Archive for July, 2011

Another one off the list

Blog Friday 29TH July 2011

 I managed to nip out into the observatory and ‘tick off’ another of the planetaries of Owen Brazell’s list of planetary & pseudo planetary nebulae in Lyra last night. The star hop was straight forward and as soon as the location was reached I could immediately see the small fuzzy round nebula Kohoutek 3-27, PK61+8.1 on the monitor. I increased the exposure time of the camera in the aim of getting as much detail as possible to sketch however apart from picking up the fainter outer regions making the object appear larger and of course making it brighter on the monitor ostensibly it remained pretty much the same, no additional structure was revealed. What did change with the adjustment was the vast number of stars that appeared on the monitor surrounding the nebula. I sketched in a large number of stars in the field but certainly didn’t get them all! I think I have just a couple left now to complete Owen’s challenge list, I’m hopeful of getting them all this season. Clear Skies, Dale

I Spy (at last) k2-6 aka PK056-14

Blog Monday 25th July 2011
Yesterday I attended an excellent outdoor music concert with my good friend Simon Kidd a first rate planetary imager and his young lady Jan.

Both being astronomers we kept a close watch on the sky, we saw it clear and become cloud free, we saw planes add contrails which spread and joined to veil the whole of the sky only to clear away again with an afternoon breeze and disappear totally after sunset. The concert concluded at around 10.15pm and as we walked out across the parkland of Hatfield House on our way out we studied the emerging stars, we both concluded that the seeing was looking steady, of more interest to me was transparency and that looked pretty good too.

I arrived home at around 11.20 local time, sitting in the warm sun all day was both enjoyable, not to mention that I had finished off the last 30 minutes of the concert with a bit of a dance :¬). So I was tired but a workable sky is not to be passed up lightly, so after dumping my concert kit in the kitchen I brewed a mug of tea and set about get the observatory running.
I had only one target in mind, that was the faint and diminutive galaxy formerly considered to be a planetary nebula 42-6 aka PK056-14.1 in Lyra. I had failed to pick this up a couple of weeks back and with the help of Sue French had been skilfully shown how I had narrowly missed the field when she matched up my sketch with a screen shot from her Mega Star software program.
So I had a mission, a challenge and that is all I was going for, no more, I was tired and there was work to attend the next day.

I star hopped starting with Altair up into the stars of Lyra, working with fainter and fainter suns the closer I got to my target. Now last time I did this I failed to get the galaxy onto the camera chip, I suspect that the position in Sky Map Pro 10 that I use is slightly out! This time around I had a focal reducer in place giving a wider fov at 24’x24’.
When the software said I was on top of the galaxy again I couldn’t see it. Using the coordinates in Owen’s original challenge list and then matching the stars up with Sue’s screen shot. I found the right spot and then pushed up the sensitivity on the camera, the galaxy was small and easily over looked with a 10 second exposure it was visible as a few faint blurry stars in a formation, if I pushed the exposure up to 20 seconds it looked pretty good and interesting. I then made a sketch.  The sketch shows an extended semicircular area of nebulosity out to the left of a exclamation mark looking central region the top of which is notably brighter, to the right are 3 faint stars forming an equilateral triangle the top one is fuzzy and I suspect forms part of the galaxy or may it be a tiny companion?

I was delighting in capturing it and spent some time getting a good number of stars in the sketch and in good position. I would be very grateful if anyone reading this has the time and resource to see just what are the faintest stars I have caught here?

I closed up, got indoors took a show and made it to bed by around 2am local time, quite a day.

Pax Stellarum, Dale

I have a cloud drill!

Blog Saturday 16th July 2011

Just last week I took delivery of a new WIFI hand controller for my Watec cameras. The main purpose was that it gives greater control over the camera allowing timed exposures up to 60 seconds and very precise gain control. I imported this from CosmoLogic systems in the US, they used to produce these for Stellacam range marketed by Adirondack  Astronomy along with the peltier cooling modification  before the company went bankrupt in mid 2010, and they now supply both the cooled camera and the WIFI controller under their own name. Payment was in $’s but worked out around £320, my Watec mentor Bern at Modern Astronomy recommended the up-grade and said it was worth the investment.

Well we have been enduring a wet early summer here in the east of England but on Saturday night after returning with the family from a local barn dance and hog roast, the sky had a few breaks in the cumulus cloud cover. Here was my chance just to try out the handset; all I needed was a bright star to play about on. I soon had the observatory opened up and the scope was whirring its way to Altair in Aquila. I spent a while getting focus, I had a 0.5x focal reducer on the camera to give me a wider field to make things easier.

After a while I noted that the star image had dimmed somewhat so I took a look outside, that part of the sky was totally clouded out, no stars visible to the eye at all.

Hmmm…. this could be the time for a little experiment, I hopped from mag 0.93 alpha Aquilae to mag 3.72 beta Aquilae which was bright on the monitor with a few seconds of exposure I then went onto delta Aquilae at mag 3.36 again bright in the centre of the monitor. I went outside and looked at the sky again still absolutely no stars visible and by now this was true for the whole of the sky, the moon just past full was rising in the SE and appeared as a circular but ill defined bright disc through the cloud.

I noted on my lap top screen showing SKY Map pro 10 that close by was a globular cluster NGC6760, the planetarium ware told me it was a mag 9.1 cluster, could my set up possibly detect such an object through real cloud? Well there is one way to find out! A few seconds later the scope was pointing towards the globular and by turning up the gain on the camera handset I could make out the central condensation and outlying stars, amazing! I now spent a while playing with exposure settings, the best result was obtained by a relatively low gain setting and high exposure of 20-30 secs.

As is my habit I made a sketch and compared with one I made in the past with my old 14” F5 scope and Watec 120N where the sketch indicated good transparency, it doesn’t look to bad and through cloud cover the obscured all stars visually! 

Yours in amazement, Dale

Agrippa & Godin caught in the nick of time!

Blog 8th July 2011


A busy day ended well, after returning from work past 6pm local time I had a weekly harmonica lesson to attend in the local town which I really do relish, some real progress was made which was most pleasing. Leaving my tutors home I went straight to my allotment to water the poly tunnel. With this completed I didn’t arrive home until heading towards 10pm. I noted as I walked into the garden that the Moon was peeking out been rain clouds and indeed between heavy showers. I had to see if I could get the telescope onto it, I knew it would be close as it was low in the west and likely to be obscured by the house. I opened the observatory roof ascertained that there was a short window to capture a view and sketch I grabbed this brief moment and within minutes of the Moon disappearing behind the roof line of my house. Hurriedly I put the120N+ video camera into the 6″ refractors diagonal, I  got the scope pointing at the Moon and the the Moon onto the monitor and focused. I quickly defined region for sketching and hit the single frame freeze button. I could then relax; I had my target for sketching so I parked the scope, closed off the roof, poured out a glass of wine (if you are reading this please remember to drink responsibly 😉 and sketched the Moon from the monitor screen view here

The two craters and surrounding environs as is usual for me were unknown until I finished my pastel on black art paper sketch and consulted a few volumes from the shelves and quickly found them to be Agrippa & Godin.

Agrippa the lower and larger of the two in my sketch is 46 km across and 3.1km deep, Godin is 35km across and slightly deeper at 3.2km. Just below Agrippa in the bottom right hand corner of the sketch you can just see the dark linear line of the rille, Rima Ariadaeus, this in reality is N-NE of Agrippa.

Chasing Ghosts in Lyra

Blog Sunday 3rd July 2011-07-04

Continuing to work through planetary nebulae that Owen has highlighted in the Webb Society Journal I set to work under a darkening sky. As has been the theme for this new moon for me the sky was hazy, possibly spreading contrails, of cloud seeded by aircraft? What results is astronomy through net curtains, not idea but better than nothing.

OK first off I went for the faintest and in Owen’s own words the toughest on the list K2-6 or PK56+14.1. With my camera fov at approximately 13’ x 13’ I star hop centring on bright stars or relatively bright stars so that when I get to the object I know it will be pretty central in the fov. My last synchronisation star was TYC2111-459-1 at mag 6.85 and under 1 degree from my target. From there I went onto my planetary, but where was it? I’m not too used to the 505mm of Glass and the Watec 120N+ combo not showing things up! I went back to the afore mentioned star which was bang in the centre of the fov, re-synchronised and went back to the location I expected to see the elusive nebula, still nothing! Filter time, I tried a Lumicon UHC filter both on its own and combined with a Neodymium filter but nothing showed up, I tried the latter filter on its own but to no avail, I panned around the area but saw not a hint of anything. I sketched the star field in the hope that I could match it with an image later. This was definitely a miss and with work the next day I needed to press on as it was already after midnight local time.

I had a success with my next object, M1-64 or PK64+15 which is found just above M57, from the location of my failed observation I slewed with the goto straight to M1-64 and had it stop dead centre, there it was a small perfect round grey disc on my monitor, phew at least I was catching something tonight. The star on the northern edge of the little nebula triggered a memory I’m pretty certain I have caught this planetary before with the 14” and older Watec video camera. At the time of writing I’m pretty certain but haven’t consulted my ever growing filled sketches to confirm. I distinctly remember that the beady star on the edge of the round glow reminded me of a plant seed that I once planted!

Anyhow that is the story, some more of Owen’s list attempted; now looking forward to the next cheer opportunity.

Clear skies, Dale

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