Archive for August, 2011

First look at Jupiter this opposition

Blog Sunday Aug 7th 2011


Having just returned from Italy where it was clear night after night I really had missed my observatory! Patrick Moore had said to me some 10 years ago when I asked him if he was going to be observing some astronomical event or other that night? “No” came his reply “I will be away from my observatory” at the time I didn’t really understand the answer, not until I had my own observatory and had built up an intimate bond with it through time, use and numerous observations could I understand that sentiment! Astronomy and my ‘special place’ with my ‘stuff’ are these days for me pretty much inextricably linked.

Anyhow enough of that, I had missed my obsy whilst away and was pretty keen to get out there and observe upon my return. Well the evening proved to be clear and promising but after the return trip from Italy, the dreaded un-packing and chasing around the garden and allotment on a frantic catch up mission I was pretty shattered. So I was to bed early but before I pulled down the ‘eye blinds’ I did set the alarm for 4am! I had yet to make a telescopic observation of Jupiter during this opposition, my friends Simon Kidd and Andrew Robertson where already blazing a trail in that direction and in addition to Jupiter Simon Kidd had in fact already got a very early and rather ‘sniffy’ image of Mars to his credit. If these prompts to pull a finger out from friends weren’t enough, I had been beguiled with a blazing Jupiter rising above the hills of Piedmont in the early hours a number of times during the previous week.

Surprisingly it wasn’t too much of a struggle to leave my bed at 4am, with a brew in hand I was soon outside and into the obsy, with the roof open and the cool morning air on my face and the faintest whiff of autumn in my nostrils I looked up and wondered at Jupiter, I was struck by just how high it was this opposition, ‘how exciting’ I thought to myself.

The 6” 153mm F9 triplet refractor, piggy backed on the big reflector was my weapon of choice for the job this morning. With a diagonal in place Jupiter was soon in the field of a long focal 32mm plossl, with 4 moons nicely spaced and very prominent it was a classic and very pleasing view. I ducked back into the office took my trusty Denk binoviewer out of its case and loaded in my Celestron Axiom 23mm ep’s. With the short refractor nose piece combo attached I soon had focus with the diagonal still in place and was enjoying a lot closer observation, it was just wonderful, crisp, detailed and steady, seeing looked good. I replaced the 23’s with a pair of 15mm Panoptics, this pushed the power up (238x) and really started to give the view photographic qualities. My eye was drawn to a very prominent dark mark in the NEB on the meridian and to another fainter but not dissimilar mark close to the exiting limb. At first I thought it was a shadow transit but the satellite positions and distances from the planet put paid to that idea. I returned to the office tore a page out of one of my white art sketch pads, drew a pencil line around something round on my desk in the centre of the paper clipped it onto my clip board and got back out into the fresh morning air to capture the scene. See sketch here

 The result isn’t my most proficient or scientific planetary sketch, I’m rather rusty and out of practice on such subject matter, but it is a record of a memorable observation, which has subsequently proven to be pretty accurate after the leading planetary imager Dave Tyler posted some hi- res images of a very similar timing.

With the sketch under my belt and the sky rapidly brightening I slewed the scope towards Mars, low in the east, unfortunately it was just obscured by a neighbours tree some I’m going to have to wait a week or so for my first squint at the red fellow.

A pleasing start to a Sunday, Dale

The Italian Job

Blog 6th August 2011

We have just returned from a fantastic week in northern Italy staying with friends at their remote rural nut farm with tourist accommodation in the picturesque Piedmont region close to the small village of Cravanzana. You can find more details here on their web site.

Darren & Toni both ex work colleagues of mine had made the brave move along with their young family last October (2010) our visit found them working very hard with both the farm and tourist accommodation, two things were abundantly clear they were blissfully happy and had quite literally bought a piece of paradise.

Of course rural and remote meant dark skies, population density was low and the terrain was of high hilly ridges and deep valleys, the farm was at a height of 600m and afforded stunning views by day and night.

In early spring Darren had made a trip by road back to the UK, I took this opportunity to pass over my Edmund Scientific Sky Scan 105mm F4 reflector, a really great little scope that I mentioned earlier in my blog after I made the purchase which was intended specifically for this holiday.

I used this scope for my observing coupled with a very sturdy Manfrotto tripod that Darren had over there, I also had my trusty birding Nikon 8X32 binoculars. I took over a 23mm Celestron Axiom eyepiece along with a 13mm Nagler, Vixen 8-24mm zoom plus a UHC filter. I observed with the scope on four of the seven nights of our stay, 6 of the 7 were clear.

By using my fading & rusty memory alongside my very handy Sky & Telescope pocket sky atlas. I was able to show Darren along with other guests some of the brighter deep sky objects such as M22, M16, M11 as well as pointing out constellations introducing first mag stars with their alluring names.

I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account of all the sessions but just a brief overview of the highlights.

Sagittarius was high in the south the ‘teapot’ asterism standing out conspicuously in the dark sky to the south, as were the upper stars or Scorpius dominated by fiery Antares. I spent happy hours seeking out the many globulars of both constellations renewing pleasant memories of my observing in June with pal Frank McCabe in Arizona (I have yet to conclude writing up that memorable trip)

Even in the small 4” scope M22 was large & bright, M4 stood out defiantly in the same fov as Antares. M16 the Lagoon nebula was prominent to the naked eye which was quite a delight of all the treasures in Sagittarius and Scutum along the swathe of the Milky Way M17 the Swan nebula really stood out in the little scope, especially when I screwed the UHC filter onto the 13 Nagler eyepiece.

M13 high overhead in Hercules was naked eye, but only just, this I suspect was down to the haziness of the skies which appeared to be a common feature as evening fell, likely to be high moisture from low cloud the high hills and deep vegetated valleys attracted, this may well make for good seeing but it did reduce transparency. That notwithstanding the Milky way was quite a spectacle appearing to be “cloud” to others not familiar with such dark and beautiful skies (I would put them as mag 6).Such skies allowed numerous shooting stars to be enjoyed, mostly sporadic with a few early Perseids thrown in.

On another couple of evenings I took the lightweight scope away from the farm buildings onto one of the many ancient hill terraces choosing one selected during daylight away from areas where larger Walnut trees predominated here I could obtain a better all-round panorama. I took in my favourite bright galactic duo M81 & M82, ‘the odd couple’ it was at this location on I believe Wednesday 3rd? that I caught up with our current number one comet C/2009 P1 Garradd , delightfully it appeared in the same low power field of view with M15. I had printed of a locator chart before leaving home after Andrew Robertson started to take an interest in this developing interloper, however I left this behind! It was its close proximity to bright M15 that made it easy to locate from memory. M15 was to my eye notably the brighter of the two, the comet distinctly ‘off round’ when contrasted with the globular. Regrettably I didn’t have a pencil and paper with me so I didn’t make a drawing, much to my continued disappointment as I write this up a week later! Thankfully my good friend Andrew Robertson working from his Norfolk observatory, did capture that very view within a day or so of mine and I’m able to share that with you here.

That was surely my astronomical highlight of a very wonderful and relaxing family holiday, I must note as I close this blog that despite my considerable enjoyment of observing with the small Sky Scan telescope I think that the effort & expense of the purchase and transportation to Italy didn’t warrant the hassle, I guess I’m getting more addicted to the Watec and large scope experience and feel increasingly that the most satisfaction comes from working from my own observatory or sharing observing experiences with friends under dark skies with large telescopes. With hindsight I should have simply taken my Takahashi 10×70 astronomer binoculars and made life easier and more relaxed all-round. I need to put behind me this feeling, this need to have a telescope where ever I go!

Pax Stellarum

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