Archive for December, 2010

A cold eye on Venus & Saturn

Blog 17th & 18th Dec 2010

Both Venus and Saturn are putting on a fine show in the pre-dawn sky and on the above 2 dates I concentrated on each in turn.

Friday 17th: I spent an hour or more early this morning messing around on Venus trying to get a single frame shot using a Watec video camera and x4 Powermate through the 6” triplet refractor, all that time and I never even got close to finding focus! Seeing was criminal, in the end I gave up and made the most of a 10 minute visual observation before preparing for work, it was 7am by then! It was -5 according to the min-max thermometer and seeing was shimmering to say the least, I still could recognize the sharp ‘horns’ on Venus and noted that the inner curve had virtually straight sections just as they came to the points. I could also detect the rest of the un-illuminated disc, this appeared darker than the surrounding sky by had some illumination, or what looked like illumination along the opposite limb.

With hindsight I would have been far better employed going for a visual observation with the refractor and binoviewer on Saturn and possibly getting an observational sketch of the exciting new white storm spot!!


This morning I got out around 6am determined to take a look at Saturn. I could see the sky was distinctly hazy but the 2 bright planets stood out well as did the spring constellations of Leo, Cancer, Coma Berenices etc so it looked promising.

As I stood on the stable yard brick step of the observatory for a few moments while I unlocked the door my outdoor boots stuck to the bricks, very cold then I thought to myself.

The roof sections needed an extra heave-ho to roll back with the ice & snow coating. It wasn’t long before I had Saturn in the 6”, first view of the opposition and still getting that wow! its beauty took my breath away, just like the smell of the fresh mown grass as you make the first cut of the season, 2 months later and the novelty has worn off somewhat!

I pushed the power up in the binoviewers working with a pair of 15mm Panoptic’s giving 225x. Seeing wasn’t too good Ant 1V I would estimate but patience yielded fine views with the Cassini division visible, darker Polar Regions and distinct banding on the globe. But try as I might I couldn’t see the bright white spot, I had been informed that it should have been close to the meridian around this time.

I was sure that Andrew would be out in his Norfolk observatory so I gave him a call. We exchanged notes, Andrew was working with a high spec 8” Intes Mak Newt and had been out since 4am picking out 5 moons of Saturn and also detecting the ring shadow on Saturn’s globe, but he too had failed to see the white storm spot!

He informed me that his observatory min max thermometer was reading -10! After the call ended I went and checked mine, that too read spot on -10 but it had gone down to -11 earlier in the night, no wonder my feet stuck to the step, that was cold for SE Britain.

I finished off with a look at Venus using the same 225x power and got a nice if over magnified view for the seeing. I appeared to be getting some Shroter effect shading along the terminator and well onto the globe but things were too unsteady to start making any claims for sure.

I closed up and went indoors for a warm and to make some breakfast, a pleasing start to the day.


Chasing the running man!

Blog 11th & 12th December 2010

I was surprised that the later evening turned out to be clear, it wasn’t forecast for my location. I got out into the observatory around 10pm local time and got straight to work in Orion. Returning to NGC 1977 and the running man which I had observed earlier in the week but had not sketched. I didn’t use the 80mm for this job as the 153mm pulled out more detail and gave better image scale, I was pleased at what I was able to see and draw but I’m not sure if it is me but the running man indeed appears not to have much of a left leg? I must be honest he looks to be more of a Pilsbury dough man or Jelly baby than he does a genuine athlete, what do you think? View here

From the midst of Orion I slewed left not too far into Monoceros and the Rosette nebula region, it instantly became apparent that my widest fov (111’x111’) was still far too narrow to see this lovely object in one go so what I did was concentrated on the main central open cluster that give this Christmas door wreath its sparkle. NGC 2244 is a very beautiful cluster readily visible in binoculars using the Watec and 6” (153mm) also detected considerable local nebulosity around the cluster View Here.

Close by is another seasonally named open cluster, NGC 2264 the ‘Christmas tree’ cluster. I hadn’t sketched this before although I had observed it on a number of occasions in the past with both my 14” Dobsonian and later my 14” observatory Newtonian. On both occasions I had been able to detect the star free cone nebula which is said to mark the top of the tree, I was surprised that this wasn’t visible on the monitors using either of the 2 refractors and Watec camera’s, this disappointed me somewhat. There was some bright Emission nebulosity visible through the 6” just below 15-S Monocerotis the brightest star in the field which is said to mark the trunk of the Christmas tree. There was no nebulosity visible at all in the image through the 80mm. I sketched both views 80mm, 153mm.

Very close to the Cone nebula that I didn’t see is bright Hubble’s Variable nebula which I could see readily a small wedge, fan or comet shaped region of emission and reflection nebulosity associated with the erratic variable star R Monocerotis. The 6” formed a delightful image; the image from the 80mm also showed it clearly when you located the tiny grey fan. I sketched both views for contrast; they can be seen here 80mm, 153mm.

It was now 1.30am and -3 outside, I put the telescopes to bed and headed the same direction myself, pretty pleased with the record that I had made of the evening.


Orion interloper!

Blog Extra 10th Dec 2010

Whilst observing on Wednesday night using a wide field set up in Orion nebula I observed what I assume to be a fast moving satellite crossing the constellation just above M42. I grabbed a number of single frames over around a 30 sec time frame, I down loaded these onto a memory stick and sent to my friend Simon Kidd the next morning and asked if he might turn them into a little movie for interest? He returned it today have a look it is pretty good fun to watch Movie

Also note the dark outline of the ‘running Man’ nebula in the emission nebula NGC 1977 at the top of the picture


Painting the Pin Wheel

Blog 9th Dec 2010

The sky tonight was nowhere near as transparent as the previous night (Wed) but it was clear enough to ‘have a go’ it was considerably warmer too, but still cold, around freezing.

I had a harmonica lesson in the town mid evening returned home and spent a little time with my sons until they went to bed before getting outside.

I left the cameras as they were the previous evening and intended to once again exploit the wider field potential by capturing another Messier that I hadn’t sketched, M33 in Triangulum, the ‘Pin Wheel galaxy’. This covers 2 moons area of sky and is fairly diffuse making it difficult under poor conditions to observe.

I used the Pleiades to sync the mount onto; running wide field getting things in the fov is dead easy. Next hop straight to M33, once the slewing stopped and the motors outside in the observatory fell silent I turned the sensitivity up on both cameras to maximum and there on 2 monitors was M33, a little cropped using the 6” and a little dim using the 80mm especially under this sky which by the time of sketching wasn’t showing a great deal more than mag 3 stars.

I found this a difficult object to sketch and I sketched each view differently, there was a lot going on but the sky was hampering contrast. I began as always by drawing in the very brightest stars then adding fainter field stars working from the outside in so that I can then draw in the ‘object’ in its correct location. I concentrate hard but now after 100’s of sketches this is a very natural thing for me. Here are the finished sketches, scanned & inverted; North is up, what do you think? 80mm 153mm 


Spending time with the Seven Sisters and the Hunter

Blog 8th December 2010

The unseasonably early and very severe cold snap hadn’t been delivering clear skies to Chipping, the hamlet sits in a small hollow on the southern edge of one of the more eastern of the Chiltern hills and forms a frost and fog pocket! This had indeed been the situation since my last observation Blog on Sat 3rd December.

Last night thankfully saw a change. I was still in my work office when a text message came in from ultra keen Andrew Robertson in Norfolk saying he was observing some interesting white ovals on Jupiter….ho hum, not from where I was sitting, he loves to wind me up that boy ;¬)

Even when I returned home I couldn’t get straight outdoors, I had duties to perform including 2hrs of Christmas card writing! It must have been gone 9pm when I got the observatory open.

I was intent on one observation, that of M45, The Pleiades, Seven Sisters call them what you will, they are the best known and most stunning naked eye open star cluster in the whole of the Northern Hemisphere’s sky. I was driven to this desire by recent observations by two good friends, Andrew Robertson had waxed Lyrical on the view of these stars and the surrounding nebulosity through his new 8” Mak Newt earlier in the week and 24hrs previously Frank McCabe in the US had made his first ever sketch of the cluster!

I needed a wide field as the Pleiades cover 4 full Moon’s width of sky. I took my best Watec camera off of the 20” screwed on a 0.5x focal reducer added a Neodymium filter and fitted the set up into the focuser of the Synta 80mm F5 finderscope. I put the other Watec camera onto the F9 6” refractor again with a focal reducer but this proved to be ineffective at least initially as the FOV was way too narrow. The 80mm set up however framed the ‘trapped fire flies ‘perfectly’ View Sketch

By increasing the gain and adjusting the monitor contrast and brightness nebulosity around the stars could be made more obvious along with, and you need to picture this me holding up a Baader continuum filter to one eye and viewing the monitor, what processed me to try in the first place I don’t know but it worked!

I then went out into the -5 observatory and using a 22mm Nagler in the 20” studied the stars and enjoyed seeing great complexity and structure in the nebulosity around these hot young sun’s, just awesome.

Back into the warmth and enjoyable comfort of the office I sent the telescopes of to the ‘Great Orion Nebula’ The view was pleasing through both scopes & cameras. I grabbed a screen shot through the 80mm View capture

I then moved the telescope up towards the Hunters belt looking for the ‘Running man’ nebula as I had never observed this before. NGC 1977 as it is formally identified was readily visible on both monitors as a dark shape in a region of bright and complex nebulosity close to three bright stars. The 6” with more light grasp and far superior optics delivered not surprisingly the better and more detailed view, the 80mm however showed it along with M42 & M43 in the same FOV, very impressive. It was getting late and I baulked at sketching such a complex subject this late in the midst of a working week, so I decided that Orion was going to be about for a few months yet and I could come back and sketch on another night. At that point I took the 22mm Nagler back outside put it back into the 20” and took a good look at all the nebulous regions on the below belt region of Orion. M42 was simply an amazing spectacle the green colouration was ‘lurid’ it was so intense, the winged extensions ran right out of the 57’ fov, and I thought as I had often done before how much this resembles an ‘Angel fish’. The whole NGC 1977 complex was…well complex! The higher magnification didn’t make the ‘Running man’ out line obvious, there were darker regions for sure but I didn’t get the ‘wow there it is’ feeling that the smaller scopes had relayed to the monitor. So on that result of M42 to the 20” visual by a mile and NGC1977 ‘Running man’ to the refractors and Watec by half a mile I went to bed comfortable in my belief that both eyeball & Watec have a role to play in my astronomical romance.


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