Category Archives: Texas Star Party

Some sketches from TSP

I have finally got round to scanning in various sketches, as I was doing a rebuild of my website and needed to scan pictures for it. Among these are some of the pics from this year’s Texas Star Party. Click on each sketch for a larger image.

NGC 3245A, Leo Minor
Observed with Dennis Beckley’s 18″ Obsession at 258x.
Very thin and very faint. Pops into view with averted vision. Evenly bright throughout.
Prude Ranch, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 3279, Leo
18″ Obsession, 258x
Bright, very thin, elongated.
Prude Ranch, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 3432,Leo Minor
18″ Obsession, 258x
Very thin, irregular. Mottled, elongated centre.
Prude Ranch, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 5394 and 5395 (Arp 84), Canes Venatici.
48″ Dobsonian
Very large and bright through the 48″. Full of detail. 5395 is the larger of the two galaxies and is interacting with neighbour 5394. There is a bridge connecting the two galaxies. There is distortion in the spiral arms of 5395.
The Lowrey Observatory, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 3242, Hydra.
48″ Dobsonian, 814x.
This is, like all eye candies, pretty nice in more modest apertures but is absolutely sensational in the eyepiece of ‘Barbarella’. There are two green rings, the inner ring is more oval than the outer one and is thickened at each end while the outer one has a furry appearance. The central star is bright. Between the rings is ‘gauzy’ looking nebulosity which has a tinge of pink to it and the whole p.n. looks three-dimensional. I try not to write ‘wow’ in observing descriptions but…like, um…wow. As they say. Fabulous!
The Lowrey Observatory, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

NGC 4038 and 4039, Corvus
36″ f/5 Obsession Dobsonian, 352x.
Very large and bright at 352x in the 36″.
NGC 4038 is the thinner (uppermost in sketch) of the two galaxies. It is elongated and distorted with a brighter, mottled centre. NGC 4039 is fatter and not so elongated. It has bright HII regions and is very mottled. I can see 4039’s tidal tail easily but 4038’s is fainter and does not show up in the scan, although it is in the original sketch.
Prude Ranch, Ft. Davis, TX, USA

By the way, my website has been added to, with Messier galaxies the first observations up. Click here to visit the site.
I am getting itchy feet and am longing to visit Australia, or somewhere else south of the Equator, to see southern goodies again. Last year’s visit Downunder wasn’t the best for astronomy, although I wasn’t actually on an astronomy trip, with the single opportunity I got for some serious observing washed out by storms and torrential rain during Australia’s wettest and windiest winter for 25 years! However, any potential trips will have to wait until at least the end of 2011 as I want to get that 18″ scope first!

TSP – The Objects: Part 5

This is the final instalment of the objects I saw at this year’s Texas Star Party – and you might be pleased to know it’s a very short one as the weather did not co-operate! I’d got invited back to the 48″ by Jimi and Alvin for some more huge scope observing.

Friday 14th May.
Conditions: Started out clear and dry but the humidity rose sharply after dark to a very high 78%
Seeing: II
Transparency: II
NELM: 6.5-6.7
Instrument: 48″ f4 Dob

IC 1182, galaxy in Serpens – Faint, oval, with optical jet (MAC 1605+1747B).
Possible new gravitational lens in Lynx?? – At first, this looks similar to the Double QSO in UMa, with two fat ‘stars’ on show, but at high magnification each component looks elongated while at very high magnification (1200x) there is a tiny companion located at “5o’clock'” from the larger object.
We also looked at some eye candy before shutting down.

By 0100 it was obvious that this was not going to be an all-night session, we could see fog over the Prude Ranch four miles away and the humidity, which had been rising all evening, was now 78%. The transparency had dropped right off and clouds were rolling in, so we packed up and headed back down to the house for chat and a beer.
And that was it for the observing at the 2010 Texas Star Party, as the following night, Saturday, was a complete write-off due to clouds. It had been a good star party, observing-wise and we all had enough observing to make us all happy.

TSP – The Objects: Part 4

Thursday 13th May. This was an attempt at another of Larry’s Lists, this time the ‘Rings Over Texas’ list from 2000. Again, it was Alvin Huey, Dennis Beckley and myself observing with Dennis’ 18 inch. The notes are quite very sparse as I was observing with the others and we were trying to get the list done against interference by clouds and – for ten minutes – by a skunk.

Conditions: Partially clear with some drifting cloud interfering, lightning to the north east.
Location: Prude Ranch, Fort Davis, TX.
NELM: 6.9
Seeing: II-III
Transparency: IV (when the drifting clouds were not in the way)
Instrument: 18 inch f4.5 Obsession dob. 17mm Ethos (121x), 13mm Ethos (158x), 11mm Plossl (187x), 6mm Ethos (343x)

NGC 2685, polar ring galaxy in UMa – Bright, with a elongated centre and an oval outer halo. Nice. 343x

NGC 5122, polar ring galaxy in Virgo – Faint, oval with a brighter centre. 187x.

NGC 2793, ring galaxy in Lynx – Faint and oval. Even brightness. 158x.

AM 1358-221, ring galaxy in Virgo – Quite faint at mag 15.8, oval.

MCG -4-33-27, ring galaxy in Virgo – Brighter than AM 1358-221. Small and oval. Next to a bright star.

Arp 87, NGC 3808, polar ring galaxy in Leo – Double galaxy next to a bright star: one, 3808A is larger than the other (3808B). Quite dim.

NGC 3861, polar ring galaxy in Abell 1367 (Leo) – bright, round, with a brighter centre. This was interrupted by a skunk wandering around; we abandoned the scope for a few minutes until he passed. I’ll get the pun in before anyone else does – we were skunked!

Minkowski 1-64 (PK64+15.1), planetary nebula in Lyra – Round, well defined. Star just off northern edge. 343x.

II Hz 4, ring galaxy in Lynx – Adjacent to a star this is very faint and pops in and out of vision (more out than in!). Round.

NGC 4650A, polar ring galaxy in Centaurus – Elongated. Not very bright.

Mayall’s Object (Arp 148), polar ring galaxy in UMa – Faint, elongated dim glow.

M57, central star – Nearly forgot this one! M57’s central star was on the Rings Over Texas list and we got it without too much difficulty. It popped into view, looking very stellar, during moments of good seeing.

By this time, clouds were beginning to be a real nuisance so we packed up around 3am without observing all 25 objects needed for the pin; we observed around 14 of them although I only wrote down 12. As Alvin and I were going to be back at the 48″ the following night we wouldn’t get a chance to finish the list this TSP.

Alvin and I also managed to knock off the 2010 TSP Binocular Pin. Sat in adjacent chairs with our pairs of binoculars it was a case of ‘yep’ [write down the time]…’yep’ [write down the time]…’yep’ [write down the time]…and so on. Easy and just as much fun as the faint, esoteric stuff in its own way. A bit of light, hit-and-run astronomy.

TSP – The Objects: Part 3

The third night I was at TSP, Wednesday 12th May, I observed on the Ranch. Larry Mitchell invited me to observe with him and the 36”. He was putting together the Advanced List for TSP 2011, which was to be faint objects near Messier Objects.

Conditions: Clear, cool.
Location: Prude Ranch, Fort Davis, TX
NELM: 6.9
Seeing: II
Transparency:  III
Instrument: 36” Obsession; Eyepieces: 13mm Ethos

First up, we looked for a faint galaxy next to M108 in Ursa Major. This was one of Larry’s own MAC galaxies, MAC 1110+5538 but this was incredibly faint. I was not sure I saw anything in that area, maybe a slightest of brightening of the background sky but no more than that. Several people looked, including Larry, but none of us could say for sure that we saw it. As Larry said, if you can’t see it in a 36” scope, people with smaller scopes are not definitely going to see it so it was pointless putting it on the list.

M108 itself was huge in the eyepiece, stretching almost the width of the field. Evenly bright right across, apart from some mottling in the eastern part of the galaxy.

MAC 1111+5536, galaxy in UMa – this was also in the vicinity of M108, located just south of it. This was a faint, nondescript smudge in the eyepiece, elongated NE-SW. It is slightly brighter than MAC 1110+5538 at mag 17.0 instead of 17.5.

NGC 5907, galaxy in Draco – Very large and bright. Stretches across field of view. Dust lane visible. Edge on.

IC 4617, galaxy in Hercules  – Very small and quite faint. Not well defined. There’s some brightening towards the centre. Elongated.

Hickson 82 in Hercules– Nice little group, with nine galaxies visible. I sketched it but omitted a description.

NGC 4038/38, galaxies in Corvus – Huge in the eyepiece, bright and full of detail. HII regions are bright and the tidal tails are seen with relative ease. I made a sketch which I’ll scan and upload at some point, but I have a few to do so it might be some time before they appear!

It was at then that the effects of only ten hours’ sleep since Sunday were making themselves felt and things were becoming decidedly ‘not fun’. I could hardly keep my eyes open, I was cold and my feet were killing me so I reluctantly told Larry that I had to give up for the night. I hated wasting half the night, as it was only 0230 but, as Larry pointed out, only ten hours’ sleep in three days is overdoing things a bit!

TSP – The Objects: Part 2

Tuesday 11th May was my second day at TSP, but I didn’t do any observing at the ranch that night as I got invites from Jimi Lowrey and Alvin Huey (who was staying at Jimi’s) to go and observe with them at the 48″. This was far too good an opportunity to pass up and we had an awesome observing session with good transparency and periods of good seeing.
Obviously, using such a vast scope means that faint stuff becomes fair game and we wanted to view some esoteric objects but, of course we couldn’t resist looking at some eye candy as well as the dim and distant.

Conditions: Clear, cool but not cold
NELM: 7.0+
Seeing: around II-IV
Transparency: Excellent, great detail and iridescence in Milky Way when it rose.
Instrument: 48 inch f4 Dobsonian. Eyepieces: Televue Ethos 17mm (287x), Zeiss ZAO-II 10mm (488x), Zeiss ZAO-II 6mm (814x), Zeiss ZAO-II 4mm (1220x).

NGC 3242, planetary nebula in Hydra – We started off with this lovely piece of eye candy. This is, like all eye candies, pretty nice in more modest apertures but is absolutely sensational in the eyepiece of ‘Barbarella’. There are two green rings, the inner ring is more oval than the outer one and is thickened at each end while the outer one has a furry appearance. The central star is bright. Between the rings is ‘gauzy’ looking nebulosity which has a tinge of pink to it and the whole p.n. looks three-dimensional. I try not to write ‘wow’ in observing descriptions but…like, um…wow. As they say. Fabulous! 814x

IC 4277 and IC 4278, galaxies next to NGC 5195 – no description written down.

UGC 9242, galaxy in Bootes – Very flat, edge on. Mottled, with knots visible. Core not bright and the whole thing is fairly evenly bright across. 814x

Arp 84 in Canes Venatici – this is an interacting pair, NGC 5395 and NGC 5394 (the smaller of the two). Nicknamed the ‘Heron’ and it does look like that big water bird, this is very bright and detailed. NGC 5395 is huge in the eyepiece, elongated north-south, with a bright core and spiral arms which are somewhat distorted because of the interaction with 5394.
NGC 5394 is much smaller and is bright, with a slightly brighter centre. A tail of material is trailing from NGC 5394 and a bridge of stars can be seen linking the two galaxies. 814x

Arp 105 and Ambartsumian’s Knot, galaxies in Ursa Major – This is a busy area, with several galaxies and other ‘bits ‘n’ pieces. NGCs 3561 and 3561A are the brightest galaxies in the field, with quite bright MCG+5-27-12 and an anonymous galaxy nearby. A long very, very faint tidal tail stretches off to the north with a very faint knot, VV237f, at the end of it; I could see this some of the time with averted vision and had to look for a long time to be 100% certain it was there (this is on the famous AINTNO list but when we mentioned this to Barbara and Larry the following day at the ranch they were, to say the least, skeptical. Ok, they plain didn’t believe us, which was a shame. 🙁  ).
Ambarsumian’s Knot, VV237b, lies immediately to the south of NGC 3561 and is visible as a faint, slightly elongated smudge of light.

VII Zwicky 466, galaxy in Draco – A ring galaxy, this is small and fairly faint but the ring structure is easily visible. Elongated. Inside the ring, it is evenly bright. The ring is slightly thicker on one side. There are three other galaxies nearby, one of which is edge on. 814x

QSO0957+561 A/B, quasar in Ursa Major – The Double Quasar, visually, isn’t much to look at but knowing what it is, is what makes it exciting to observe. It is a gravitationally-lensed quasar, located 8.7 billion light years away, while the lensing galaxy itself is much closer at 3.7 billion light years.
Both components easily seen, looking like a fuzzy double star, and easily split during moments of good seeing with an obvious gap between them. I could see a hint of fuzziness around the quasar(s) which may, or may not, be the lensing galaxy (this is also on the AINTNO list but, again, we were met with disbelief. 🙁 ) 814x

The three quasars surrounding NGC 3842 in Leo – These are also on the (in)famous AINTNO List and we saw them. Not easily, but they were there. Looking for each in turn they each popped into view during moments of good seeing. Each was a tiny, stellar-looking pinprick of light.

The Jet in M87, in Virgo – Easily seen as a faint ‘pencil’ of light coming from the centre of the galaxy. The orientation of the field of view meant that the jet was located at ‘8 o’clock’ from the nucleus. Another observing ambition realised. 814x

DHW 1-2, planetary nebula in Ophiuchus – Located between two bright stars. Oval, with brightening on one side. Unfiltered, the central star pops into view during moments of good seeing. 488x

NGC 6309, planetary nebula in Ophiuchus – Very bright and blue. Elongated and rectangular. Filaments seen at sides.

Rose 13 (Shakhbazian 19), galaxy group in Coma Berenices – A tight, faint group. Three components seen, one of which was very elongated. A difficult group. 814x.

As well as all the faint stuff, we got blown off the ladder with stunning views of M51, NGC 6543 (the Cat’s Eye Nebula) and M17.

What a fantastic observing session with the giant scope. It’s always a treat to be able to observe with scopes such as this and Larry’s 36 inch, opportunities like this don’t come along often and, when they do, they have to be made the most of and I think we did just that. As much as I love viewing ‘lollipops’ (don’t we all?) I also love looking at faint, difficult objects that few people have ever heard of and even fewer have actually seen visually – that tidal tail from NGC 3561A down to VV237f is a case in point; it would seem that only three people in the whole world have ever visually seen it and that’s myself, Alvin Huey and Jimi Lowrey!

We packed up at dawn and, due to tiredness plus the prospect of walking into the ranch (not a great distance but distinctly unappealing after an all-night sesh), we slept at Jimi’s before returning to the ranch later that morning – and I have to say that Jimi’s sofa is far more comfortable than the Prude bunks!

Finally, a quick note of caution – you have got to be careful when observing at the top of very tall ladders. It is not an experience for those of a nervous disposition and those scared of heights. I am not keen on heights, but I feel it is absolutely worth it for the views you get. However, I am very careful, as it would be easy to drop an eyepiece and hit someone or smash the eyepiece or, worse, to forget where you’re putting your feet and take a tumble. I very nearly did that, when I overbalanced and nearly went ‘a over t’ from the very top of the ladder before just as quickly regaining my balance. A fall would have certainly resulted in broken bones and I very much doubt if my travel insurance would pay out for falling off a ladder while standing at the top of it, on tiptoes, in the dark, looking at a very faint object through a giant telescope.

TSP – The Objects: Part 1

I have finally got round to writing out the observations from this year’s TSP and, as promised (or threatened, depending on your point of view) here are some of them. I’ll begin with Monday, 10th May and the objects from Larry Mitchell’s Advanced Observing List which, for 2010, was Super-Thin Galaxies. The observers were Alvin Huey, me and Dennis Beckley and we were using Dennis’ 18 inch f4.5 Obsession.
We also observed stuff not on the List, if it was near something we were observing – there’s no point ignoring lots of ‘cool stuff’ lying nearby. I did make a few sketches but I mostly restricted myself to brief notes.

Conditions: Clear, cool but not cold
NELM: 6.9
Seeing: around II
Transparency: very good
Instrument: 18 inch f4.5 Dobsonian. Eyepieces: 17mm (121x), 13mm (158x), 11mm (187x), 8mm (258x), 6mm (343x). These were a mix of Dennis’ Ethoses and Alvin’s Zeisses.

UGC 5267 in Leo – Edge on, easy to see, bright.
UGC 5270 in Leo – Smaller, fainter, more oval. Not on List.
MCG+2-25-42 in Leo – Very faint and small. Round. Not on List.
UGC 5341 in Leo – Very faint, edge on. Stellar nucleus.
UGC 5164 in Leo – Larger than U5341 and brighter. Edge on.
CGCG 63-37 in Leo – Lies near UGC 5164. Very faint and small. Edge on. Close to double star. Not on List.
UGC 5495 in Leo – Large, quite bright, edge on.
NGC 3279 in Leo – Bright, very thin, elongated.
NGC 3501 in Leo – Easily visible. Edge on, bright. At 258x it almost stretches across the field of view. Slight brightening towards centre.

NGC 3501. From Digitized Sky Survey

NGC 2820 in UMa – Faint but easy to find in a recognisable field. Edge on, very thin. Loc. near the face on galaxy NGC 2805.
NGC 2814 in UMa – Thin edge on. Small and quite faint. Not on List.

NGC 2820 (large edge on) and NGC 2814 (small gx at right). From Digitized Sky Survey

NGC 2805 in UMa – Faint face on spiral. Roundish fuzzy patch. Not on List.
UGC 6378 in UMa – Located in nice field of four stars in an arc. High surface brightness, edge on.
UGC 6667 in UMa – Edge on. Quite faint. Even brightness, doesn’t brighten towards middle.
UGC 8040 in UMa – Edge on, fairly dim, forms nice box pattern with UGC 8046, MCG +10-19-1 and MCG +10-18-88. The others are all oval and all are equally bright, except UGC 8046 which is fainter.
UGC 8146 in UMa – Faint, thin galaxy. Almost even brightness but with very slight brightening towards centre. Very nice.
UGC 7321 in Coma Berenices – Faint, very thin. Low surface brightness. Well defined edges.
NGC 4183 in CVn – Beautiful. Edge on. Detailed with mottling.

NGC 4183. From Digitized Sky Survey

NGC 4244 in CVn – ‘Silver Needle’. Very big and bright and stretches across the field of view at 258x. Thin with hardly any brightening towards centre.
NGC 5907 in Draco – Large, bright, edge on. Stretches across field of view at 258x. Brightens considerably towards large nucleus.
UGC 10043 in Serpens – Edge on with pronounced bulge. Pretty faint.
NGC 3245A in LMi – Very thin and very faint. Pops into view with averted vision. Evenly bright throughout.
UGC 4719 in UMa – Faint, edge on.

Also observed NGC 3432 in LMi, and UGC 5509 in Leo, plus two or three more which I have descriptions for, but whose names I wrote down incorrectly, which is easy to do in the dark at 3 am. I’ll have to pick Alvin’s brains on those!

By this time it was approaching 0430 and with more than the required 20 objects in the bag, plus a few not on the list, we called it a night and approached Larry for our pins. Mine now sits on a ball cap which I got at TSP 2006, and joins several other observing pins. Before going to bed, however, we all looked though the 36″ which was aimed at M17, the Swan Nebula in Sagittarius. This was very detailed and busy, with filaments and streamers everywhere, probably the best view I have ever had of it – until I looked at it with Jimi’s 48″ later that week!

As I write this, it’s just on a week since I left the US and I have a bad case of the post vacation blues. I seriously don’t want to be back in the UK! I wish I was back in West Texas with great people under those super skies…

Some TSP photos

I have got round to editing some of my TSP photos and here they are. Click on them for larger view.
Larry Mitchell collimating his 36 inch
The Upper Field

People getting ready to observe as dusk falls; looking west

This is one of the Texas clubs’ hang outs, one of Texas Astronomical Society, Fort Bend Astronomy Club, or Houston Astronomical Society. These clubs congregate in the north-west corner of the Upper Field and here is where you’ll find the likes of Barbara Wilson, Larry Mitchell, Jim Chandler, and others.

Me ‘observing’ at eyepiece of 48 inch. The only way to get a picture at the eyepiece without ruining night vision.

Jimi and Alvin collimating the 48 inch. The only way to see the position of the laser is to use binoculars, because of the size of the scope.

Jimi (left) and Alvin (right) with the 48 inch.

TSP Day 6 – Farewells

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

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

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

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

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

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

TSP Day 5 – Jets and Quasars

It was a quiet day spent around and about on Friday. As mentioned in my previous post, I went to Indian Lodge State Park and did some birding (and, I hope, I got some decent photos; I’d brought my 400mm Canon telephoto to the US as it’s my birding lens and produces excellent results) and in the afternoon, I visited fellow Brit’s Keith and Jan Venables for their 4.30pm Happy Hour which is now a TSP institution. Up to 15 people gather at their bunkhouse for beer (or wine), pretzels and chat. I can’t always make it, but it’s a very civilised way to spend an hour on a TSP afternoon, chatting, drinking and talking astronomy.

I had made a promise to myself not to spend much money this year but guess what? Yep, entirely predictably I broke that promise and exceeded my self-imposed budget by at least $200. But, as I told myself, that prevents me being royally ripped off when I come to change US dollars back into Her Britannic Maj’s British Pounds. If I had spent them on things I want here in the States, then I am not going to be shafted at the airport or the travel agent back home.
I did buy an Arcturus Telrad dew shield from Camera Concepts – I’d been looking for one for ages in the UK and not found a decent one at a non-scandalous price until TSP, plus I bagged an Antares 2-inch to 1.25 inch eyepiece adapter which, instead of having a screw to hold the eyepiece securely, twists closed. It’s much more secure and there’s no annoying little screw to fall out and get lost, so it will be an improvement on the one I currently use.
I also bought The Night Sky Observers’ Guide Volume Three – The Southern Skies from Bob Kepple, one of the authors, plus the Digitised Sky Survey on CD Rom for $45. Both were bargains and the book was $34 which is much better than the outrageous prices charged in the UK – Amazon UK wanted a ridiculous 70 quid for a copy! I obviously won’t get much of an opportunity to use it in back in the UK, but I wanted it to join my Volumes 1 and 2 and I will be taking it on my next trip to the Southern Hemisphere, whenever that will be. As for the DSS I nearly bought a copy for a hundred quid from someone at the IW Star Party earlier this year but decided against it due to the price. I also bought a Lumicon 2-inch UHC filter – I already have 1.25 inch filters but now I also have 2-inch eyepieces in my collection and using 1.25 filters with these is a pain and the filters inevitably get dropped, with the risk of loss or damage. I can also screw the 2-inch filter into the Antares adapter, which means I don’t have to swap the filter between eyepieces when viewing nebulae.
I am hoping I get the dew shield home in once piece as it’s made of a fairly brittle plastic and it won’t take much to crack or snap it. I have borrowed a round cake tin and wrapped the dew shield up in socks and – clean! – underwear and placed it in the tin. It doesn’t move around so hopefully the combination of underwear and socks acting as bubble-wrap and the metal cake tin will prevent an annoying breakage.

I also bought Turn Left At Orion – I don’t need it, it’s a beginner’s book and I am not a beginner and haven’t been a beginner since the early 1990’s, but I wanted it for my collection and, besides, Dan and Brother Guy were signing copies. Plus, I also bought Brother Guy’s autobiography Brother Astronomer to read on the plane home. I am interested to see how he reconciles his Catholic beliefs with science, especially as I am an ex-Roman Catholic myself. I say ‘ex’ as I was brought up in the Church but I am a non-believer – I believe in science and not any mythical omnipotent being. I didn’t tell Brother Guy that though, when he was signing my book, that would have been rude and I would hate to cause offence!

Friday night, I was invited back up to Jimi’s 48 inch for some more deepest of deep sky observing so, once the talk (a hilarious account of the making of Turn Left At Orion by Brother Guy Consolmagno – who is a Jesuit priest and also a professional astronomer at the Vatican Observatory – and Dan Davis; Brother Guy, especially, would have been a great stand up comedian) and the Great Texas Giveaway were done – as usual I won the square root of bugger all! – we headed up the hill to Jimi’s place.
By the time we arrived, it was dark and the skies looked very promising indeed but, unfortunately, this state of affairs did not last long as fog and clouds built up. The humidity was already up to 63% and by the end of the session it had got up to 78%, just like observing from home!
We didn’t do much, but we did see Hickson 50, an optical jet in IC1182 (the jet has a designation in Larry Mitchell’s MAC catalogue, MAC 1605-1747B, as it does look like a tiny galaxy) and an uncharted lensed quasar in Lynx. As the clouds and fog were becoming a serious PITA, we called it a night and headed back to the house for a sandwich, beer and astronomy talk. I again crashed on Jimi’s sofa and later in the morning, Alvin and I headed back to the Ranch.

TSP Day 3 – Bright and faint

Wednesday was a lazy day, spent doing not very much at all. I actually bothered to go to afternoon talks, as I wanted to hear Larry Mitchell’s talk on Super Thin Galaxies and Alvin’s talk about observing galaxy groups, clusters and trios. They were both excellent talks and very interesting, certainly to me as I particularly like observing galaxies.

For the night’s observing, I joined Larry and his 36″. Larry was working on next year’s Advanced Observing List and we looked at some of the possible candidates for that list. We also looked at a mixture of eye candy and dim stuff, too, including M108 and some of the very faint galaxies around it, IC 4616 which is near M13, Hickson 82 and NGCs 4038 and 4039.
Unfortunately, by 0230, I couldn’t stay awake any longer as I’d had the sum total of 10 hours’ sleep since Sunday night so I had to call it quits and go to bed. I didn’t like having to do that but, as the sky was beginning to deteriorate anyway, it wasn’t the sacrifice it could have been.

However, I can’t leave this post without mentioning the quote of the 2010 TSP so far. This came from Amelia Goldberg: “Larry, all this faint shit you’re making me observe means I don’t want to look at the bright stuff any more!”.