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Star Parties

Well after having a great time at Kelling Heath in September, warm weather and some pretty good observing. Especially with my 6″ binoculars, Steve Loveday’s incredible 8″ binoculars and Andrew Robertson’s 24″ The big refracting binoculars do give such a unique almost 3D image with a very wide view, the brain seems so much happier working with both eyes and delivers such detailed widefield views.

Then a few weeks later I’m at the Breckland star party at Haw Wood Farm Hinton, Suffolk, a much smaller affair but with better skies than Kelling and great horizons 🙂

From this location I was able to view the Helix nebula, a tricky target from the UK as it is so low. I observed it with my 6″ binoculars on Oct 13th and with Andrew Robertson’s undriven 18″ Dob, at the end of the observations I made a sketch from memory and the next night observed it again with Andrew’s 18″ when I added the stars in. UHC filters were used with all observations. The sketch isn’t an accurate as my usual video work but hopefully captures the visual impression quite well?

Image cropped and inverted

Total Eclipse USA

Great sketch made by my great friend and fellow sketcher during totality, south Illinois

Franks Eclipse drawing

“Drawing of Totality during the August 21, 2017 Eclipse

   We viewed the eclipse from a town 15 minutes to the south of Johnston City namely  Marion, Illinois. We had heavy cloud cover the afternoon of the previous day. At noon on the day of the event cumulous cloud began building. As we approached totality the clouds began to collapse due to the decrease of heat convection as the Sun disappeared behind the Moon. The temperature (104?F/40?C) at first contact which fell to (91?F/33?C) at totality. It was breezy at totality. I made a few drawing between first and second contact and recorded notes throughout the event. I did not see any interference bands on a nearby white building before and between Bailey’s beads and the Diamond ring or at any other time. I pulled the filter off the telescope and took a 15 second look to make marks for drawing after the event was over. I am sure I missed things but even 2 minutes 20 seconds is too short for me to make a decent sketch. My daughter Michelle  and soon Tommy helped with words describing how they saw things. Three other relative were there to look through the telescope as well. I got the general extent of the corona over most of totality by naked eye views and two obvious proms in the 15 seconds I had at the eyepiece. The high humidity and numerous clouds below 40 degrees altitude kept the sky brighter than I expected. We were unable to see any stars like Regulus but all of us viewed Jupiter and Venus. It was well beyond words to witness all this.”


” Dale, you would have loved this; I wish you were here for this).”


Drawing Materials used Post Eclipse


Dark blue/gray drawing paper 8.5” x 11”

Pastel pencils (black and white) and one pink oil pastel crayon

Clipboard, blending stumps.

Baader Solar filter before and after totality

Telescope: 4.25” f/5 homemade Dobsonian 26 and 28mm eyepieces

cvWeather: Warm and humid

Bootes Bonus

Blog Sunday Feb 5th 2017


A clear sky drags me from my warm bed and out to the observatory carrying the obligatory cup of tea. I’m moved by the sky that greets me once outside of the back door; despite the fact I’m not dark adapted the sky is still spectacular. I’m momentary disorientated by an unfamiliar sky as this is a late spring evening sky, not the mid winter one I have become accustomed to! I work from Arcturus locating the constellations until I’m familiar with the scene which takes a few minutes. Jupiter blazing to the south makes the sky look rather odd too.


As I enter the observatory I decide that I shall hunt down an Arp galaxy in Bootes for a sketch. Five minutes or so sees the scope slewing to Arcturus and it is soon centred on the monitor. I decide on Arp 43 a short hope from the brilliant yellow star. The goto puts the fuzz of a galaxy just on the edge of the fov with the camera set to a short exposure; I centre the ‘fuzz’ and extend the exposure to 10 then 15 seconds. As the camera settles I given a busy but rather grainy site, clearly a very nice spiral plays the central role with a smaller fuzzy galaxy just off the end of one arm, there are clearly many other faint and tiny galaxies in the field, one revealing itself as an edge on. I fiddle with the monitor and camera settings before deciding ‘this is the best view I will get’ and freezing the frame. It is now 5am and dawn will not be far off, with the frame frozen I can sketch at my leisure with now fear of losing my target. I get the stars draw in Ink and add the galaxies, the very faint stars I add last with gentle dabs of a pencil. Happy I have captured the view I take off the freeze function and the image is refreshed, the image shifts by around 25% but is pretty similar to that I froze 30mins before, then as often happens with Watec video cameras for some unexplained reason on a 15 sec frame refresh the screen goes very bright, normally I ignore this and things settle down on the next refresh. However on this occasion despite the very bright back ground the image of the main galaxy, was far sharper and more defined that before although the fainter outer regions were washed out! Quickly I froze this image and turned the image brightness down on the monitor; to my delight the resulting image was far cleaner and more defined that the previous one, in fact I would go as far as saying that it was way better than the Watec commonly delivers! What is going on I wondered? Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I got to rework my sketch; I could now see a fork in one arm of NGC 5829 which is the main spiral and the other arm that points towards a close by bright star showed a string of tiny bright knots looking rather like a spine. The cluster of fainer galaxies now showed their true nature, bright cores and diffuse outer halos no longer just non stellar smudges! I would love to know what had happed to the Watec to deliver such an awesome image? After all if it can deliver such as a “glitch” why could it not deliver the same by design?

A 42 with Hickson 73 companions


OK enough on that matter, I noted on the Carte du Ciel display that close by was another galaxy, not sure what would show up at 6am, I sent the scope there and was delighted to see a pair of fairly bright galaxies close together. I twiddled the knobs, froze the frame and sketched NGC 5859 & NGC 5857, the former showing quite considerable spiral detail and being the larger of the two. NGC 5857 however had a noticeably brighter core, a very nice pair of, as I found later, non interacting galaxies.

NGC 5859 & NGC 5857


With my observations in the bag, I did some research on Arp 42, finding out that the largest of the galaxies after mag 13.9 NGC 5829 was in fact IC 4526 with a mag of 17. I also found that Arp 43 which is made up of these 2 galaxies also forms part of Hickson 73 along with a number of the fainter surrounding galaxies! I had therefore observed and sketched this group a number of years ago as H73! I compared sketches and this is by far the better of the 2, especially when viewed as originally drawn black on white!






A beautiful evening sky observation

Here is a wonderful sketch and description that I have just received from my very good friend, Frank 🙂

Moon, Mars and Venus on the Last Evening of January 2017


From southern Chicagoland so far in 2017, a clear sky has been a very rare and brief event.  After a cloudy month the sky cleared for about 45 minutes just past sunset. It was obvious with approaching clouds from the northwest this was going to be a brief opportunity so with my sketching kit in hand and without a scope, I was outside quickly to captures this view to my southwest.

The waxing crescent Moon was about -8 visual magnitude and almost 4 days past new. Planet Venus was dazzling at -4.7 magnitude and receding Mars was about first magnitude.

All three targets fit inside a circle of 5 degrees. This was a beautiful sight in the deepening twilight.


The Moon, Mars & Venus




Naked eye sketch

Sky conditions were good with respect to transparency 8/10, some wind gusts

Date and Time: 01/31/2017; 5:30pm – 6:10pm local time

Materials used: 8″ x 10″ blue sketching paper, Gray pastel pencil,

White and black Conte’ crayon, yellow and orange pencils, gum eraser and clipboard.


Frank McCabe

A very unusual pair of galaxies in Lynx

An interesting day weather wise, warm & sunny then rain and finally falling temperatures as dusk descends and the sky clears.

I make an agreement  my wife that after dinner that I will go into the observatory, get some observing done and return to the house by 9pm in time to share the latest episode of the exceptionally good BBC drama ‘Taboo’ with her 🙂

I look on the Webb society web site, Owen’s latest galaxy of the month in Gemini I have already sketched, as I have for Wolfgang’s object of the season, and the lovely spiral featured as image of the month is too low for the UK, I did check to see if I might just get a hint of it 😉

So it was back on the Arp trail for me. The goto was spot on tonight, slewing from startup to Procyon in the East and putting it into the tiny fov! Then up to Pollux and then to Castor before slewing to ARP 143.

Wow! what an interesting and unusual pair of interacting galaxies in Lynx making up this Arp, 143 is a member of the class ‘Material Emanating from E Galaxies’. The Atlas note says “diffuse counter filament”. The north galaxy (bottom) is NGC 2444 and the very strange beast to the south is NGC 2445. The two galaxies appear to flow into one another. There is a lot fine detail visible in the image on my CRT monitor. The little spiral near the lower left of my sketch (northwest) is CGCG 206-22.
NGC 2444 is mag 14.2 NGC 2445 is mag 13.9. I made the sketch on Jan 28th 2017 using the 505mm mirror and cooled Watec 120N+ deep sky video camera. N is down in the sketch.

Unusual Arp 143

My SQM showed 20.60 as I closed up at 8.55 local time to go indoors, what a result 🙂

Happy, Dale

A few observations from Canis Minor & Cancer

On the evenings of Sat Jan 21st and Sunday 22nd, I had a quite good run of observations and sketches. My sky meter showed an SQM of 20.98 on Sat night and 20.78 on Sunday night both good readings for my location, the Sat reading being exceptional.

Starting off with this large and well know planetary nebula in Canis minor Abell 21 The Medusa nebula was too large to fit into my narrow fov so I sketched the most interesting section.

Abell 21 aka The Medusa Nebula

Next came another Abell planetary Abell 24, this one I hadn’t observed before, it was smaller and fitted nicely into the Watec video cameras fov.

Abell 24 a planetary in Canis Major

Next a nice open cluster NGC 2355 again in Canis Minor that I literally bumped into whilst slewing around , this I sketched with the 6″ refractor and Watec video cam which captured the whole of the cluster, whereas the 20″ only showed part of it albeit with many more stars!

NGC 2355

stopped off and sketched a very attractive human eye shaped galaxy in C minor, it also reminded me of the old ATV television logo for those of you English and old enough to remember that? It had some interesting brighter regions either side of the central nucleus. I also detected a tiny fuzzy galaxy to the lower left in the sketch.

Galaxy NGC 2350

Completing the Sat night session was a faint UGC galaxy 3946, a rectangular shape with no obvious nucleus, note also the faint galaxy (unknown) to the bottom right of the main galaxy.

UGC 3946 a rectangular galaxy in Canis Minor


On Sunday night, I grabbed just on observation but it was a good one, an Arp galaxy Arp 89. I noted that Mark Bratton had confused this in his superb Herschel Objects book with Arp 84 in Leo, they actually look quite alike. You can not only see the main galaxy NGC 2648 interacting with the much smaller edge on, conected by a faint bridge, but if you look to the right of the bottom of NGC 2648 you can make out a tiny faint C shaped unknown galaxy.

Arp 89 in Cancer

That concludes 2 nights of excellent deep sky astronomy 🙂


A double star and tricky Arp galaxy

14th Jan 2017
I noted with some interest a week or so back some banter  between members of a little group of astronomers of which I am part the subject of Rigel the double. Last evening I had a frustrating time with haze, a rising moon and very poor guiding software for my scope, Cartes du Ciel which has no search catalogues which aid my level of observation (I was transfer to this by Es from Sky Map Pro as my AWR kept having ‘moments with the Sky Map Pro) I was searching for a couple of Arp’s on the Orion/Eridanus border
Any how I digress! all I ended up with was a sketch of Beta Orionis made with the 20″ and Watec on a very ‘backed off’ setting. Beta (b) Orionis, better known as Rigel, is one of the brightest stars in the sky. A companion 1/400 as bright lies just 10 arcseconds to its south, creating one of the most spectacular magnitude-contrast pairs in the night sky.

Double star Beta Orionis

Hope it gives you some interest?


19th Jan 2017

A rather better sky showing SQM 20.50 on the sky meter and some advice via the telephone from Andrew Robertson on how to use my AWR intelligent handset to better effect, this I did and reasonably quickly located Arp 180, although I failed to locate a couple of other Arp’s using the same system. I strongly suspect that the main mirror is now losing so much contrast that I simply can no longer spot faint objects readily. The Atlas image shows ARP 180 so much better than my sketch as does Aladin which my system used to match so closely.

Arp 180 found in Eridanus is a member of the class Narrow Filaments. The Arp Atlas of Peculiar galaxies note says “south arm kinks back, thin filament connects nuclei”. Additionally there are many small galaxies in the field, including four Mitchell Anonymous, my sketch only captures 1. The Arp itself is MCG -1-13-34. I sketched on Jan 19th 2017 using 505mm Mirror & Watec 120n + cooled video camera, N is down. I’m certainly struggling to hit the kind of observing form with my set up that I had in the past with my Hickson observations and sketches.

Arp 180

I don’t want to take my mirror out for a re-coat until late spring when there is little time for observing, in the meantime I shall struggle on, grabbing what I can!

Clear Skies, Dale

A cracking Lunar Sketch from the USA

Received this from my friend Frank in Chicago, as I’m not posting anything due to Moon & cloud I thought I would share this exceptional sketch made in ultra cold conditions. Cheers Frankie 🙂

Mare Tranquillitatis

Southwestern Mare Tranquillitatis


I began this sketch which had me at the eyepiece for about two hours. I was wearing my warmest ice fishing gear to ‘create a sense of warmth’. The sky was clear but the seeing was not the best.

I tried to pick out Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin just to the East of the region sketched but only Armstrong was barely visible on this evening. The “Twin craters” Sabine (30 km) and Ritter (31 km) both

have flat, rubbly floors which are also fractured and very shallow from subsurface lava flooding . These craters contrast in appearance with nearby Dionysius (18 km) a very bright, deep, youthful looking crater. This crater is known for its bright and dark ash rich rays, best seen near full Moon. Just north of Dionysius is crater Ariadaeus (12 km) and the western end of Ariadaeus rille (300 km long). Moving eastward crater Manners (15 km) and Arago (27 km) were clearly visible. The sun was just a little too high in the lunar sky to pick out the fine domes in the region under the poor seeing conditions.


Sketching and Equipment:


For this sketch, I used black Strathmore 400 Artagain paper 9” x 12”, white and

black Conte’ pastel pencils and blending stumps.

Telescope: 10 inch f/5.7 Dobsonian and 6 mm eyepiece (241x) riding on an equatorial  platform

Date:  from 01-04-2017 to 01-05-2017; 23:15 – 02:00 U.T.

Temperature: -9° C (15° F)

Clear, breezy

Seeing:  Below average – Antoniadi  IV

Transparency 4/5

Colongitude  352.0 °

Lunation 6.5 days

Illumination 38 %


Frank McCabe

After galaxies in Gemini

On Jan the 2nd I got my chance to catch up with the galaxies in Gemini that the fog thwarted me on in my last blog.

These are the Dec galaxy (s) of the month as suggested by Owen Brazell of the Webb Society. I star hoped with my narrow fov to Pollux (beta Gemorium) and from there to NGC 2487 and its close companion NGC 2486.

NGC 2487 & NGC 2486 a lovely duo in Gemini

A nice pair but the didn’t just ‘pop’ on the monitor once again I had to work hard with settings, timings etc on the camera and also on the monitor to bring out the detail in the galaxies, spiral structure in NGC 2487 and the 2 dark regions and extended nucleus in NGC 2486, I begining to think that my mirror has lost to much reflectivity and requires recoating as I’m just not getting that ‘wow’ anymore.

When I looked up these galaxies for info on the Webb Society web site I noted that it had been up-dated an Owen had added a new galaxy of the month for Jan, or to be more precise a group of galaxies with NGC 2289 being the primary member. With the group also being in Gemini I saw no reason to track them down.

Currently being in southern Gem I hoped up past Castor and onto the busy little group which fitted nicely into the Watec’s narrow fov. There were lots of stars in the field I have certainly seen plenty of less rich designated clusters! Once I had added the stars I sketched in the 5 galaxy members. In the orientation of my sketch with N down they are from the top as follows NGC 2290, tiny NGC 2288, NGC 2289, with NGC 2291 at the lower centre and the N-S elongated NGC 2294 to the lower left.

The NGC 2289 group in Gemini

Not a bad observing session, SQM meter read 20.53 which for my location these days was a bit above average.

Clear skies, Dale

Fog & Adele

A bitterly cold and frosty day gave way to another clear night, but these recent clear nights have been plagued with fog! My village sits at the base of hills to the North, East & West with a gentle rise to the south consequently we suffer with heavy cold air and fog lingering when conditions are right, often remaining all day.

Anyhow last night I wanted to take a look at Owen Brazell of the Webb Societies galaxy of the season NGC 2487 in Gemini. I opened the obsy under a clear sky and star hoped to beta Genorium just a very short hop from the target, I had promised Tracey my wife I would watch a TV documentary with her about Adele the singer at 9pm local time. I was happy that when I returned Gemini would be in an even more favourable position. The fact is when I returned at 10pm the fog was that thick I couldn’t see a single star naked eye!  The Watec was showing it readily enough at a low setting so I slewed to the galaxy and ramped up the camera settings, but even the Watec video camera couldn’t gather enough light to show NGC 2487!

Frustrated Dale

On the brighter side my friend Simon Kidd grabbed a couple of cracking Mars images despite its tiny size and massive distance, sharing these below.

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