Archive for September, 2012

Almost a waste of time

Blog Tuesday September 18th 2012


Last night wasn’t clear by bed time so I got up at 4.30am for Hickson action then Jupiter at Dawn. Would you believe it after leaving the 20” and camera working perfectly after the last session a week ago on firing it up there was all sorts of problems! Had to change power leads around, monitors around and BNC cables around, finally got a bright star on the monitor & centred (Rigel), re-collimated the 6” with the 20” as it was way off with mirror movement, and went off into Cetus after HCG26 locating it wasn’t easy as I just had the RA & DEC no listing of the member galaxy catalogue numbers, found it in my planetarium software eventually (by zooming right in on a region until you see a group that matches your target, screen fov is only about 20 ’x20’ by that point so you have to be bang on it) sent goto to the point identified but by then it was 05.45am and the sky was too bright so the camera just bloomed and put up a white bright screen    🙁 Waste of time!!!!


Swapped to the refractor and took a look at Jupiter, pleasant view, considerable detail, no transits, no GRS & variable seeing so didn’t sketch. Well that is the story although closer to the truth is probably that as I was a bit fed up with failure on the aforementioned HCG 26 and didn’t feel like it, so I packed up and got ready for work.


I bought a Starlight express guide camera that I couldn’t afford and has caused problems with Tray when I was at Kelling, Tom & Mike said that it would greatly improve my exposure times and image quality, I have ordered a longer USB A to USB mini B cable so I can plug it into the laptop in the warm room at £370 odd  it was an expensive option but evidentially it is the only camera that works out of the Box with the AWR system as Alan Buckman doesn’t use industry standard ASCOM Drivers.



Kelling Heath Star Party


Blog Friday 14th– Sunday 16th September inclusive


I hadn’t intended to go to Kelling Heath Star Party this autumn that would have been a first not attending but well the spring one was a rotter with the poor weather, I’m also booked into visit Kelling again along with a smaller group of friends for a visual only weekend in October. Having said this just a few weeks ago I started to regret not booking and happened to mention this to my pal Andrew Robertson who organises the Norwich Society attendance and luckily he had a pitch still untaken!

That worked out perfectly and just attending for the Friday evening, Saturday main day and leaving Sunday morning allowed my sons Tudor & Aubrey to accompany me.

The journey up takes 2 1/2hrs pulling the caravan (clear road in front, 2 mile tailback, behind ;¬)

We arrived at Kelling at 4pm and soon had camp established, it was quite windy but as the evening drew on that abated, it was cloudy but that was forecast to clear out around midnight. After cooking dinner the boys settled down to watch television and I went up to the bar for an hour or so with Mike Atkins and Tom Moss- Davies. It was good to catch up with these chaps, we have very similar astronomical interests and observatories and techniques.

On returning to the caravan I arranged with Andrew to get a wakeup call when the sky cleared out which was due around midnight. I got my head down for a while, falling asleep while the boys watched the TV. The call from Andrew actually came at 23.30, the sky outside was very nice. I observed with the big 6” binoculars for a while concentrating in Ursa Major, a favourite constellation that is very difficult to explore from my observatory at home.  I started off with M81 & M82 framed generously and delightfully in the binoculars FOV, I then began to radiate my search out picking up fainter and smaller neighbouring galaxies, I then spent another hour or so scanning the sky in a random and relaxed way stopping at numerous vistas all very pleasing in a way only such large binoculars can delivery, it really is a rather different view to a telescope. It was probably M42 that a finished on, a truly magical scene with 4 pin sharp stars of the Trapezium at the centre diamonds nestled in gossamer silk.

I walked across and joined Andrew Robertson at his 18” Dobsonian and here I stayed until dawn benefitting from Andrew’s outstanding locating abilities, something I have lost, or mostly so, for it is a skill that if you don’t use it you will lose it! The mirror in this scope was imported from the US and offers quite unbelievable contrast, which coupled with the customised motions of the scope tweaked to Andrew’s exacting standards and the finest wide field eyepieces available, leaves the observer wanting for nothing but more time at the eyepiece. We were joined by other friends through the course of the early morning, but at a gentle pace and not with the queues that he was to experience the following night.

Andrew's outstanding 18" Dobo

When 5.30am arrived and as we split Theta Orionis into 6 components, Andrew declared that “astronomical dark” was over and we put the scope onto Jupiter, with irises speeding to cut down the dazzling light our brains began to discern exquisite detail, although without transit or red spot there was a bewildering level of detail. Others who were lucky enough to be close by were equally amazed when they took a look!

I quietly slipped back to my caravan and grabbed a short doze before breakfast duties began for my boys and the excitement, socialising and shopping of the main day did commence.

Saturday was a lot of fun meeting up with friends, I spent money that I didn’t have and now rather regret but I doubt that I was the only astronomer there at Kelling to do such a thing! The trade stands can be all too tempting when you see the goods in the flesh and get carried away.

The day went too quickly and before I knew it I was meeting up with Graham Sparrow a good friend from the Norwich Society who had long promised to share his hot 28 clove of Garlic Chickpea curry with me, supposed to be good for night vision he said ;¬) Let me say it was a well prepared and interesting meal! Incidentally I prepared my sons something a little more sedate by comparison. Oh and while I remember Aubrey gave a blast of Henry Mancini’s ‘Pink Panther’ on his Alto Sax which appeared to go down well


Graham ‘Spadger Curry’ Sparrow and Aubrey with Alto Sax

As evening drew on the sky remain clear and by 9ish there was a buzz about the place as observing and imaging commenced, a few people called over having seen my binoculars during the day and wanted to have a view through the, my boys were out with me which is unusual as the TV was working and there was food remaining in the caravan? I guess they were enjoying the ‘vibe too’

My very good friend, indeed a bit of a kindred spirit Adrian Orr joined us and we spent until gone 1am Sunday morning chatting on a multitude of shared interests, including astronomy of course. The views through the binoculars kept us entertained too, I remember M97 the Owl nebula and the cigar shaped galaxy M108 looking particularly fantastic in the large field of view. Tudor my eldest son commented on how “3D” the view of the glitter box Perseus Double cluster was.


Adrian departed in the region of 01.15 for home; he hadn’t brought his caravan on this occasion attending as a day tripper. I too took to my bed, despite the fact that I was sure Andrew would barrack me for being a “light weight” I was tired, we had enjoyed a good dose of dark sky and I needed to be up in good time in the morning to strike camp.

I’m so glad that I changed my mind at the last moment and stayed a couple of nights; it turned out to be a vintage Kelling and was great to spend time with Tudor & Aubrey 🙂

Take a look at more pictures from this and other Star Parties in the Star Party file on the website


Success on the Hickson trail

HCG 96

Blog Tuesday 11th September 2012


Last weekend gave 3 clear nights albeit with a bit of moon still hanging about, however I was ill, too ill to observe on either of the 3 nights, so feeling better after the antibiotics kicked it I was delighted to be able to open the obsy and get back on the Hickson trail

Hickson 96 is a lovely bright and interesting group of 4 galaxies in Pegasus. (a) member is NGC 7675 wonderful spiral structure is visible in this face on, magnitude 13.1, it has a very tiny faint companion on its NE edge this is (c) member NGC 7675(a). NGC 7675 is the (b) component of the group bright again and with hints of dust lanes visible. Between a & b components is (d) is faint PGC 71507 a mag 17.3 spec. Out to the west of the group (right edge of my sketch I caught another faint galaxy that I believe is PGC 214960. I made the sketch using the 505mm mirror using a small temporary secondary as the usual one was away being recoated. Light was put through a Watec 120N+ video camera and viewed on a b&w monitor where it was sketch on Tuesday 11th September 2012, N is up E is left.

HCG 89

Hickson 89 was a real challenge of a group in Aquarius; I had read it was tough and am please to get this one out of the way to be honest. Being fairly low in my sky at 52 deg north didn’t help, neither did the southerly aspect, that notwithstanding I’m pleased that I got all 4 members, each distinct and with differing morphology. I made the sketch using the 505mm mirror using a small temporary secondary as the usual one was away being recoated. Light was put through a Watec 120N+ video camera and viewed on a b&w monitor where it was sketch on Tuesday 11th September 2012, N is up E is left.

Closed up at 01.30, well pleased, well tired and not looking forward to work.

These two take my tally to 68 and rising, I’m really hoping to hit 75 over this new moon, even if I am away from the Chippers obsy at Kelling for a couple of nights.


Jupiters GRS (Great Redless Spot)

Here  we are again
 blogging another observation as a direct product of Andrew Robertson starting this whole Jupiter observing thing off!
Out of bed at 4.45am to find Seeing was up & down but improved markedly after dawn, which was post my sketch.
At 04.30 ut it was a struggle for me to decide if the GRS was there or not due to its lack of colour, I have renamed it the Great Redless Spot :), it was the spots socket that gave it away, an hour later as it approached the exiting limb it was much more obvious even in what amounted to pretty much full daylight! I tried a neodymium filter but that did little or nothing to enhance.
Once the GRS hit the CM a lovely shadow transit commenced to follow it, should have sketched that too for added drama but I had enough by then and just enjoyed a few visuals as I scanned the sketch and packed up for work.
Best to all, Dale

Competition over Jupiter

Blog for Tuesday 4th September 2012


Andrew Robertson and I have a competitive thing going with our observing, each trying to outdo the other, by seeing first, seeing further, seeing more etc, it is tongue in cheek and adds to the fun and incentive to observe.

With Jupiter very well placed high in the pre-dawn sky, Andrew stole a lead and got out on Monday morning to observe, making a sketch and sharing with a group of friends, detailed in his sketch was a nice chain of light ovals. OK he had done it now, I had to get out there now and do the same on this the following morning. Andrew used his excellent 12” Takahashi Mewlon scope, he suggested that I use my historic 12.5” Calver reflector but I took the easier and quicker option of using my 6” triplet refractor piggy backed on the main telescope. It was a pleasant morning, there wasn’t a great deal out of the ordinary to be seen on the Jovian face (if one should say such things when looking many millions of miles into space at a mysterious distant world?) but Ganymede was wonderfully placed on the limb, I thought it was going to be occulted by Simon Kidd’s excellent photograph taken a little later showed it transiting.

Anyhow I made a sketch just after 5am making use of the Denk binoviewer with a pair of 15mm Panoptics giving 144x, capturing as much of the standout regions and darker features…take a look here

It was now too late to go back to bed so my day started early and no doubt my batteries would be flat by late afternoon…the price to be paid for competing with retired Andrew 🙂

And so to work Dale

Return top