Archive for October, 2011

Visitors to the Observatories

Blog Oct 28th 2011

This evening my observatories were visited by the imaging section of the Letchworth and District Astronomical Society, LDAS.

All the visitors were friends, number very close friends; however there were 3 amongst the 7 visitors whom had never visited Chippingdale before. It was there reaction that I was particularly interested in.

My youngest son Aubrey although not interested in astronomy loves the observatories and telescopes, especially the historical HST Calver reflector. Aubrey had spent a good part of his day cleaning and tidying the observatories in preparation for our visitors. By mind own admission I’m untidy, I work untidily, consequently the observatories, especially the main one are often chaotic, I’m happy to work in this, it is comfortable and comforting to me, but it isn’t too impressive for visitors. Luckily Aubrey takes after his fastidious Mother and is happy, for the time being anyhow to periodically put my observatories, sheds, greenhouse and polytunnel etc back in order on a regular basis, hurrah for Aubrey J

Aubrey had done a very good job the 2 obsy’s looked fantastic. As darkness fell around 6pm local time the sky was clear Jupiter was up in the East (yes Mark Thompson astronomer to the BBC One Show, Jupiter is in the East as night falls not the West! 😉

My intention was to show the visitors due to arrive at 8.15, Jupiter in the 12 1/2”                Calver, with the big 20” showing a bright deep sky object live on the monitor, M27 sprang to mind.

The Fry observatory that houses the HST Calver is without mains power, so we ran an extension lead out and a couple if clip lamps to illuminate the scope so that visitors could have a good look.

Es Reid came down from Cambridge early, Es is a member of the visiting group, we chatted in the house and then went across to the ‘Countryman Inn’ which was to be the rendezvous point.

Sadly the sky had clouded out completely by 8.30 so there was no observing. The group enjoyed the presence and solidity of the Hay Steavenson Calver, marvelling at its stability and ease of motion. After looking at the telescopes and cameras of the main observatory and leaving a protesting 13 year old Aubrey behind we moved a cross the Countryman for astro banter and fine Woodfordes ‘Wherry’ ale, it had been a pleasant and most convivial evening.

I intend to invite the group back on a fairly regular basis for more practical open nights. This is a reversal of what has been my position for the last 4 or so years after holding an open night where one visitor totally hogged my then newly commissioned 20” Dobsonian, not letting other enjoy the views or select targets and at the end of the night at around 1am he was so reluctant to leave, friends an I had to be assertive to the point of rudeness. That experience had put me off sharing my observatories & garden with groups. This evenings gathering had made me rethink this policy and remember just how my pleasure can be derived from sharing.

Feedback received copied below


“Hi All, 

Thanks to Dale for the visit last night, and thanks to everyone else for a good evening, I enjoyed it.” Simon Kidd

“Dale and others, I will second that, it was a very enjoyable night despite the clouds.”      Alan Pounder

“Thanks for a fun evening. Almost as good as dozing in the Parker Knoll” Es Reid

“Dale et al, it was a good evening, I agree. Thanks for letting us take a look at your kit, very impressive. These get togethers never seem quite long enough somehow, even when the weather is poor!”I look forward to doing it again, and would happily bring over the Edge 11”. Gordon Ewen

Oh What A Night :)

Blog Thursday October 20th 2011


Andrew Robertson arranged for a few of us to visit the Orwell Observatory, the home of the Tomline 10” Merz refractor in Suffolk. This visit was quite specifically set up by Andrew as an opportunity to use the telescope for observation rather than just a visit to take in the history.

I travelled up from Cambridge with pal Es Reid in his small Mazda sports car, which I have named ‘the skate’. Now Es and I hadn’t visited this observatory whereas the others attending from Norfolk, Andrew, Dave Balcombe, Mark Turner, Jason Caird had.

We were the first to arrive, it was well after dark, and we quickly located the correct gate of the now grand private boarding school through which to enter. It was long before our hosts from the Orwell society spotted us and got us into the car park, the others arrived soon after and we were soon on our way to the Observatory tower.

Now let me just take a moment at this point and try and set the scene, this is a grand and stately location walls are tall of red brick and gates are heavy of wrought iron, the sky is dark and starry and owls call in the surrounding woodland, quite a setting.

We move between the buildings to the foot of the observatory tower, entering through a large heavy black door, secured with a high tech digital remote lock. Entering into a lobby which is warm and doubles as a changing room for outdoor sports by the look of things, the view as you enter is dominated by a huge central circular masonry pier decorated with painted orbs, comets, moons and other space art. We slap the wall feeling the mass and solidity of what is the base or pier for the mighty telescope 70 feet above.

From here we start to climb the wide and comfortably shallow stone steps as they spiral up to the observatory dome at the top, the steps are interspersed with landings from where balconies for observing can be accesses through ornate curve glass French doors and another were the society has created a small rest area and a smart library in what used to be a hydraulic lift running from top to bottom of the tower and now trapped as a room on a floor for ever.

The design and detail of the tower construction was simply stunning, exposed brick work was of the finest quality with fine ‘tuck’ pointing picked out in black mortar, the ceilings were all of vaulted brickwork and the handrails made of mahogany polished by many hands of eager astronomers ascending the stair case over the previous 150 years, atop of exquisite fancy wrought iron banisters. This building had been constructed without considering the expense and by the very best craftsman.

It was therefore no surprise upon entering the very considerable domed observatory at the top of the tower that the quality continued, indeed in came to a visual crescendo. The timber lined dome had the look and quality of a fine yacht, attention to detail was evident everywhere the thick walls were punctuated with decorative low level windows, this was as much a gentleman’s club as it was an observatory, a statement of its creators considerable wealth no doubt, and a very comfortable and pleasant place from where to enjoy the night sky.

 Everything complemented the massive, long refractor on the offset monumental German mount by Troughton and Sims of London; this was the cherry on the cake.

Despite the intimidating size of the set up, it moved smoothly and effortlessly, with the relatively narrow slit soon open and the dome rotated by turning a large metal ‘cart wheel’ to show Jupiter to the east we took our turns to gaze through this tribute to Victorian design and engineering.

It was obvious very quickly that with a weather front approaching from the west and just the east coast clinging to the last of the high pressure that seeing was poor and likely to remain so.

 Also taking into account that 10” of aperture does not cope well with poor seeing conditions, then all considered the view was acceptable and the enjoyment of which was enhanced by the provenance and presence of the telescope.

 As with all planetary observations, patience and persistence pays off, allowing  all observers to enjoy fleeting moments of clarity and exciting detail which was  accompanied by ‘wows’ from the observers and commentary on barges to be seen of which one was very dark and prominent and other features as they teasingly flashed to and from view.

I used my time at the eyepiece to make a crude sketch, as I invariably feel compelled  to do , thus avoiding the lasting regret of not having taken the opportunity afterwards, personally it was my best way of recording what was clearly going to be a very memorable night.

Later in the evening Dave Balcombe also made a Jupiter sketch, seeing had deteriorated further by this time but the view was enhanced by the appearance of the GRS and surrounding structure.

Between my observational sketching of Jupiter and Dave’s, there was a failed hunt for Comet PI 2009 Garradd in lower Hercules, it failed ,as pointing the huge refractor precisely was far from an easy affair and because the horizon was both misty and illuminated by light pollution, however commendable views of M57 and M31 were enjoyed.

 After a break for tea and biscuits very generously provided by our host’s we returned to observe a fine coloured double star Gamma Andromeda or ‘Almaak’ to do this we used the original observing chair fully reclined into a bench, the observer being laid out fully, just squeezing under the refractor to study the Orange/Yellow and Blue component stars through one of Andrew’s collection of Pentax eyepieces that he had bought along to complement the great telescope. As Andrew pointed out this would be just the kind of observation that the scope would have been used for back in the late 19th century.

At this point Es and I sloped off, but not before thanking our superb hosts Paul Whiting, FRAS and Bill Barton FRAS  as well as Norwich friends for sharing and arranging a very memorable evening, we had a long drive home and it was shortly before midnight and an early start beckoned for Friday.


You can find out more about the Orwell Astronomical Society, the Orwell Park Observatory and the Tomline, Merz refracting telescope by visiting this excellent website.


Dale Holt October 2011

Look at that spotty face!

Blog for October 18th 2011

I have made my first white light Sunspot sketch yesterday using a video camera view live onto a b&w monitor (Watec 120N) running through the 153mm F9 OG fitted with a Thousand Oaks filter. At the same time my patient and able friend Es Reid mounted my PST onto the 20″ OTA and using a newly aquired Samsung SDC 2000 video camera (very complicated controls!) got some very presentable real time images onto another b&w monitor back out in the observatory, I was in the office.
It is my aim to be able to view both Ha & WL images simultaneous from my observatory office and sketch the detail, as I do for Deep Sky observing. This should be possible soon  with some education on my part, I’m rather “agricultural” you see ;¬)
I hope this sketch is of interest? When I can get Plogger to up-load it onto my web-site 🙁

All behind, and some!


First the Excuses

We it has been an age since I have posted a Blog, I have been up to quite a bit but what with Kellin Heath Equinox Star Party back in Mid September I just haven’y gotten around to posting some details of observations. I will get everything on but it will be retrospective. Here we have some more recent news of a couple of Deep Sky observing sessions.

The Blog from October 14th & 15th 2011

                              Well over the weekend of the 14th & 15th of Oct I got my 20″ and Watec going on some interesting deep sky wonders. I have learnt a lesson trying to sketch with the Moon in the sky, for although the camera shows creditable detail in bright skies, it doesn’t show what it would in a dark sky on diffuse objects. For this reason I will stick to clusters in such circumstances in the future. Galaxies and diffuse objects whilst impressive under such skies are less and therefore a waste of my time and observation.
These sketches are warts and all accordingly.
On the 14th:
NGC 6834 a beautiful open cluster in Cygnus captured in full beauty with my set up and taking considerable time to capture with pencil to do it credit.
NGC7448 in Peg showing spiral arms, would have been far better under darker skies, still a nice object
NGC7463 Peg, group, a lovely and exiting close trio but only hints at what my set up will show without the presence of Moon Light.
On the 15th:
NGC 7732 & 7731
A fine faint fine pair of contrasting galaxies in Pisces, more detail would have been sen without the Moon, sky reading was  NSQ 19.35, my first reading with the new sky meter, which will feature in all future obs.
NGC7679 & 7682
A pair of very interesting and again contrasting galaxies in Peg, washed out with Moon light and although no visual set up could show this detail;l in these circumstances the 20″ Watec combo in the absence of Moon can match the Palomar Survey images which this sketch does not.
Lastly a white on black sketch using patels and acrylic paint, not my normal pencil on white paper inverted style, shows how the well risen Moon washed out much detail that normally my set up would show readily on NGC 7750.
Another problem with these sketches was that I ran out of the normal BAA Deep Sky submission forms on smooth cartridge paper, instead I used textured Langton cold pressed art paper, not a good idea for Deep Sky drawings that require inversion.
Anyhow as I said warts and all, a learning curve for which I’m sure I have benefited.
Clear skies, Dale 



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