Archive for March, 2011

Hunting within the Lion

Blog March 23rd 2011
Well having been inspired by  Dave Adshead’s  image and all the subsequent banter,  I have had 2 goes at looking for Leo I.
The first attempt was made on the night of the full perigee Moon, the worse possible night for deep sky observing!
The Watec 120N+ is a sensitive video camera, it is sensitive to photons from faint nebulae, equally it is happy to hoover up light from the moon or unwanted stray lighting sources.
Coupled to my F3.7 505mm mirror the Watec forms a formidable partnership.
On the full moon night I did detect UGC 5470, it certainly wasn’t a show stopper in fact it was difficult to see at all, but it was on the monitor for the sure, it appeared as a faint & diffuse brightening. I sketched it but found it hard to actually render it faint enough to be representative of the monitor view. From my perspective I had found & observed it on the worse possible night so therefore on a dark night I knew that I could get a real result!
Last night with a clear sky in the East of England, the moon not rising until 12 midnight I had that better opportunity. At best I was getting Mag 4.5 at the Zenith so transparency was below the best Mag 5.2 for my location.
The view was considerably better than my previous one but it was still a diffuse object where I found it difficult to be precise where the dwarf galaxy started & finished.
I will leave you to decide how I did when you view my sketch?
I let my pal Andrew Robertson working further to the east know how I was doing, in typical fashion he laid down a tougher challenge UGC 6253 Leo11.
In the interest of not dragging this story out, I got this too but this object, even with my set up was tough, revealed as no more than mottling in the star field, some areas of ‘mottling’ notably brighter than others. Again where the galaxy actually began & ended was the challenge.

Let me go back a little here, after Leo 1 I noted there were 2 small galaxies shown very close by, IC 591 & PGC213668 formed a nice little L shape, there was little detail visible in either a little contrast in their shape and brightness and another 2 distant imponderables for my sketch pad & archives.

Now when Andrew had laid down the Leo 11 challenge recounted above, he mentioned that he had looked at Hickson 44, a galaxy cluster in Leo with NGC 3190 being the dominant member.

I was soon off in that direction and found the little group to be the most visually pleasing stop off, of the night. NGC 3190 which dominates the group really is a beauty with its looks being a mixture of the Sombrero & Black Eye galaxies, with dark dust lanes and bright central bulges.

Above 3190 is a large bright fuzzy blobby galaxy with a brighter core which is NGC 3193, to the right of 3190 is a striking S shaped galaxy which is NGC 3187. Below NGC 3190 on the edge of my field is another nice neat barred spiral within which the Watec and big mirror were able to detect some nice structure. To close a faint little mag 15.9 fuzz of a galaxy which is PGC 86788 decorated the right had edge of the field.

A delightful little ensemble and one I highly recommend, thanks for the tip off Andrew.

Pax Stellurum, Dale

Exciting Sun & dazzling Big Moon


Blog Saturday 20th March 2011

The routine for Saturday mornings is to take my youngest son Aubrey a keen and improving saxophonist up to Duxford School to practice with an orchestra there, this isn’t a school orchestra it is made up of all ages, shapes & sizes. Whilst Aubs vibrates his reed I call in to see my pal Es Reid who lives 4 miles or so closer to Cambridge, there we chew the fat on matters of optics, astronomy and general science not to mention some school boy humour general rudeness and laughter.

Today I had packed my 6” binoculars into the van with a view to getting Es to do a little work on them in prep for Kelling star party which was fast approaching. I also loaded up my PST solar Ha scope for a little prom watching as it was a fine spring day.

I set the scope up in Esmo’s garden, Es has a superb Spectraheliostat or contraption as I prefer to call it but that isn’t able to get the rays until the Sun is higher. First look through the PST revealed a large blockish prom that I referred to as a “meat clever”, “blimey Es” I said “this is an ugly whooper” Es wasn’t initially too impressed but ‘warmed’ to the view and shortly was able to get his contraption onto the sun. Now a contraption it maybe, but it is also incredible showing the Sun in many different wave lengths at the twist of a tuning knob. We examined this unusual prom in some detail, discussing its merits, direction and potential, Es declared it to be moving away from us a pretty benign! How wrong he turned out to be an hour after we ceased observing and I went to collect Aubs and Es cycled off into Cambridge the Prom blew up in spectacular style, benign indeed!!

Before I left Esmo Hall I made this drawing of a nice sun spot group AR1175 strung out and connected by a little chain, some consolation I suppose!

The evening saw the rising moon full and at perigee that is at its closest, this happens every 18 years (I think) Now their had been some nice postings the previous week by Dave Ashead of Leo 1 a very faint and difficult galaxy to pick out due to its proximity to blazing Regulus in Leo. Now almost for the sheer hell of it and because you could not pick a worse night for deep sky observing I put my 20” & Watec set up into action around 9pm to see if I could pick out this challenging object despite the glare.

To cut a long story short, I picked it up, but only just it was barely visible as a brightening amongst the fainter stars just to the north of blazing Regulus. Far from spectacular this was a more of can you do it? Yes I can but only just, a Moonless night will be a very different story.


Back to School

Blog Friday 19th March 2010 2011

This is a quick retrospective note to say that on the above date I made my annual appearance in front of the year 5 pupils at the Sir Ralph Sadleir School, Puckeridge, Hertfordshire. The annual invitation which coincides with National Science and Engineering week gives me the chance to hopefully inspire a few potential astronomers amongst the 90 strong audience.

The theme of my talk is basically my role in amateur astronomy, in other words what I get up to!

This year I cut my talk a little shorter to allow plenty of time for the often tricky and ceaseless questions. This year there was some great ones including “what are Saturn’s rings made of?”, “Have you ever seen a solar flare” and “have you ever seen anything ‘strange’ going on, on a planet?”

I enjoy giving these talks and hopefully the children enjoy listening to them, oh and they gave me a box of Turkish Delight!


More Galaxies in Leo Minor, no wine & no curry this time

Blog Monday 7th March 2011


I’m not going to make this blog to long & rambling. I’m writing it the evening after observation sitting in a hut were my young 12 year old son is taking part in his first Jazz band practice with Royston Town Jazz Band!

Back to the astronomy, friends had been over on the Isle of Wight to the Spring Star Party and had reported back a few clear skies; I needless to say hadn’t had any! Almost a good thing last week I hadn’t had a spare second with prep for the SPA meeting at the IOA, Cambridge on Saturday 5th. I hadn’t even had time to write up a blog for my last nights observing on the eve of Sat 26th/morn of the 27th

Enough of the excuses it is Monday all that is behind now and I have a clear sky, I’m determined to continue with my exploration of Leo Minor. In particular I had a mind to locate a nice looking face on spiral that Fred Schaff had mentioned in the latest Sky & Telescope. NGC 3344 radiates with billions of distant suns to Mag 9.3. After a bit of messing about and star hopping I had it on the monitor, the sky was hazy but not out of the way I could see down to mag 4.3 at least in Leo. The first thing that I noted with this spiral is the 3 stars occupying residence in the left of the galaxy the brightest star in the field to the lower right is accompanied by a faint galaxy. Must email Fred my sketch and say thanks for the incentive.

Next up was a not terribly attractive duo, well in comparison with NGC 3344. NGC 3414 is an unusual barred spiral; it has a bar OK but no evident outer return arms. It has a round nucleus very obvious stout bar surrounded by some haze. Also in the field to the north is another smaller and fainter NGC galaxy 3318 Together they make a somewhat interesting pair.

I concluded the session with another attractive face on spiral that had caught my eye in O’Meara’s Herschel 400 guide. NGC 3486 lays 1 3/4 degrees north east of NGC 3414, this galaxy elongated E- W had something of a squashed appearance about it. Also notable were a large number of faint and very faint galaxies all but one appearing as tiny insignificant smudges, what is significant however is the fact that these tiny grey islands contain billions of stars and likely countless thousands of orbiting planets!

On that note sketches in the case ready for scanning, time for bed. 


Wine, Curry, Laughter and galaxies in Leo Minor

Blog Saturday Feb 26th Feb 2011


It was the eve of my or rather I should say our, that is the families friend Es Reid’s birthday. Es features regularly in these blogs, he is an exceptional fellow who I rely on greatly to keep the observatory running and functioning, he is the brains behind the operation; he is my technician, my engineer, and my boffin.

He was over for a dinner, a home cooked Indian meal , the plan was for Es to stay over so that he could have a drink or two and relax, enjoy himself, not that he has trouble in enjoying himself!

Es arrived around 4pm on Saturday afternoon, overlapping with a visit by another astronomer friend of mine Steve Loveday a professional musician and composer who was collecting the big 6” binoculars to take across to the IOW star party the following weekend.

We chatted on the subject of Darwin for a while and enjoyed a few laughs before Steve departed and Es got to work in the observatory up-dating the chip in my AWR handset controller for the mount & goto set up. That completed we retired for a fabulous dinner and a good few drinks. The sky looked promising earlier in the afternoon but was now clouded over.

The evening wore on filled with happy banter, laughter, Laurel & Hardy films and more alcohol. Around 11pm it was noted that there was a clear sky and Es and I insisted that we were to make the most of it.

Tea was brewed and we ventured into the obs under rather splendid skies and a temperature just a couple of degrees above freezing.

Rather the worse for wear we tried hard to shake of the party spirit as we got the observatory up and running! In my mind there was no doubt that I was to return to Leo Minor and follow on from Thursday night’s observations.

Following the usual bright star syncing and then star hoping ritual the first deep sky object we feel upon was NGC 2903 that jewel of a galaxy that hangs beneath the sickle of Leo like a pearl on a fair maiden forehead. The view on the monitor was simply staggering, in his usual style Es set about tweaking, collimation, and camera and monitor until the best possible image was displayed. This was compared with my former sketch made using the old 14” and found to show more detail important advances but not of an overwhelming nature.

Sorry now some 1 week after I started this blog entry I am getting around to concluding it and I’m going to do that quickly.

Es and I made 2 other observations in Leo Minor which I sketched NGC 3003 and NGC 3158 with group companions. We drank too much, after the curry farted a great deal and laughed a lot! 

Great night, Dale

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