Category Archives: Open Clusters

Observing 1st August: 8 inch Dob

The 8 inch got its first outing on 1st August, as it was clearer than forecast and I couldn’t be bothered to get the 18 inch out and assembled.

Apart from the substandard 1.25 inch focuser it’s a pretty good little scope. I used my 25mm and 15mm Plossls and my 9mm Nagler with it; I also tried the 22mm Panoptic, which wouldn’t quite come to focus because the travel of the draw tube isn’t enough, and the 12mm Nagler which seriously unbalanced the scope below a 45° angle. A friend of mine from VAS, Richard, has got a Crayford focuser which he will fit to the tube. The Crayford is a lot heavier than the 1.25 inch rack and pinion but we will do something about the balance, whether it’s moving the tube back on the rocker box or using counter weights.
I have already removed the finder, which was located in an awkward place below the focuser and added a Telrad base. The photo shows the base in position and tape put over the holes where I had taken off the finder bracket (to the lower right hand side of the focuser); as you can see, it was in a stupid and awkward place.

The stars are nice pin points, once the mirror has cooled, and there is no coma, as you’d expect in an f/6 mirror, totally unlike my 8 inch f/4.

I looked at NGC 6401, M107, NGC 6568, the Veil Nebula, N27 and M57 before it clouded over and thunderstorms moved in.

Observing, 9-10 July 2013

Date: 9/10 July 2013
Conditions: Cooler than previous night (10°C/50°F), 74% humidity with some dew. Astronomical twilight persists all night until mid-July
Seeing: Good; Transparency: Good, but not as good as previous evening.
Instrument: 18″ (457mm) f/4.3 Dobsonian with 22mm TeleVue Panoptic (90x); 12mm TeleVue Nagler (165x); 9mm TeleVue Nagler (219x)

Only a one-hour session due to tiredness and light skies. The objects are all globular clusters, except where stated.

NGC 6402 (M14), Ophiuchus – Easy to find, large and bright. Some stars resolved across face of cluster at 90x. At 165, almost totally resolved. Nice object.

NGC 6535, Ophiuchus – Smaller than M14 and quite faint against a not-quite-dark sky. At 219x it’s a roundish glow with some foreground stars superimposed on it. Slightly granular but mostly nebulous.

NGC 6517, Ophiuchus – Fairly small but easy to find. Quite bright but not helped by light summer sky and low altitude. At 90x, it is a round glow with a slightly brighter centre. At 165x it shows a brighter dense core and some granulation. No real improvement at 219x.

NGC 6426, Ophiuchus – Very easy to find, because it is located between ϒ and ß Ophiuchi, and is a round glow which is not resolved at 90x although it does have a vaguely granular appearance. It doesn’t brighten towards the core.
Granular at 165x but no improvement at higher powers.

NGC 6712, Scutum – Large, partly resolved with many stars on a nebulous background. Not concentrated towards the core. 90x, 165x.

NGC 6664, Scutum – Open cluster. Large, loose group of approx. 30 stars in NW-SE line. Mostly white stars of equal brightness but there are fainter ones scattered in between these. Located 1° from α Scuti.


Today (10th July) I did some solar observing, as usual, and encountered an unforeseen hazard of day time astronomy – a bird shit on my notebook! Better than on me, I suppose but clothes and hair can at least be washed!

Today’s solar sketch:


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.

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!

Small scope session, 24th July 2011

The dark nights are back, if only for a couple of hours each night, and the nights are drawing in at last. Last night, 24th July, was clear although not perfect so I took my small scopes out instead of getting the 12″ out. Another reason for this was that I wanted to see what the little ones could do on the globular clusters of Ophiuchus.

Date: 24th July 2011
Conditions: Clear, 87% humidity (very dewy), 12° C
NELM: 6.0 decreasing to 5.8 later on.
Transparency: III. Clear, some haze visible. Milky Way still visible but not detailed
Seeing: II
Equipment: 2.75″ (70mm) f/6 Vixen refractor; 4″ (102mm) Meade SCT, 8×42 binoculars; 40mm Televue Plossl, 25mm Televue Plossl, 15mm Televue Plossl.

NGC 6218 (= M12), globular cluster in Ophiuchus -Large and bright. Not resolved in little scope but granular with averted vision. The g.c. has a brighter centre and an irregular shape. 2.75″ refractor with 15mm Plossl (28x).












NGC 6254 (=M10), globular cluster in Ophiuchus – Smaller and slightly brighter than M12. Denser than M12 with a brighter denser core. Round. Unresolved. 2.75″ refractor with 15mm Plossl (28x).











NGC 6426, globular cluster in Ophiuchus – Not seen.

NGC 6366, globular cluster in Ophiuchus – Not seen.

NGC 6705 (=M11), open cluster in Scutum – Visible to the unaided eye and as a bright detached nebulous patch in the Scutum Star Cloud through the 8×42 binoculars. In the 4″ SCT it is a bright, rich, fan shaped cluster. With direct vision it just looks nebulous but with averted vision there are many stars, although there is still a nebulous background. There is a bright star on the eastern point of the ‘fan’. 4″ SCT, 25mm TV Plossl (40x).











NGC 6402 (=M14), globular cluster in Ophiuchus – Round, not resolved. Slightly brighter towards the centre. 8×42 bin.

The scopes were dewing up badly as neither have dew caps so, as it was 1am, I packed up. While I’d rather be doing some more ‘serious’ observing (for want of a better expression), just going outside and using tiny scopes and binoculars to see what can be picked up is fun and can be suprisingly productive.


The little Vixen 2.75″ is a nice little rich field scope and it’s easy to find things with. It’s also easy to use on my photo tripods. However, I feel it’s a little *too* small, but it’s fun to poke round the sky with and see what I can pick up.
The 4″ SCT is much heavier, it’s physically a lot larger and is more of a nuisance on the tripods. It’s not really designed for use on a photo tripod, but I have never had a mount for it, as I bought it second-hand a few years ago. It has to be used with a red-dot finder as the field of view is too narrow to use without one, as it’s an f/10 (1000mm focal length). I am not a fan of red-dot finders but it’s better than nothing.
I am going to want a travel scope (as I am planning a trip to the Southern Hemisphere – probably Australia again – in 2013), which necessarily needs to be small because of airline baggage restrictions but I am not yet sure that either of these will fit the bill. Maybe a good compromise will be a rich-field short-tube refractor of around 3.5 inches, such as those made by Skywatcher or Orion.


All being well, my 18″ should be ready any day now, barring any issues with the mirrors. I haven’t heard that there are any problems, so fingers crossed, it will be done soon.


Summer observing

As those of us stuck at high latitudes know (I’m at 50° North), the long twilights of summer aren’t that conducive to deep sky observing. When it does get ‘dark’ it’s only astronomical twilight as the sun is less than 18° below the horizon. But while it may not be good for the really faint fuzzies (and here, I admit that webcam users and imagers have an advantage over us eyeball-only types) it’s still dark enough for the bright DSOs. Even Messiers you’ve seen countless times before are worth repeated looks and, as it is really the only observing you can get during summer at these latitudes, it’s better than nothing.
The good news is that sunsets started to get earlier from July 1st and from the 16th true darkness returns, only for 36 minutes on the first night but the hours of darkness soon get longer. With a reasonable 30-day forecast (‘reasonable’ meaning average for this time of year – warm sunshine, some showers, average/slightly above average temperatures), I should hopefully get in more observing later this month, good news as I am hoping the new 18″ will be finished in around 3-4 weeks’ time.
I did a little observing last night, going after the supernova in M51, which is still on show, and a little open cluster-hunting in northern Cygnus. There are several on the Herschel II list and real little gits they are too. NGC 7031, NGC 7067 and NGC 7082 were on my list as well as the bright nebula NGC 6857. I also took a look at M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra.

My notes are as sparse as the clusters themselves were!

Date: 2nd July 2011
Conditions: Cloudless, cool (12° C/53.6° F), some dew
Seeing I-II (later)
Transparency: II
NELM: Around 5.5-5.8 due to the astronomical twilight. Definitely less than 6.0. Milky Way visible all the way to Sagittarius but lacking contrast
Equipment: 12″ f/5 Dobsonian; Televue Panoptic 22mm (69x), Televue Radian 8mm (190), Televue Radian 5mm (304x)

SN2011dh in M51 has got a little brighter recently. It was definitely easier to see than last time but that’s probably as much to do with no Moon in the sky as it is to do with the brightness of the supernova – M51’s spiral arms were certainly easier to see this time out. I didn’t make a sketch this time.

NGC 7031, open cluster in Cygnus Small and quite poor. Compressed. 69x, 190x
NGC 7067, open cluster in Cygnus – Faint, adj to 9th mag star. In rich surroundings. 69x
NGC 7082, open cluster in Cygnus – Scattered, large, cluster. In rich area. Not that great and looks more like a richer portion of Milky Way. 69x

I’ll come back to these on a darker night, and the same goes for NGC 6857 which I looked for, a little over-optimistically, but didn’t see. It was at this point, around midnight, that the observing was interrupted by the kids in a house the other side of the footpath putting an insecurity light on, which encroaches on our garden – although it’s worse in winter because of the lack of leaves on the hedge and trees. They’d gone out into the garden do do some camping (I assume they were camping as I heard what sounded like a tent being put up and a tent zipper being opened and closed) and obviously wanted to see what they were doing. I wish they’d used torches though. I decided to pack up, an hour earlier than I’d intended, as the light was a nuisance – and I didn’t want to disturb them with ‘funny noises’ from across the way (it’s strange how loud switching eyepieces and moving around can be in the dark) and, more importantly, I didn’t want them disturbing me!
At least, when I get the new scope, it will be easier to move to another location in the garden, as it will break down and have wheelbarrow handles on it. I’m intending to move my observing spot further down the garden, although the ‘observashed’ will remain where it is, although I can move around depending on where I am looking at the time.
I shoved the 12″ back into the shed and closed the doors on it. This morning, when I went up there to put it away properly, I found I’d left the Telrad switched on. Fortunately, a Telrad reticle uses up hardly any power so the batteries were far from flat. It’s not the first time I’ve left a Telrad on and I guess it won’t be the last!


Collimation’s one of those weird things that has a reputation for being awkward, annoying and downright difficult and it’s viewed almost as being akin to witchcraft, with ‘The Knowledge’ being available to only a select few individuals. However, observers need to know how to collimate their scopes properly in order to get a decent image in the eyepiece and to achieve focus at high magnifications. There’s no real risk of buggering it up as the mirrors, even if they end up miles out of alignment, can easily be put right again. My current scope, a 12″, is a real git when it comes to going out of collimation and I have to fix it before each and every session. I am hoping my new 18″ won’t be as temperamental.
For me, cleaning the mirrors holds far more trepidation than merely aligning the things. That’s where things can really go wrong…I’ve managed to scratch a mirror attempting to clean it in the past.

For those who can’t quite ‘get’ collimation – and in the past I have been among those people – check out the brilliant video tutorial on the website Andy’s Shot Glass, which explains visual and laser collimation, simply and perfectly. Click here to see it. I have no association with Andy or his website but it’s the best and most simple explanation of the process I have ever seen. Just reading about the process doesn’t make it immediately clear and it may take several re-reads in order to make sense of it; seeing it, though, makes it much clearer. There are loads of websites which offer help with collimation, and there are threads about it on Cloudy Nights, but nothing is as helpful as actually seeing something demonstrated such as in the video.
The way to do it (and the best way for a lone observer such as myself) is to use the sighting tube to centre and tilt the secondary mirror, then use a laser collimator to get the beam right into the centre of the primary. Then you go to the back of the scope and adjust the primary mirror itself, getting the beam in the centre of the laser’s display window, meaning everything is centered nicely when you look in the sighting tube again and your collimation is spot on. It’s not hard and takes a couple of minutes. Pure visual collimation without a laser is more awkward, as that requires two of you to perform the procedure, unless you have arms like Mr Tickle, which most people including me, don’t!

Mini observing session, 27th May 2011

After a stormy and unpromising day, Friday night cleared nicely. I was out all evening, not getting home until past 11pm although, given the light nights at this time of year, that’s not really a problem. However, I didn’t feel like getting the 12″ out – and the weather forecast indicated that clouds were soon going to roll in, continuing May’s unsettled note (May’s weather quite often is rubbish but I hope this isn’t the start of yet another lousy summer) so instead I brought out the little 70mm refractor, recently released from its dark prison in the depths of a cupboard. It’s imprisonment wasn’t intentional, it’s just that I don’t have a lot of use for such a small scope. Or I didn’t think I had, until I decided I want a travel scope just in case I am able to go anywhere next year. Unfortunately air travel restrictions don’t allow you to take anything much larger than a small refractor or Mak-Cass overseas. People better at woodwork and metalwork than I am have made collapsible 8″ or larger dobs for airline travel, but that’s beyond my limited practical capabilities.
Anyway, with the lack of anything else to write about on here, here’s a short account (I won’t say ‘report’ like a lot of people do on astronomy forums; I don’t like the term when used for descriptions of observing sessions as I think it’s too formal, making it sound compulsory and too much like work) of the Friday night mini-session with the Vixen.

Date: 27th May 2011
Conditions: Cloudless, no dew, chilly, breezy.
Seeing: II
Transparency: II
Equipment: 70mm (2.8″) f/6 Vixen refractor with Televue 25mm (16.8x) and 11mm (38x) Plossl eyepieces. Lumicon 2″ UHC filter.

The summer Milky Way was rising, and Cygnus was beginning to clear the nearby trees, so I aimed the little scope at the various star fields. The beauty of a small rich-field scope is that you don’t need a finder to aim it. Because of the wide field views, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for just by sighting along the tube, something which is all but impossible with a larger, longer focal length instrument.
As well as looking round the rich Milky Way of Cygnus, I looked for individual objects, bright Messiers generally. M29, a coarse and poor open cluster in Cygnus, was easily seen at 16.8x. Despite its sparseness it was an attractive sight at 38x, standing out nicely from the Milky Way. It’s seven brightest stars were all easily seen in the tiny scope.
In Lyra, M57 was easily seen at 16.8x as a non-stellar object in a rich area. Putting up the magnification to 38x showed an oval with a darker middle.
Turning to Hercules, M13 was easily seen in the scope, and was resolved, despite being at a neck-twisting angle. No surprise there, as it’s a naked eye object on a good night. It wasn’t quite naked eye the other night, though, as the sky wasn’t quite dark enough for that. I didn’t bother with M92, because of the awkwardness of the eyepiece angle – one of the areas where a reflector beats a refractor hands down.
M81 and M82 in Ursa Major provided a lovely view at 38x. M81 was oval, with a slight hint of spiral arms while M82 was a bit brighter and showed mottling.
Scorpius was rising so I decided to see what M4 looked like with the 70mm. Despite its low altitude, the view was surprisingly good and the cluster began to resolve at 38x. If it was higher, it wouldn’t be bad at all with the tiny scope.
Meanwhile, Vulpecula had cleared the trees, so I looked for and easily found M27, the Dumbell Nebula, at 16.8x, as a round patch in a rich area. I was expecting to just see M27’s ‘apple core’ shape but, somewhat surprisingly, at 38x, the fainter lobes showed up well.

Back to Cygnus and NGC 7000 and IC 5070/5067, the North America and Pelican Nebulae. NGC 7000 is a pretty easy naked eye object as a shining patch adjacent to Deneb, as by now, it was 0040 and dark enough to see fainter objects. The shape was easy to make out with the help of my Lumicon 2″ UHC filter held to my eye, with the dark ‘Gulf of Mexico’ prominent. IC 5070/5067 was fainter and needed averted vision to see properly. It’s a nice sight through my 8×42 binoculars though.

It was getting cold and it was nearly 1am, so I packed up – which was the work of less than a few seconds, another plus factor of a small scope. Unfortunately small scopes don’t cut it when you want to view faint deep sky objects and, with a rich field scope such as the 70mm, you can’t get enough magnification for detailed views of DSOs or the planets. However, for a ‘grab and go’ scope and a travel scope, it’s ideal. One scope can’t do it all; my 12″ is way too large and cumbersome to be much use as a ‘grab and go scope’ (being a one-piece tube it barely fits in my car) and doesn’t give wide field views. As noted Arizona observer Steve Coe once said, ‘There’s no such thing as an all-purpose telescope’.

The Texas Star Party begins today. Hopefully they’ll have good clear skies. I wish I was there.

Thursday evening at the local astro society

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

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

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

Clocks go forward on Sunday morning. Yuck.

Observing 9th March 2011

Date: 9th March 2011
Conditions: Chilly, no wind at first but increased later on. Waxing crescent Moon was a bit of a nuisance and interfered slightly. Some drifting cloud
Seeing I
Transparency III-IV
Equipment: 12″ Dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x)

NGC 2129, open cluster in Gemini – Totally dominated by 2 8th mag stars; the rest are much fainter (11th mag) plus some much fainter ones. At 69x it’s hazy but is resolved at 101x. Bright, not scattered, quite compact. 69x, 101x

NGC 2266, open cluster in Gemini – Triangular haze with three slightly brighter stars in a line along SE side. One bright star at tip. Compressed, quite rich and partly resolved using averted vision at 101x. 69x, 101x

NGC 2304, open cluster in Gemini – Scattering of stars in semi-circle. There are 4 or 5 brighter stars with more scattered around. Fairly bright. 69x, 101x.

NGC 2355, open cluster in Gemini – Faint at 69x. Irregular. 69x shows dozens of faint stars on a misty background. At 101x the misty background has a vague S-shape. 69x, 101x.

NGC 2395, open cluster in Gemini – Irregular group of fairly bright stars plus fainter ones. Not rich. About 15 bright stars plus a couple of dozen or so fainter ones. Elongated N-S. 69x, 101x.

NGC 2420, open cluster in Gemini – Moderately faint patch. Rich, concentrated, fairly large. At 69x it’s mostly unresolved mist but at 101x there are 14 or so brighter stars scattered across a background of unresolved stars. 69x, 101x.

Packed up at 2100 because the sky was getting murkier. I have now finished the H400 in Gemini, these were what was left over from last year.


Space shuttle Discovery returned to Earth for the last time yesterday. The shuttle program is nearly at an end, with only an Endeavour mission and a possible Atlantis mission, both to the ISS, left. It’s a shame that, when Atlantis lands for the final time (if her mission gets approved), the shuttles will never fly in space again, instead finding themselves as museum pieces.

Observing 7th March 2011

Finally! After five months of endless cloud and the odd clear spell being around a gibbous or full Moon, I have actually managed to do some observing! It’s been a totally cloudless day, a rarity in itself over this winter (which has been the cloudiest winter for 50 years, as well as one of the coldest), and the clouds stayed away as it got dark so I opened the shed and pulled out the scope. Everything seemed fine, the collimation was not too far out and the shed and silica gel had done their job of keeping the scope protected during some fierce winter storms and snow and the mirrors mould-free.

Date: 7th March 2011
Conditions: Chilly, cloudless, slight breeze with one or two stronger gusts that banged shed doors, no dew, no frost. That horrible light mentioned in my previous post has now gone!
Seeing: I
Transparency: II-III
NELM: 5.8-6.0
Equipment: 12″ dob with 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), UHC, OIII filters.

I decided to knock off the remaining Herschel 400s I had left to do in Orion, left over from last year. The one failure was NGC 1788, no matter how much I searched, I couldn’t find this little bugger. I think it had got too low.

NGC 2169, open cluster in Orion – This is an interesting cluster which looks like the number 37, upside down. The ‘7’ is the westernmost part of the cluster. It has three bright stars and four fainter ones which make up the number 7.
The ‘3’ is slightly larger and brighter than the ‘7’, it also has three bright stars plus one slightly fainter one and six much fainter ones. There is a clear gap between the two components with no stars between them.. Very attractive. 69x, 101x

The sketch of 2169, below is not recent. It’s a sketch I did some years ago but I thought I’d add it in to give an idea of what it looks like.

NGC 2194, open cluster in Orion – Easy to find. Quite faint but rich. There are a few quite faint, but distinct, stars in front of many, many fainter ones. Partly resolved. Detached – stands out well despite faintness. 69x, 101x

NGC 2186, open cluster in Orion – Awkward to find, especially as it’s not shown on my Sky Atlas 2000.0 so I had to come back to the house and print off a MegaStar chart with telrad circles on it. Not easy with one eye tightly shut to preserve its night vision! Located within a triangle of bright stars, which points east. Faint. Poor. Not concentrated. 69x.

Hunted for NGC 1788. Got annoyed with it and gave up as I just could *not* locate the thing, so I moved on.

NGC 1999, reflection nebula in Orion – This was easy to find, as it is located just south of the Orion’s Sword complex. Small, round and bright. Fuzzy with brighter middle. UHC does not improve the view much if any while OIII is totally useless. 69x, 101x, UHC, OIII.

It was a short session, slightly under a couple of hours. I’d inevitably forgotten a few items, such as printing off MegaStar charts and other bits I had to return to the house for, but it was a good session and I’m pleased. It’s nice to be back, although I’d not been idle because I’d done a lot of birding (my other interest) over the winter. The Moon’s on the rise again so, after this coming weekend, it might be a while before my next session. And I managed to avoid trampling the daffodils too badly in my observing patch, there were casualties but only one or two.

This is the sort of weather we’ve had over the winter (observing shed is the grey one in the background). Cloud, cold and more snow than usual.

I never did get to the Isle of Wight Star Party this year. I intended to, but caught a bad cold so, deciding that I would not be thanked for sharing (as well as not feeling like standing around in the dark with it) I didn’t go.