Archive for January, 2011

First light with Astroscan

Blog Friday 28th Jan 2011


I had taken delivery last weekend of what to many will appear an unusual small telescope. The Edmunds Scientific Astroscan is a 105mm F4.2 reflector, to me it resembles a miniature ‘septic tank’.

I had purchased it as virtually new from friend and retailer Richard Best down in Sussex for the purpose of taking to northern Italy this coming summer on our family holiday.

Tonight a clear sky was to give me a first light opportunity. The thermometer was reading -4 so I put on a thermal suit, hat & gloves before setting the scope up on its cradle on a garden picnic table. The huge field of view made getting M42 in the eyepiece very easy. I was surprised just how small it looked in the huge fov. Initially I was using the 28mm RKE plossl that came with the scope of particular note was the comfortable soft eyepiece cup that really cut of extraneous light. The view was very good and greatly enhanced when I dropped a 13mm Nagler into the rather sloppy focuser which proved very difficult to attain sharp focus with. I’m sure I will get used to such imperfections with use and practice after all this is clearly aimed at a family with children as a beginner’s telescope or educational toy.

With the higher contrast the 34x this eyepiece gave I could just make out the split of the trapezium. M43 stood out much clearer too. Close by I readily detected M78, I say close by as with the 13 Nagler the fov was still 2 ¼ degrees, so it didn’t appear far.

The ball in cradle design makes for smooth movement especially if you know where you are going and are gentle, all techniques familiar to a Dob owner.

I next put the scope onto Jupiter which was getting low in the west. There was a little flare from the planet which tended to come and go so that may have been seeing coupled to the imprecise focuser.

The Galilean moons however strung out to one side where pin sharp, I put a x2 barlow in taking the magnification to 68x whereby I could clearly make out equatorial belts on the planets disc, I doubt that I will be seeing detail in the GRS with this scope but the view was pretty acceptable.

I changed back to the 13mm Nagler and went straight to M81 & M82 they were just delightful there different shapes and structures instantly discernable. I panned around for a minute or so looking to see if NGC 3077 could be seen. I didn’t find it but then I didn’t try too hard!

I swished around the sky inserting a 23mm Celestron Axiom eyepiece which gave 19x and 3 ½ degrees, it also highlighted coma from the fast mirror so bright stars or stellar grouping appeared nebulous until brought toward the centre of the field.

Sitting with the scope on the table the ‘gun sight’ used to point meant you had to get into some uncomfortable positions especially when working close to the zenith.

I pulled out M1 in Taurus with ease looking to be nothing more that a tiny grey blot on the sky at 34x I then took in M35 at the feet of the twins, looking very nice indeed. This view spurred me on to running up the cluster line into Auriga M37, M36, M38 each a delight and once located directly over head most comfortable to view from a seated position.

Moving towards the west I took in the Double cluster looking most splendid and perhaps deserving of higher magnification to frame them a little closer and contrast them a little better from the surrounding stellar mêlée.

My closing view was of M31 the great Andromeda Nebula, striking apparent to the naked eye on this very transparent evening where I estimated the limiting magnitude to be around 5.4.

In the eyepiece the arms stretched across the field of view appearing very bright indeed, M32 and M110 detected from the glow of the mother galaxy without too much difficulty.

I had been sitting for an hour my feet were numb as were my gloved hands and Carol Kline was soon to be on TV sharing her garden, something my youngest son & l look forward to sharing each Friday evening, I therefore concluded my first session with the Skyscan.

Conclusion, Well worth the £160 plus postage, certainly a large step up from a fast 80mm refractor in terms of deep sky views and travel potential. The focuser is a bit of a pig but as it is integral I see little way of improving that, the aiming device can go and I will add a decent unit finder, overall it is up to the job and I’m well pleased.

Alas I went indoors warmed up and didn’t emerge again, at the time of writing I now regret this as it was a fine sky and I could have done some very good work with the 20” and Watec I’m sure! The earlier chilling I took reminded me of days of old and convinced me that I had moved to a better place with the observatory its warm office a remote video observing.


Visitors to Chippingdale

Blog Friday 21st & Monday 24th January 2011


At long last my good friend from Norfolk Adrian Orr was able to visit the observatories. Adrian is a very experienced observer with extensive knowledge of all aspects of visual astronomy and its history. Adrian was kind enough to write me a thank you note following his visit which so eloquently summarises what for both of us was a memorable and very well spent couple of hours.

A somewhat belated note to say how much I enjoyed my visit to Chipping last week. I was very impressed by the mighty Calver which although still undergoing recommissioning, is clearly going to be a formidable as well a historically important instrument. Also the mount I am sure suggests an interesting twist to the already fascinating provenance of the scope. I am sure it was built for travel given the adjustable latitude function of the mount. There is another story locked in that silent structure waiting to be told!

I very much look forward to visiting again in the future and looking through the HST in the venerable company of the spirits of Hay, Stevenson and an as yet unknown former custodian.

It was also nice to see some of the other Hay memorabilia. The Merz is a beautiful telescope with of course an exciting history of its own.

I also very much enjoyed seeing your fine observatory and the scopes within. Getting a view of Jupiter was the icing on the cake. The view through the 6″ APO was excellent and I now must obtain a decent set of binoviewers. Sadly with the poor weather over the weekend, the view through your 150 has to keep me going until the skies in Norfolk clear again!

On a final note please pass on my best wishes to Tracey, Tudor and Aubrey who all made me very welcome on what I guess was a busy Friday evening.

I very much look forward to my next visit.

 Best wishes



We have friends Cathy & Christopher, (mother and Son) visiting us from New Zealand.

Their showing an interest in my astronomical ‘goings on’ meant that a clear evening sky was time to show them the main observatory. Both Cathy & Christopher knew their way around the southern sky pretty well and once outdoors and dark adapted both commented on how strange the ‘Pot’ looked upside down! I quickly ascertained that the pot was the lower portion of Orion below the belt with Rigel and Kappa Orionis forming the open mouth of the vessel, when viewed ‘upside down’ from down under of course. They thought this most amusing, just as I guess I would when & if I get to be out under the southern skies.

I spent some time showing them the northern constellation strangers to them, they were particularly please to see the Plough of Ursa Major pointing out the globally famous star Polaris.

We capped the brief session with a very nice view of the always impressive Orion nebula especially when viewed through a 22mm Nagler eyepiece resting in the focuser of a 20” telescope…….a distant surreal green stellar womb.


Out on a limb

Blog 18th Jan 2011


With the Moon high and the sky pretty much cloudless I didn’t need to rush out into the observatory last night. I got in from doing the weeks family shopping just before 7pm local time, I had my dinner, helped with a little school boy homework and practised my harp (harmonica for those not in the know;)

I got the observatory roof open with a bit of a struggle, must eat more spinage! I then took the best Watec the 120N+ which has planetary settings of off the 20” and put it onto the 6”, my favoured Moon scope.

 Now a while back now I had a bit of an ‘accident’ with this camera which caused the control cable which is multi pinned to be ripped out of the back, this results in having a delicate job in unplugging and re-plugging this lead. As a result of the transfer last night something wasn’t functioning properly and after 30 mins of trying to get the moon on the monitor I gave up and put the old Mintron 1216v onto the refractor, this is a brilliant video camera for the moon but controls are on the back of the camera and real fiddly for my agricultural fingers. The Watec’s I can adjust remotely from the office. Anyhow enough of this rambling, I was up and running with an acceptable image on the monitor, I panned about and selected some nice craters on the western limb and made a pastel drawing on black artist paper, messy but enjoyable, I guess I was at it for 40 mins or so before I was happy with the representation. I then looked up the craters in my reference library and quickly found I had drawn craters Struve, Russell & Eddington, much to my delight as I hadn’t recorded them before, I also learned that these were only observable at favourable libration, I was most pleased, all intentional of course….ha ha

And so to bed a satisfied Lunar sketcher. Dale

On the Doubles

Blog report for Friday 14th Jan 2011

Friday evening turned out to be reasonably clear so I was hopeful for a Lunar sketch. Family stuff kept me away from the observatory until it was getting rather late around 9pm or after I guess. When I got out there it was hazy the Moon wasn’t in a good position so I decided that I would pick up on a challenge that my good friend & master sketcher Frank McCabe in the US had laid down towards the end of 2010. The challenge was to use my Watec camera coupled to whatever scope was required and try and pull out the very faintest member of the Theta Orionis multiple family, by that he meant the G & H components.

I had the Watec 120N+ running through the 20” and the standard 120N running through the triplet refractor. Now I was pretty confident on this challenge as historically I had pulled in the b star or ‘Pup’ of Sirius (Alpha Canis majoris ).

Pretty soon on lining up on Theta or as it is more often know the ‘Trapezium’ I realised this wasn’t going to happen, at least tonight. I got the 4 main stars easily but when I increased sensitivity to pull out the fainter stars the brighter ones bloated obscuring the fainter ones. It may be possible with filtering perhaps and even with my friend Es Reid’s more gentle hands on the camera controls, my patience and agricultural fingers not being best disposed for such tasks.

What I did go for was run through the list of Orion Doubles that Andrew Robertson had included in his winter list of double stars. Now to be honest using the Watec isn’t the nicest way to look at double stars, you don’t get that colour which is most of the pleasure for starters, but I still got a kick out of spotting them on the monitor using the 6” and then sketching them, with background music playing it was a great way for me to wind down at the end of a very busy week.

Clear Skies, Dale

Talking the Talk

Blog Jan 11th 2011


Last night I gave a talk to the West of London Astronomy Society WOLAS. I had been kindly invited to do so by their Chairman Robin Scagell. Robin had informed me that he wanted something a little different from the increasingly common subject of amateur imaging of the night sky and planets. Robin was well aware that I was a committed visual observer and sketcher.

To this end I combined 2 of my usual talks in a custom one for the occasion, in summary I talked along the lines of what I get up to at the Chippingdale observatory, how things have evolved over the years, sketching of all that I observe, benefits of sketching, Deep Sky video astronomy, use of Watec cameras, advantages they give, displayed numerous sketches made with a variety of instruments.

The aim was to enthuse the audience encourage observation and recording what is seen on paper, show the audience what a quantum leap in observing power the latest deep sky video camera can offer even in urban situations.

The audience numbered some 50-60 people and were an enthusiastic and friendly bunch. I rather ran over in my enthusiasm which left time too short for questions L however that notwithstanding I think it went down fairly well.

After my talk concluded they had a short slot where member showed the work, deep sky, planetary, lunar and eclipse photographs on this occasion but I understand that sketches sometimes feature too. I was most impressed with what these folks achieved from what are likely to be some of the most light polluted skies in the UK, inspirational.

I close by thanking my friend Martin Lewis who is a WOLAS member for driving me to and from the meeting and for providing me with a wonderful dinner beforehand.


Back Under the Stars

Blog Jan 9th 2010

Would you believe it, a really lovely clear evening and we are going out to dinner at friends! This doesn’t happen very often, going out for dinner that is, although you would be forgiven for thinking that I was talking about clear evening skies!

I received 2 texts during the course of a sociable evening telling me how good seeing on Jupiter was….ho hum!!

By the time we returned home it was around 11pm local time, the sky was still clear however although Jupiter was pretty much set. I changed got out into the obs and settled in.

I got 2 cameras focussed on the 6” & 20” and decided to go for ‘The Duck Nebula’ or Thor’s Helmet as my friends call it, NGC2359. This nebula lies to the left of Sirius in Canis Major and is popular with imagers, I personally had never seen it.

It was readily visible using both telescopes, the 6” showed a hazy region in a star busy region that looked rather boomerang or crescent shape. The 20” as one would expect showed far more but it was very attractive to be quite honest and I was rather underwhelmed, it also appeared rather too large for the 1.9 x 11.9 deg fov, although the Night Sky Observers guide indicated otherwise. In summary I was pretty disappointed in this object, to such an extent that I didn’t sketch it which is rare for me and of course something that I now regret!

Anyhow onto the positives of the evening I picked out some local open clusters which was enjoyable and provided me with 3 new observations. First off was NGC 2362 a lovely grouping all clustered around Tau Canis Majoris which really dominated the view.

Next up and still in CM was NGC 2360 close to the Puppis border known as Caroline’s Cluster or Caldwell 58. It was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783. I found this to be a very nice cluster indeed.

The 3rd and final of the nights open cluster was a Messier and one missing from my Messier sketch file so I was delighted to bag it, across in Puppis I found M93 a triangular shaped cluster of around 80 stars lying 3600 L Years yonder.

Staying in the constellation Puppis I next scooped a rather nice planetary nebula NGC 2440 this nebula showed a bright central region slightly boxed shape with extensions north & south with some curling of those extensions, There were faint stars in close proximity to both extensions. Just searched the web and found very few images that resemble my sketch at all which is rather disappointing. I now intend to return and use a barlow lens to get up close and personal to see if I can pull out more detail.

So that was that it was now 3am and considerably more hazy than when I had started at 11, it was frosty and I was tired but satisfied, it was so good to be sailing the universe once again.

Pax Stellarum, Dale

First obs for 2011

Blog Jan 5th 2011

Happy New Year 

 At last I managed to get just the briefest of observing sessions in, I got a visual on Venus & Saturn in the dawn sky with the 153mm Refractor at 168x seeing was grim with a capital ‘G’ and the wind from the SW was brisk, but was it good to be in the observatory under a fresh clear morning sky. Cloud had been ‘nailed’ in place since my last session on December 18th a full 18 days, which is nearly 3 weeks!

There had been one opportunity I missed I should admit, this was on Christmas night Dec 25th, not very family friendly but I would have gone for it was the snow covered observatory roof not frozen in place!

Well hoping things are going to change now for a while and observations and blogs can once again flow forth.

Happy Days, Dale

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