Blog Saturday 16th of June 2012

On the very early hours of Saturday morning (16th) and fittingly only a matter of hours before attending the Webb Society meeting at the IOA Cambridge I managed to make a sketch of the very complex nebula M17 aka ‘The Swan’ It took me a hour of sketching, smudging & rubbing out before I was happy with my representation of what the 20″ mirror & Watec camera pulled out. Compared with the tiny, faint & distant Hickson galaxy groups I have been specialising in since last Nov this was overwhelming and I had to add a focal reducer to get the whole nebula and turn camera and monitor settings right down due to the brightness. I have inverted the b&w image to match the usual delivery of pictures of this object so N is down. See my M17 Sketch here

I hope that you find it interesting, I hope when this dreadful British summers allows to get back out there asap!!!

Best wishes, Dale


The Webb Society annual meeting has since my first attendance 4 years ago been my favourite of all such gatherings. The nature of the talks being ‘Deep Sky’ related and the attendees themselves being dedicated, or may I say hardcore practical observers and imagers of the Deep Sky puts me in a company of kindred spirits?

The location at the Hoyle building, Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge is a great venue and only 30 minutes drive for me, things just couldn’t be better.


With an observation and sketch of M17 under my belt made just hours before attending the meeting, I was truly in the right frame of mine and was buzzing all day long!

All speakers delivered with passion and skill, Owen Brazell started off with the talk ‘ Observing Galaxy Cluster’ he looked at catalogues and other written publications detailing distant galaxy groups & clusters, their development over the past 30 years, resources worth using to assist observation, tools to aid locating these faint fuzzies in both paper and electronic form and the latest software to plan and record observations. This talk was tuned perfectly to complement the interest of my immediate group of friends and me.

Next up was Jeff Young a visual observer, fellow sketcher and   good personal friend who had travelled over from Louth in Ireland to talk about ‘experimental visual observing’. I could be accused of bias as Jeff is a friend but I thought his talk was excellent and really made you think about observing, use of varied magnifications & filter combinations, different tricks, panning, wobbling the scope, averted vision, and using direct vision and how different types of deep sky objects benefited from different combinations of use of the afore mentioned. This talk was thought provoking and from conversations with many other attendees during coffee & lunch breaks that was the general consensus.

Time for lunch, the 90 plus attendees made for sizeable queues at the buffet table and regular restocking by the catering team, not a criticism just and observation that numbers were far larger than I had experienced before at these meetings. The fare was excellent as it has been on all previous occasions.

There was valuable time to chat with old friends and to cultivate new friendships, a tour was organised of the historic instruments at the IOA, and this has become the custom when meetings take place here.

There was also an added bonus during the lunch break, Jack Martin well known for his work with stellar spectroscopy had bought along his excellent Coronado solar scope and was showing all those interested some stunning solar prominences and sunspot groupings. Well done Jack J

Before the afternoon speakers began there was an open discussion around what members thought the future of the Society should be? There was lively interest a few points discussed were the DSO and the possibility of electronic format, levels of subs, with & without a posted printed DSO, the level of Webb Society publications and DSO articles and the level of their targeted audience in terms of experience.

The first of the afternoon talks was a relaxed and stimulating one on the Deep Sky imaging work of Dave Adshead from his UK ‘Kingfisher Observatory’. Those who visit the society website will be familiar with Dave’s impressive images as they are often featured by Tim, he posts his work on the Webb Society Yahoo group too. The talk was fairly non technical which was good from the non experienced imager’s point of view but detailed enough to tell the imagers in the audience what they wanted to know, there were plenty of images to entertain all.

Bob Marriott, director of the BAA instruments and imaging section was next onto the podium with his talk entitled ‘The life of Dawes’ Bob is a very accomplished and published astronomy historian with encyclopaedic knowledge backed up by exhaustive personal research. The talk cleverly titled covered both Father and Son both skilled in numerous trades, craft’s and professions, it was perhaps with the jnr William Rutter Dawes (eagle eye) that the audience was most familiar and with his last a favourite instrument the splendid 8” Cooke refractor only yards away from the auditorium most fitting to the day. Bob left little to question or to the imagination, delivering great swathes of history without a single note to hand, dates, details and association gushed forth from mind and mouth enthralling the audience, a masterful delivery that had be riveted.

After afternoon tea it was the turn of the professional speaker Professor Katherine Blundell, looking far too young and dare I say normal to be a prof? Katherine talked of distant galaxies and illustrated in simple terms most effectively their great distance, their grouping and their interactive nature it was the later part of Katherine’s talk that I found most exciting this was around her project work called ‘Global Jet Watch’ This involved schools across the world making observations and doing real science involving Quasars, here is a passage lifted from the projects web site that explains the projects aims well: “Global Jet Watch is an amazing new project in which astronomers at Oxford University work with students around the globe to conduct ground-breaking scientific research. The aim of this project is to create a monitoring programme for the micro-quasar SS433 (commonly known as The Cosmic Corkscrew) by making round-the-clock astronomical observations from different locations around the world”

That concluded a very memorable day and as we filed from the auditorium I was pleased and impressed to see at such a late hour that the trade stands still remained, namely local equipment retailer Neil Parker of Greenwitch, The BAA, Cambridge University Press and of course the Webb Societies own stand.

I doubt that there were many attendees that could have left less than impressed after such a good meeting.