Archive for January, 2012

Got it right this time :)

Blog Friday January 27th 2012


A clear evening on Thursday saw me too tired to go out into the obsy, hours at work have been long recently and with family commitments and the odd observing session things were catching up with me. So I got to bed early and set the alarm for 4.30am which should give me 1.5 hrs of good observing time. Again it worked out to plant & this time no surprise cloud J

As you might expect I picked up were I left off on Wed morning and nailed HCG62 in Virgo, taking my tally to 27 Hickson’s. A nice group compared with some of them, it had a central pair interacting that looked like eyes, a hint of a shield like structure between them and the attractive edge on N-S orientated (C) component, with lone (D) left out in the cold well below. See my sketch here.

When standing in the observatory taking in the crisp clean early morning air and enjoying the peace, stillness and solitude of this time of day I could see clearly the outline of the distinctive constellation Corvus ‘The Crow’, low in the south. It isn’t often from my location that it is so obvious, this being as in that direction I’m looking towards massive London with the light & murk it pervades, not to mention numerous, towns & ‘burbs’ between little Chippers & the ‘smoke’.

So seeing that things looked good that low down I wanted to exploit it, firstly I went for the very interesting  Antennae galaxies NGC 4038 & 4039, a pair of violently interacting galaxies to the right of boxy asterism made by the 4 brightest stars of Corvus. Being so low and despite the aperture and sensitivity of my set up I still failed to pull out the detail of the insect like antennae. I think it looks rather like a ‘foetus’ and my friend Mike Atkins commented after I shared it that it looked like a baby in the womb! See my sketch here.

I completed this pre-work session with an interesting little group of NGC galaxies in Corvus. NGC 4727 is the largest & brightest at mag 11.9 a round spiral to the lower east in my sketch , close to its eastern edge is elongated NGC 4724 at mag 12.7, to the north of the field is attractive edge on NGC 4726 at mag 14.6 with the last member IC 3822 at mag 15.1 just making it into the fov on the western edge. See my sketch here

Well I was pretty pleased with that little package for a pre-work “Brew & Slew”


Things don’t always work out!

Blog Wednesday 25th January 2012


Alarm was set for 4am with a clear sky forecast, I awoke on time and indeed the sky looked good. I brewed up some tea and had the observatory open for 04.30. My target was to be Hickson 62 in Virgo, I looked up detail’s, nuts! No component galaxy details listed, I star hoped to the location and homed in on the co ordinate, I got a hint of faint smudges as I turned the camera sensitivity up but not field stars, strange! I opened the door into the observatory and looked at the sky, cloud! I climbed the steps and stood by the telescope surveying the situation. There wasn’t a piece of clear sky left to be seen, the cloud had more in from the west that quickly. I ascertained that was it for the morning. I closed up finished my tea, filed a few sketches that lat untidily on my desk and went back indoors, I returned to bed but didn’t sleep, rising at 6am to face the day. Disappointing, but that is astronomy, 15 minutes earlier and I would have got HCG62!


A few bright things including Hubble’s Variable Nebula

Blog Monday 23rd of January 2012


Here we have an evening session and a detour or perhaps more of a night off from chasing faint Hickson groups. Tonight I stayed with the bright and positively glitzy in comparison with the little fuzzies that I have been sketching of late. Firstly I started with a lovely open cluster in Monoceros , Messier 50 (M50) Discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in 1711 but not catalogued by Charles Messier until April 1772. The purpose of my observation was to get a white on black sketch to use in constructing a fellow astronomers 50th birthday card, selected for the obvious reason. I used white acrylic paint on black heavy art paper. The result copied from the monitor hooked up to the 6” refractor  and old basic Watec 120N video camera was not as good as I had hoped, I hadn’t tried this paint before, probably should have practiced first! Whilst the resulting work looked ok to the eye the scan showed up ugly dark dots in the centre of the stars, something I improved after by going over it with a magnifying glass and more paint touching up the 100 or so stars. Here is the untouched original.

Staying in Monoceros I moved onto NGC 2261, Hubble’s Variable nebula and Caldwell 46, this visit was prompted but the recent observation and sketching of this fan shaped nebula by Andrew Robertson and Frank McCabe on the same evening, albeit with UK V US time differences, and also the subsequent publication of Andrew’s and other observation in the latest BAA Deep Sky Section Newsletter. Hubbles’ Var neb as the name suggests changes in brightness periodically which adds to its interest, that notwithstanding, its comet or fan like appearance make it an interesting object to look upon. The 20” mirror and sensitive Watec camera really show it up well, and I was rather surprised at how bright it was on the monitor. With plenty of subtle detail it took quite a while to sketch. See my drawing here.

For my last object of the evening I moved west into Orion picking up on a bright open cluster in the upper reaches of the constellation. NGC 2194 is a mag 8.5 open cluster which is very attractive in larger instruments with a diameter of 9.0’ it just fitted into the Watec’s fov using the 20”. See my drawing here.

With it being a working day in the morning that was enough time spent in the observatory with it heading for midnight hoping for more chances this new moon week anyhow.


More Hickson Groups in the bag

Blog for Mon 16th and Tues 17th of January 2012


Written well after the evenings above due to the hectic nature of both work and family life at the moment, not a complaint more of an observation!

Monday 16th: Saw 3 recorded observations, 2 HCG’s and a lovely IC galaxy. The first of the HCG’s really is quite special Hickson 10 is in Andromeda  A lovely group in Andromeda, dominated by NGC 536 which shows considerable structure when seen through my 20″ and Watec Video camera, I had to add the 0.5x focal reducer to get all members in. Below I have posted Owen Brazell’s write up about the group which prompted me to track it down on Jan 16th 2012 in the first place.

“Galaxies in general can be nothing but featureless smudges through a small telescope. What enlivens galaxy observing is however trying to see features in these smudges and companions to them. My choice of galaxy of the month is the compact group Hickson 10. Hickson 10 is one of the brighter members of the Hickson catalogue of compact galaxy groups but even so is still a challenge. This grouping consists of the galaxies NGC 529, 531, 536 and 542. The main galaxy of the group NGC 536 was discovered in 1784 by William Herschel but he missed the other members which are a testament to their faintness. John Herschel found NGC 529 in 1827 and Mitchell working with the 72” at Birr found the remaining members of the group. NGC 536 is a fine spiral galaxy with a bright core. NGC 529 and 531 appear to be lenticular galaxies. This is slightly odd as normally these galaxies are found in large clusters where the ram pressure from the intra cluster gas has stripped the gas and dust from what started out as a spiral. Hickson 10 does not appear to be part of a larger group so maybe there are other ways of forming this type of galaxy. There is also the challenge with Hickson groups in that they are not massive enough to survive for long periods, astronomically speaking, and therefore it is surprising that we see them at all. It is possible that these groups continually dissipate and then reform out of rich loose clusters of galaxies. There are certainly a large number of galaxies in the general area of Hickson 10, although their spatial relationship is not known. Interestingly deep images show a shell of material around NGC 536 which is not actually centred on the galaxy. Perhaps a challenge for our imaging members to see if they can pull anything out. The location of the group near a bright 6th magnitude star will make observing them a challenge and the use of high power to keep the star out of the field may well be beneficial. Steven Gottlieb’s observations and a chart of the group can be very useful. Other useful resources including a downloadable Atlas and an excellent Observing Guide. I suspect that the two brighter members of the group may be seen with a relatively small telescope but a much larger one will be needed to pull out the two fainter members of the group”

See my Sketch of HCG 10 here

Next I progressed onto Hickson 15 in Cetus this was much tougher to locate than HCG 10 had been This group in Cetus consists of 5 members the primary one being UGC 1624 which can be seen in the centre of my sketch. The remaining 4 members are little more than featureless faint smudges to the right hand side of the sketch (west in the sky) See my sketch here

I concluded this session with a rather lovely galaxy that I literally ‘bumped into’ IC 194 is an edge on Sefert galaxy in Pisces and is very beautiful, it shows classic shape and proportions with a central bulge, inclined N-S. See my sketch here


Tuesday 17th: This evening I got just one observation and sketch in but it was satisfying, have failed a number of times to find HCG 33 in Taurus, what turned out to be the issue was, not galaxy member id’s were in the original Hickson atlas so I used the co-ordinates given RA 05’ 07” 53 Dec 17?57’51” I could get a star match perfectly with the monitor image and the Sky Map Pro 10 software but no galaxies to be seen. I panned around until I eventually found the group at RA 05’11”40  Dec 18?03’08”.

Even when using the very sensitive camera the 4 members were tiny and almost stellar, one closely associated with a faint star was elongated. They blended in with 2 parallel strands of stars very well. See my sketch made after a total of 6hrs hunting! Here

You guessed it more Hickson’s but a couple of brighter objects too!

Blog for Friday 13th and Saturday 14th January 2012

Very hurriedly trying to catch up with Blogs, life is very hectic and whilst great news I have had a run of clear skies it put added pressure on to keep up to date with everything.


So here goes, Friday night (13th unlucky for some 🙂  was clear but murky, I was determined to get a few more Hickson groups. This I did taking in  HCG 22 then HCG 27 both in Eridanus, I ran out of BAA observation sheets so had to improvise by drawing circles on white art paper. See HCG22 here and HCG 27 here both were tough objects.

 I then went for an open cluster in Taurus NGC 1807 and found a lovely little galaxy (unknown to me at the time of writing) between the suns see my sketch here

I also revisited a much over looked M78 in Orion and was pleased with what I saw so I sketched it, see what you think here.

Saturday was a lovely evening, I broke away from boarding out my loft, that wasn’t much effort I tell you, horrid job! To set up the HST Calver I wanted to test out the drive, I viwed Venus and Jupiter, the later I watched for quite a while with powers up to 263x very pleasing although the mirror was a little wet with condensation. The drive worked OK and held the image pretty much but I think my belt, made from tights, not mine! had a joining knot which made it clunk and the image vibrate. Anyhow pretty possitive. Closed up quickly, in for dinner. Then back out again on the 20″ for more Hickson chasing. To cut a long (4hr) story short I got 2 more but each took 2hrs to locate & sketch. The reason being is that the member galaxies have not got any catalouge numbers published in the Hickson Atlas, therefore I have to try and locate them by RA & Dec coordinates, this sounds easy enough but my goto isn’t that accurate and the camera fov is very small so you only need to be a tiny bit off and you see nothibng so I have to pan around the area until I find the group. So 4hrs 2 groups. Hard work but satisfying nonethe less.

See HGC in Cetus 11 here and HCG 16 in Cetus here both pretty interesting ones.

Dale in a rush!

I got to bed after midnight. Dale

Those Hickson’s Again!

Blog for Thursday 12th January 2012

Yesterday evening gave me a window, albeit a very hazy murky one. Undeterred I went for a couple more of the Hickson groups 23 in Eridanus and 25 in Cetus I managed to catch all the members in both, 4 in one & 7 in the other although I recorded outlines and the odd brighter central region, under better skies I would have pulled out some structure in the brighter NGC members but it was to be.


See HCG 23 sketch here & HCG 25 here


Nonetheless I’m pleased to have something to show and I’m hoping for more deep sky ‘action’ this weekend.


Wishing you the same, Dale

I Walk the Line

Blog for Thursday 5th January 2012

The winds have dropped here in the SE so I got a more ‘relaxed’ observation of the terminator line last night.

3 rims strikingly bright and close to Schiller rose above the receding tide of inky blackness. After sketching with mixed pastel on black paper I identified the trio as Zucchius, Bettinus & Kircher (see it here), my friend Frank across the ocean in Chicago confirmed this later for me as his turn arrived to observe. He even took a quick eyepiece shot and labelled it for me. See how the shadow had moved between our observations 🙂 view here


I hope you find it interesting? Dale

Mountains on the Moon and a Friend’s Book

Blog Tuesday 3rd January 2012


A truly stinking day with pouring rain driven and whipped into frenzy by winds gusting to 85mph miraculously gave way to a bright sunny late afternoon and a blue sky. The wind had dropped considerably but was still belting along at 30 mph plus as night fell. The gibbous moon blazed high in the sky with Jupiter close by as I returned from the weekly shop just before 7pm. I got into the observatory as soon as I could, spurred on by the release that day of the latest BAA Lunar section circular, choc full of excellent hi res shots and sketches.

I added a x3 barlow lens to the Watec on the 20” sent the mount off to find the moon, centred it up and found focus. The wind was bouncing the scope all over the place, the highly magnified image exaggerating the movement on the monitor. I spent a while touring around until I found a range of mountains close to majestic Copernicus. It was obvious that I couldn’t sketch the live image stream so I waited until a lull in the wind and hit the ‘freeze frame’ button, this took a few attempts to get a decent frozen image, and in fact it took 10 minutes to get it just right. I then began to sketch, the wind making worrying sounds in the observatory next door! The sketching took the best part of 2 hours, I was finding it difficult to get the mountains looking like they were rising from the paper, as always there comes a point when you think, like it or not I can add no more.

I scanned the sketch straight away and sent it to my friend and lunar sketch master Frank McCabe in the US for his appraisal (Frank along with my other friends Sally Russell, Deidre Kelleghan, Rich Handy & Erika Rix have just had a book published by Springer entitled ‘Sketching the Moon)

Frank came back with praise with the sketch, but then he always does he is to generous for his own good. I will let you pass judgement, click here.


An early morning ‘brew & slew’ in Leo

Blog Bank Holiday Monday 2nd January 2012


This is going to be a brief blog detailing an early morning foray into Leo, bagging 2 Hickson groups, takes my tally to 17 I think? And the catching 2 lovely NGC galaxies close to the Leo Triplet.

Awoke for a call of nature as you do at my age! Time 4am, noted it was clear outside so I went downstairs unlocked the back door and peered out, looking good J Right action stations on with the kettle, make tea, get some clothes on.

By 04.30 the observatory was open and cameras were rolling. First off I caught HCG58, I was surprised at how spread out the 5 members were they just fitted into the fov, there was also a tiny but bright and obvious edge on in the fov that I haven’t identified at the time of writing. All members are NGC catalogued galaxies. See my sketch here

HCG59 was next, much more compact than 58 again 5 members 2 of which are IC’s this allowed me to use the ‘goto’ to locate this group. (a) component is IC736 just to the east (left in the sketch) is (d) component IC737 a very strange galaxy indeed. There are 2 unidentified galaxies to the right in the sketch which you can see here.

Cloud and haze built and dissipated from around 5am but I would say average Sky Quality Meter reading when clear was around 20.5 so not bad.

I wanted to take a look at some brighter objects to contrast with the very faint Hickson’s that I had been chasing for weeks, to get a perspective back on things if you like. I picked 2 galaxies close to the Leo Triplet both turned out to be stunning, NGC 3596 a spiral with structure galore see my sketch here. NGC 3593 in contrast was elongated E-W with a bright core with a nice dust lane running across the top and down the western edge of the core. See my sketch here.

By the time I had labelled the drawings, scanned them in, inverted them, cropped out the drawing etc and written this blog, posted sketches to the web site it was 08.30! 4hrs solid work who would have believed it?

Happy New Year, Dale

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