair to view Comet Garradd, currently in Sagitta, instead with my 8×42 binoculars. As it turned out, the comet wasn’t visible with the binocs, so I got my aunt to bring out my little Vixen refractor, camera tripod and eyepieces.

The comet was easily visible with the little refractor at 17x. It was a very pale greenish-white, not quite round and brighter towards the middle. It was around magnitude 7-8. I compared it to the globular cluster M71 and there was not a lot of difference in brightness.
I didn’t do a sketch because, with my foot in plaster and being on crutches, things are just too much hassle at the moment, and a sketch was just one more thing to do.

A detailed finder chart for C/2009 P1 (Garradd) can be found at the Skyhound website. In the meantime, here’s a Megastar chart with Comet Garradd’s position as of 28 August 2011 indicated by the red arrow. I removed all the DSOs (not that Sagitta is particularly blessed with lots of DSOs) except M71, which I left in for comparison.


Red sky at night…

The evening of 21st August looked promising, with a few high clouds, so I set up the 8 inch again. I wanted to get the 12 inch out but I’d been out all day, and had got up at 7.30 that morning so I frankly couldn’t be bothered. The clouds made a spectacular red sunset again so their photo was taken. The quality isn’t the best because my wide-angle lens, a basic Canon 18-55 kit lens, is as ropey as hell although a new lens is pretty low on my list of priorities.

My targets were in Sagittarius (Among others, I wanted to see NGC 6822; I’d seen it from Australia in 1997 but not from the UK. It should be relatively easy at -14 dec) and Aquila but, as it got dark, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to do any observing in Sagittarius, as it was completely murked out, so I switched my attention to Aquila, which was still clear. A bit fell off the equatorial mount at one point, but this didn’t affect its performance.
I did an SQM reading before I began, this was 20.80, which corresponds to a NELM of 6.0.

Date: 21st August 2011
Conditions: Some high cloud, 4th quarter Moon not yet risen, humid, warm

Seeing: II – Good
Transparency: III – rather poor
NELM: 6.0 to 6.1
Equipment: 8″ f/4 equatorial Newtonian; Televue 22mm Panoptic (36x), Televue 15mm Plossl (53x), Televue 8mm Radian (100x) and Televue 5mm (160x).

NGC 6760, globular cluster in Aquila – Round, quite large and moderately faint. Found easily at 36x. At 100x it is unresolved. Still unresolved at 160x. Brightens to a compact core. 36x, 100x, 160x.

NGC 6749, globular cluster in Aquila – Very small and quite faint. Not resolved. Lies in a rich area. 36x, 100x, 160x.

At this point I took an reading with the borrowed Sky Quality Meter (I must get myself one of these but, like the wide-angle lens, it’s fairly down my list of priorities) and it was 21.02, which equates to 6.1 on the visual scale. Not bad for a pretty average night and confirms my average naked-eye estimates.

Looked for the planetary nebula NGC 6852, also in Aquila, but failed to find it. I don’t have much success with Aquila planetaries! Will try this again next time.

NGC 6934, globular cluster in Delphinus – Bright, small and round. Unresolved at 100x and 160x. Compact. There is a mag 9 star just to the west of the cluster. 36x, 100x, 160x

I packed up at 2345 as the Moon was rising and my feet hurt after being on them all day! I only managed three objects – my sessions seem to be like that at the moment thanks to a combination of conditions and having to be at work the following morning.