Archive for November, 2011

Excited by an Atlas

Blog for Friday 25th November 2011

My 1994 Atlas by Paul Hickson has arrived from the US, I’m really pleased with it, the photographs were taken in the 80’s  (83-85) with the 3.6 metre CFHT telescope,
My initial reaction is my 505mm mirror & Watec set up should show me pretty much what they got back then in the mid 80’s. Which despite the 30 yesar time lapse is still pretty remarkable as the scope located in Chile probably the best location in the world and a whopping 3.6 meter aperture, it is the technology that has changed, I guess the  512 x 320 RCA-1 CCD camera they used was state of the art then, but very primitive by today’s standards, I still can’t get my head around being able to pick out what the top pro’s then imaged from my humble England, Hertfordshire back garden!
I wonder what we will be able to achieve in another 30 years? Mind blowing and so exciting
One aspect from my perspective which is a bit disappointing is that no constellation is recorded against each of the clusters so I will need to research that.
Not wanting to be too negative as I’m very excited about this atlas and the observing project it guides me with


A first gaze upon Jupiter

Blog Sunday November 20th 2011


If you read my blog on the odd occasion you will likely know that Es Reid features quite often in postings as he is a close friend and a great support in keeping my observatories, serviceable and developing. Well Es was visiting on this afternoon for dinner, and laughter too I suspect. I had also invited another friend Ken White who is not an astronomer but is interested greatly in the natural world and has travelled extensively during his 70 odd years.

So two good friends visiting, and a clear evening sky outdoors, this must mean a look through a telescope! The HST Calver being the tool of choice on this fine evening, Es, Aubrey and I soon had big Victorian reflector mobilised in the observatory and locked onto Jupiter. It was a misty evening and as Es said that bodes well for a fine, steady view, we weren’t disappointed.

My Denkmeier binoviewer’s work well with this scope despite the 100 year difference between their design and that of the venerable telescope, they are my choice for planetary observing, and so that is what we used.

 It was soon Ken’s turn to climb a few rungs on the wooden steps and push his eyes into the rubber cups sealing out distracting stay light. Ken was very clearly amazed but what he saw, it was still a little while however before I the penny dropped with me that this was his first telescopic view ever of Jupiter! There were no transits, no GRS or even any of those brick red barges that are so prominent at the moment, that notwithstanding, it was a splendid, sharp and steady view, the 3 Jovian Moons close by obvious discs and therefore undoubtedly worlds in their own right.

Ken asked many questions and spent considerable time at the eyepiece, no quick glances here, a real good look drinking in detail his brain building the image and seeing more the longer he looked, how marvellous. I was very pleased that he enjoyed it and was filled with awe and wonder, when he left to drive home to the next county he remarked how he was going to call his brother down in Kent immediately as he was very interested in astronomy. The telescope is 106 years young and is still thrilling just it did upon first light.


Winning some and losing one in the mist

Blog Saturday Nov 19th 2011

A long but truly wonderful day spent with Aubrey, up on the North Norfolk coast in unseasonably warm autumnal sunshine under blue skies, watching skeins of Brent and Pink footed geese fly in from long journeys. Enthralled by a massive flock of Golden Plover numbering over 2000, far more than I had ever seen before, not to mention numerous other waders, ducks and small attractive birds such as Red Pole’s, Siskin’s and charms of excited Goldfinches.

Getting back to Chipping shortly before 5pm, I got stuck into preparing Saturday dinner which is my usual culinary

 turn. Leaving the boys to, kind of, clear away I dipped out into the observatory to get observing. I had to enlist Tudors help to get the roof back on the tracks after Friday nights disappointing’ derailment!

There was a notable chill in the air after the warm day (16°c) the air was damp and mist was sure to be along soon, early observations were likely to be the best.

I started off working in Aquarius, not a good position for me, low to the south, but then not too good for the majority of astronomers in the UK I suspect. I noted that M72 a globular in the Water Carrier was missing from my Messier list of sketches. With the sky in that location registering just over 19 on the Sky Quality Meter (SQM) there were few stars visible to the naked eye.

M72 appeared on 2 monitors simultaneously one via the 20” and Watec the other via the 6” and older Watec, I could have sketched either with pretty much the same result but I combined views at various settings when making my sketch, my eye was caught by a dart shaped pointed core pointing NNW, I must take a look to see whether O’Meara saw that and if so what flying object did he turn it into? Here is my sketch link

I gave my pal Adrian Orr a call thinking that he might be out in his observatory using his newly acquired Watec video camera; my call however interrupted his demonstration of the 14” in the main dome of the Norwich Societies Seething observatory. We did exchange a few words and Adrian called back later when visiting members of the public and gone to the lecture, unfortunately his skies were deteriorating faster than mine due to the very heavy moisture content of the air.

Staying in Aquarius I had a large elongated galaxy NGC 7184 on my ‘to do’ list I homed in on this interesting angled, mag 11.1, 5.9’x1.3′ galaxy there was some structure of a spiral nature to be seen as this sketch shows Link

Just to the North of NGC 7184 were a close pair of smaller compact galaxies which made a nice sight in the same field of view, NGC 7185 the roundest of the 2 sported a star just on the lower edge, I had it in mind that this may be a SN, yes I wish this with every faint galaxy that I observe, but this was not to be, it was readily visible in the Palomar survey image when I checked the next day. In the same fov to the SE is NGC 7180 this was of similar brightness, mid mag 12’s but showed distinct NW-SE elongation, take a look for yourself here: Link

My last observation in Aquarius wasn’t planed; I noted a bright star in my software that showed a surrounding bright nebula. I centred on R Aquarii a variable star with a mag 5-12 range,  it was bright enough to give diffraction spikes when the camera was turned up I guess it was around the mag 6 mark. A long period of study with sensitivity to max, lighting off, showed a hint of brightness to the east, exact shape was indeterminable as was where it began and ended, I rubbed some graphite into the grain of the paper to try and imitate what was displayed. Later on checking the Palomar survey image, often a close match to my work showed no brightening, oh dear! I wonder if the brightness of R Aquarii has anything to do with showing or shielding this object? Link

Lastly I spent some considerable time, around an hour I believe trying to observe and detect Owen Brazell’s Web Society October galaxy of the month Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte (WLM, DDO 221, UGCA 444), type Ir+, in Cetus.

I failed to pick this up disappointingly, I may have been off, this isn’t unknown and on a previous object Sue French kindly noted my location from the stars in my sketch, putting me right, when I returned I picked the object up with relative ease, I had literally been a FOV out on that occasion. I hope this object will prove to be similar and when I return I will pick it up. What I tend to do as my goto is pretty poor in the accuracy stakes, well in getting objects onto the small chip that is. I pick up local landmark stars and centre them, sync my goto and then send if the short distance to the object. This I did 6 times trying to locate this galaxy but to no avail. starfield sketch

By this time it was very misty outside, the scopes were dripping wet and only stars to around mag 3 remained visible so I called it a night, a good night that is 🙂

Until next time, Dale

Off the rails and took to drink!

Blog Friday November 18th 2011

Ha Ha, like the tittle Well it is true but a little dramatic. I spent some time with the family as it was Friday evening, when the boys went up to be I headed out into the observatory, it looked to be a good evening. I fired the monitors, mount and cameras up and went to open the roof. The roof is in two sections, both on iron rails with cast iron wheels, both sections are heavy, the first section rolls onto the top of the second section, which is heavier and stronger with substantial steel additions to take the weight, the two sections then roll as one sandwich onto the roof of the office leaving the observatory area completely open.

Increasingly I have been having issues with the first section, it has sagged over the years and now catches the southern wall drop down flap. A week or so ago Aubrey and I cut an inch 25mm off of the top edge to improve things. However on this night as I shoved the section up and backwards to get it going, it came off of the rails! It can be lifted back on relatively easily but it takes two to do so, with Tudor my eldest son now in bed, I was rather ‘stuffed’ as they say.

My decision? go indoors,  open some wine and relax! Terrible but true 🙂


A whirl in the Whale and a very Dusty lane!

Blog November Thursday 17th 2011


Yippee a clear night giving me a much needed chance to get a ‘bit’ done in the observatory. The sky misty and laden with moisture was far from perfect but the time observing was much needed.

I made just too sketches, the first one a revisit to M77 in Cetus, a nice galaxy with plenty going on in the spiral structure department. Using the 20” and Watec camera I certainly pulled a little more detail than the 14″ showed previously, some years back now, that is. Nice to see a hint of the large outer spiral structure only seen in long exposure images the 2 Ha regions H6 & H7 I think they are called to lower right of core stand out well in the sketch Link


What was the revaluation of the night was NGC 7814 in Pegasus, also known as Caldwell 43. This edge on galaxy was also coincidentally observed by my friend Andrew Robertson with his 18” Dobo in Norfolk at around the same time, nice coincidence that 🙂

The dust lane is something else, a real corker and totally unexpected as my only reference to its appearance was the sketch in NSOG which didn’t show any dust lane, my sketch does, see it here: Link 

That’s it just a quick blast of excitement from me.


P.S Later found that NGC7814 is also sometimes known as the ‘little Sombrero’



A precious moment

Blog November 10th 2011


Today started badly, of that there can be no doubt! On leaving the house and on the way to a fasted blood test at my local Doc’s, no fun in itself, I received a text message from a close friend; it read “Are you OK? Only I received a really weird text from you last night” I knew instantly that my email account had been hacked, my heart sank and my stomach filled with none too attractive butterflies!

That was just the start, on logging into my Chippingdale observatory account when I arrived at work I found that every one of my contacts had been emailed with some ‘crap’ spam by the hackers.

Each alphabetic group in my address book had received a different message, indicating that this was a pretty sophisticated spam, scan!

I had been hacked on a smaller scale 10 days previously and despite advice to change my email address, I hadn’t, my reasoning was that I didn’t have that great a memory to recall different passwords for different applications! How I wished that I had heeded the advice.

On arriving at work, after the dreaded blood test, which actually wasn’t bad, I changed my password. Then I began to respond to the very numerous emails that I had received regarding the spam and potential viruses, not to mention the phone calls L

I fielded them best as I could, but I don’t mind admitting that the whole episode really did get to me.

Things did quieten down in the afternoon, and a Yoga class at lunchtime helped me chill and forget for a while, the working day ended and I made my way home. The sky was clearing from the West I noted as I drove home and a full Moon and bright Jupiter were visible low to the east..

After the tribulations of the day it was a delight tonight to share a view with Aubrey, my youngest son through the HST Calver. Now Aubrey has spent many hours helping me with the HST move and refurbishment, he shows little interest in astronomy generally but is besotted with the historical Calver telescope and its former owners. Despite his efforts to date he has never taken a look through the big reflector!

OK seeing wasn’t the best but the Jovian disc’s was sharp and attractive, with many distinct belts, Polar Regions were well defined and the Moons were distinct discs, Aubrey noted the fact that one was notably larger, Ganymede.

With no drive motor currently fitted as the motor used by Hay had packed up and was currently awaiting repair at a specialists we used the hand ‘slow mo’ controls to keep the planet centred, they work very well and are smooth with nice big round handles.

Next we took a look at the full, Moon, bright? You bet it was a real dazzler, zero night vision after that! Being full and no terminator to fly along I concentrated the scope on the limb so Aubrey could see the peaks and valleys outlined against the dark sky.


Before we closed up I nipped indoors and took a picture to record the moment and to add to the HST picture album and to illustrate this blog. It was a great thing to share with ones son and he was clearly very happy to be using the telescope he had spent so much time working on. 


A string of galaxies in the fishes

Blog Tues November 1st 2011


There had been a bit of a buzz going on throughout the afternoon between Andrew Robertson, Adrian Orr and myself as a clear night sky for us in the SE looked to be a distinct possibility. By mid afternoon Andrew who really must be the UK’s most competitive visual astronomer had his 18” Dob set up at his Norfolk farm house in anticipation.

With Tim Walker, the very efficient Webb society Web master (try saying that after a few sherbets ;¬) having just posted ‘Galaxy of the Month’ for November by Owen Brazell, which was a nice string of galaxies in Pisces NGC383 (ARP331). I thought that I would go for that if I got a clear sky, I also wanted to bag Owen’s October galaxy of the month too which was UGCA 444 in Cetus.

I got out into the observatory around 20.30, fired everything up and then the first leaf section of the observatory roof ‘de-railed’ and jammed. I had to get my eldest son Tudor out of the house to help lift in back into place; thankfully that was the one and only hitch of the evening.

Once I got things running, centred on a star to synchronise the drive/goto systems, I actually used Jupiter for this purpose.  I collimated the 20”, 6” refractor and 80mm finder together and then slewed to UGCA 444, “blast it” too low and it was obscured by a neighbours large Holly bush and part of the house, I would need to return latter when it was due south, I never did so this one remains for another night.

With a little star hoping, the Goto was very accurate tonight, which was good news, so nights it is a complete nightmare. I soon had the lovely Arp 331 chain displayed on both monitors. Although there was little structure to be seen in the numerous galaxies displayed the each showed slight variations in shape orientation and brightness, the appeal was in the number and the ‘string’ like pattern, more reminiscent of a spring view in Virgo than a late autumn one in Pisces. I made my sketch, readily picking out 11 galaxies which I was able to identify afterwards. The one that stands out as being different is the attractive edge on UGC 679 just to the east of central brightest pair NGC 383 & 382.

Andrew Robertson and I exchanged a few texts then a call, Andrew doesn’t like all that fumbling with little buttons with his ‘fat Policeman’s fingers’ ;¬). Unfortunately he was having troubles with local lighting and damp misty conditions due to his water meadow location; he had however managed to see 3 galaxies in Arp 331 with his 12” Mewlon. (He later confirmed 7 galaxies visually with his 18” Dob when conditions improved)

I looked on Sky Map pro 10 to see if there was any other galaxies locally for me to look at, just out of the fov I had worked in were another trio of small galaxies IC1618, PGC212654 & PGC3881, I sent the scopes there, it was so close the drives didn’t appear to engage before the new scene appeared on the monitors.

I should have mentioned that when I was making the Arp331 observation was that the 6” F9 refractor and older Watec 120N camera combination showed just about the same detail as the much bigger 20” and more sensitive Watec 120N+ the view on the later is certainly brighter, galaxies more extended, shapes more readily detected but all the basics of the view are incredibly there with the 6” too! For this reason I chose to ignore the 20” view and concentrate on sketching the 6” vista, at the back of my mind was also the fact that wanted to show my good friend Adrian Orr who is heavily contemplating video astronomy (VA) himself just what was achievable with the older model Watec that may suit him as a way into VA and with a smaller scope.

With just 3 galaxies and fewer stars this view was soon captured, after I checked the magnitudes of the galaxies they went down to mag 16.3, now that may well not be visual mag, but it is still going to be faint and a pretty impressive observation under a mag 5 sky with 6” scope.

Well it was close to midnight, and I needed to shower yet and be up at 6am for work, I tided up (a bit) in the office walked out into the observatory to park the scope and power down, ‘cripes’ it was dewy, I  didn’t realise this, having been sat in my cosy cocoon listening to smooth jazz . The secondary on the 20” was fogged completely, luckily my last observation was with the 6″, the OG of which clear of any dew, despite not being heated it has a long flocked dew shield to keep it cosy.

And so to bed after a productive few hours, Dale

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