Archive for March, 2012

Getting close to half way!

Blog Monday March 26th & Tuesday 27th 2012



I’m going to keep these brief as I’m chasing my tail at the moment! This spell of super fine weather continues so I got out on the Hickson trail again tonight. My aim was 2 groups in Virgo that will conclude that constellation. Fairly low in the east, I should have left it rise a bit as I wasn’t working with full aperture, resulting in the views not as detailed as they might have been, having said that, images out there don’t show either to be too exciting.

HCG 64 a nice group in Virgo, plenty of interaction going on, I wish now I had left it until better placed as I only had partial aperture on it as it was low in the East. See my sketch of HCG 64 here

HCG 67 another nice group of 4 in Virgo the central primary galaxy (a) NGC 5306 shows a hint of spiral structure even though I should have waited till it was better placed, mags range from 12.2 for (a) to 15.7 for (d) PGC49036 so a relatively bright HCG. See my sketch of HCG 67 here


Clear again working in Ursa & CVN tonight, took 15 hops on bright stars with re-sync’s between to get into Ursa Maj,that took 1 Hr!

HCG 60 a very nice group in Ursa major, made up of contrasting shaped and sized members, all around 16th magnitude, the large galaxy to the NNE isn’t a member of the group. This area of sky is rich in distant galaxies. See my sketch of HCG 60 here

HCG 68 an absolutely stunning group in Canes Venatici. (a) member is NGC 5353 which resembles a grain of barley, mag 11.1 but for me the belle of the ball is the lovely spiral to the west NGC 5350 which comes in as (c) member.

See my sketch of HCG 68 here.


Total now 48!!!!


And so to bed 01.30am BST, Dale


Going Low on the Hickson trail

Blog Sat 24th March 2012


The run of exceptional warm and sunny spring weather had failed to deliver clear night skies, yes brighter stars and the 4 planets visible to the naked eye were there OK and impressive but a heavy and persistent haze prevented serious deep sky study over this new moon period. Today the day sky looked a little clearer a little bluer and certainly cloud free. I had worked all day with my youngest son Aubrey on a number of gardening projects, both for others and for ourselves. During the course of the day we had decided to use the historic HST Calver reflector early evening as dusk fell to study, Venus, Jupiter, the fine crescent moon close by and then Mars.

As the sun dropped we opened the Fry observatory and uncovered the massive Calver reflector, after dinner we ran out an electrical lead from the house to power the drive motor and started with our observations, searing Venus showed a dichotomous phase that Aubrey said looked like a segment of lemon! Jupiter was low and murky, showing 3 moons and clear banding, not worth pushing up the power at that elevation! The crescent moon, a stunning hooked blade was incredible when viewed with a wide field 19mm eyepiece it completely filled the field of view.

Now onto the main course, ruddy Mars higher to the SE under the belly of the Lion. We set up the binoviewers with a few shouts from me to remind Aubrey of the value of this piece of kit and how it didn’t bounce too well!

I must fit a red dot zero unit finder onto this scope getting Mars into the fov took a little while and when I did get it the view was disappointing, I didn’t have enough experience with this scope yet to know the difference between, tube currents with which I know it is plagued and poor seeing, I suspected the former but blamed the later, this was later confirmed by a text from Simon Kidd who described excellent seeing on Mars! Were persevered for quite a while, I got occasional very quick flashes of clarity but Aubrey didn’t and with not being an astronomer just a lover of the historical aspect of the telescope he soon grew bored and restless. I kept him engaged for best part of an hour before agreeing to close down. It took a while to close up in the dark the roof frequently derails and needs fiddling and encouraging back into place.

With all closed down we retired to the house where I had promised Aubrey I would watch the classic spaghetti western a fist full of dollars with him. We viewed half before it was his time to shower for bed allowing me to escape to the other observatory for deep sky exploration and Hickson chasing!

I went for HCG 42 in Hydra which is low for me and I needed to drop the southern observatory flap to get this group. The sky in that location is poor at the best of times but tonight it was exacerbated by the sky haze. I still managed to pull in HCG 42 with its 4 members although with the conditions apart from its great distance from Earth there is little for me to wax lyrical about. See my modest sketch here.

My next target HCG 48 again in Hydra but this time considerably lower almost to the border with Antila the Air Pump, a constellation I don’t equate UK observing with. So to get an object from my observatory down at -19.24’ dec I find totally amazing especially when it consists of 4 small faint smudges the brightest at mag 12 the faintest at mag 16.4, so this group which looks to be the fifth lowest of all the 100 HCG’s really gave me a sense of achievement, and a hint of hope that I may, just be able to get all 100 from my humble garden observatory. See my sketch here.

Next I wasted my time, already late a night my actions next reminded me that planning and recording ones observations is critical! I observe quite a bit, my observatory is untidy and whilst I try to file my sketches and mark my observing aids with what has been viewed and when, I don’t always get it right! On this occasion I went for HCG 62 in Virgo, by now the sky was very poor, the SQM registering 18.44 in that region, I made my sketch, not realising until the next morning when I went to put a pin in my new observations on my wall chart that I had already observed this group, I was annoyed with myself for such a stupid error, plus my sketch which you can see here wasn’t a patch on the first I had made of this group under more favourable conditions! See that sketch here.


So to bed at 2am or taking into account the start of BST clock change actually 3am.

Ticking the Box

Blog Tuesday 20th March 2012


Well here I am writing up the 3rd night of observations on the trot, a rare thing for me. I knew I wanted Hickson 61 in Coma Berenicies aka ‘The Box’ which I had viewed a week or so back but not sketched due to ‘The Fog’.

I got out early so Leo was still well round to the SE and not in a good position for me to observe, I also wanted to get a crack at something lower down too. Transparency varied from murky to good, and it was changing rapidly and locally across the sky, the best reading I got for the night with the Sky Quality Meter (SQM) was 20.85.

Whilst I waited for the sky to come to me, I filed a back log of sketches, researched group members for helping with computer/mount goto id and then I collected my young Son Aubrey from Army Cadets. By 22.00 I was ready to go.

HCG 43

This is the only group in the diminutive constellation of Sextans, with 6 members all being faint and small this isn’t one of the most notable HCG’s (f) member PGC 29673 was tiny & tough even with my set up, it looked fainter than the given mag 18.2 must have been the low elevation. See my sketch here.

HCG 53

Next I was off higher and onto the flank of Leo to pick up on Hickson 53 that I required to clear that particular pocket up. Slightly easier than 43 with (a) member PGC 35183 relatively bright at mag 14.3 and of a decent size, extended arms evident and located centrally in the group. There are just 4 members, surprising as very close is another galaxy PGC 35184 of mag 16.8 which is brighter and larger  than at least the (c) & (d) members. See my sketch here.

HCG 61 (The Box)

I saved the best for last, the only HCG in Coma Berenices is certainly different, 4 galaxies with dramatic profiles that collectively form a notable rectangular outline. The universe doesn’t usually do straight edges so that is what makes this a little different.

I was very please to get just a hint of a dust lane in (c) member NGC 4175 which is the galaxy that projects out a little to the S-E, all 4 members are NGC designated, are  the 2 bright stars 1 to the N-E and 1 to the S-W of the box.

Can you spot the faint companion PGC 213947 right at the field edge to the SS-W, below the box?

See my sketch here.

It was 00.30 before I had scanned the sketches and closed the roof; it would feel like the alarm would be going for 05.45 before my head hit the pillow!



A Super Nova for a change, oh and a few more Hicksons :)

Blog for Tuesday 19th March 2012

The thing with being an astronomer in England is that clear nights are rather like buses, you wait ages for one then 3 arrive together! This results in one gorging on photons, night after night, rather than pacing one’s self as you would if you were pretty sure of clear nights on a regular basis.

So I was having something of a stellar gorge! I had observed until 1.30am on Monday night then got up for work at 6am, Ok I got away with this, felt a little jaded by the evening. The sky looked likely to remain cloudy, or so I thought, but by 10ish I was told by Tracey my wife that it was clear outside!

Well I did it, out I went and there I stayed until 12.30 when common sense said to me “bed boy” anyhow here are outlines of my observations, all interesting, worthwhile  so I was pleased I had pushed through the tiredness and got out there (despite feeling awful midday Wed at the time of writing)

I took a call from Big Andrew just before midnight, he had sworn not to observe another night, ha, there he was out there, and we are as bad as each other J

HCG 39

A faint tumbling string of tiny galaxies in Hydra, the most northerly 4 of which form Hickson 39 a larger elongated galaxy is to be below to the SSE but visually forms part of the chain. The members range in magnitude from 14.11 to 17.7 See my sketch here

HCG 40

A most attractive group of 5 galaxies in Hydra all of differing shapes and sizes in very close proximity to each other but at juxtapositions making this the most beautiful of the 38 Hickson groups that I have observed to date. The magnitudes range from 14.9 to 17.4 and a relatively low declination have likely prevented this group from being far better known. See my sketch here

SN 2012A in NGC 3239 ARP 263 in Leo

Observation of a super nova discovered on the 7th Jan 2012 by B. Moore, Jack Newton & Tim Puckett. I don’t quite know how I ended up observing and sketching this as I was actually after a more recent SN close to M95 in Leo but clearly write down the wrong information, not to worry this was an exciting and worthwhile observation in its own right. See my sketch here

A request is taken

Blog for Sunday March 18th 2012

A relatively miserable weekend gave way to a fine late Sunday afternoon and a very nice clear evening sky (well it wouldn’t being nearly time to return to work!), as soon as weekend family matters curtailed I was out there ‘rabid’ for more Hickson’s for my list :x lovestruck


I was in the process of star hoping up towards Ursa when my great pal Andrew Robertson called from Darkest Norfolk, “can you take a look at NGC 2623 in Cancer? I picked it out in Burnhams handbook and it looks a bit different, I think you will like it!” I had a bit of a gentle protest as I was focused on getting a few more HCG’s on my score card and didn’t particularly welcome distractions. Andrew continued his sales pitch and I was soon persuaded, within 5-10 mins of ending our conversation I had retraced my steps and had NGC 2623 aka ARP 243 on the monitor, Andrew was right, it was interesting, but it was faint and small, that surprised me. Se my sketch here

 Clearly a pair of galaxies in the process of ‘mugging’ each other, each projecting a desperate arm looping out in an arc giving it somewhat of an antennae galaxy appearance. I of course sketched it and in the course of doing so began to see it as the winged seed of an Acer tree.


I went onto grab a couple more Hickson’s (click on the links to view my sketches) HCG35 in Lynx and HCG41 in Ursa Major taking my tally to 36. These faint fuzzy groups have really got their claws into me.

Anyhow I hope you find these 3 little drawings interesting? I hope to get more out to you pretty soon over New Moon.


Warm wishes, Dale

You guessed it! More Hicksons

Blog Wednesday 14th of March 2012

After leaving work early to give a most enjoyable astronomy talk to 80 year 5, 9 year old students at Ralph Sadlier School, Puckeridge, Herts for National Science and Engineering week. This was my 6th annual visit to do this for the children and I think this talk went the best so far. The staff also appeared to be excited by what they heard and saw during the hour I was presenting.

I left the school and droppedmy props, namely giant binoculars, PST solar scope and a few other bits back home and then headed off to do the weekly family shopping.

So by the time I returned home it was dark and I was pretty ‘bushed’ but a clear sky must be obeyed if at all possible so I motivated myself after 40 minutes or so harmonica practice to get the observatory open.

I was intent to bag a few more of the availible Hickson groups in the Leo region revisited one HCG that I had previously sketched using the old 14” this was HCG57 better known as the delightful Copelands Septet, I was delighted with the extra detail I was able to pull out in member galaxies (a) NGC 3753 appears split almost as if 2 galaxies, (b) NGC 3746 also showed quite considerable structure. A very exciting group see my sketch here.

I then caught 51 in Leo which is a tricky one with 6 faint members and I was getting a little confused identifying them. That takes my sketched tally to 34 she my sketch here.

I then moved on to HCG 61 the box in Coma, the view was poor as heavy fog was descending, I could have sketched all the components were there but I decided it was worth it I would rather go back and get extra detail. By the time I had scanned my sketches it was heading for 2am! I was going to pay the price the next day!

And so to bed

Back on the Hickson Trail

Blog Sunday March 11th 2012

Inspired by the excellent day at the BAA Deep Sky Section meeting in Northampton on Sat 10th that I had with friends,  I was delighted to grab a couple of pre Moon hours last night and pick up a couple more Hickson groups both in Leo.
The first HCG46 I had struggled with and failed to locate on 2 previous occasions this time, I went straight to! Apart from the mystery in the observers mind due to faintness and the diminutive nature of its members attributable to their great distance from us, visually it won’t stop the traffic. See my sketch here
 HCG54 however is a rather unusual one! The members are tough to discern when trying to understanding what is what! (a) component IC 700 is obviously large with very diffuse outer spiral structure, but not complete in my observation, some hints of it I was able to detect and sketch, the smaller (b) (c) & (d) components appear like bright knots along the central bar of IC 700 and due to positioning giving it the appearance of having a banana like curve, I can only assume that they are more distant than IC 700 and we are viewing them through the primary member? So in summary interesting, a pleasing addition taking my Hickson tally to date to 33, but it will be tough to discern individual components for any visual observer. See my sketch here
Nice to be posting again, Dale
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