Archive for October, 2012

Hickson 100

Blog Tuesday 16th of October 2012-10-29




          It is shame this isn’t my final Hickson just the last in the Hickson catalogue of 100 and my 71st, I’m getting a little bored with them and would rather be sketching more exciting and dramatic bodies, but I won’t give up and am determined to get all 100!

This little group of 4 galaxies is to be found just below Algerib (gamma pegasi)


Last nights sky was poor, hazy with cloud coming and going. The group view was dominated by (a) member, mag 13.2 NGC 7803 the (d) and faintest component member PGC 92 (mag 17.1) was there on the monitor but only just, still I got it and I’m moving on in search of more! 

Best wishes & clear skies, Dale

HCG 100 in Pegasus

A happy gathering :)

Blog Friday 12th & Saturday 13th October 2012


Andrew Robertson arranged a visual only star party at Kelling Heath for the weekend closest to the new moon period in October, a window hopefully offering potential dark and clear skies without the extreme weather that can be experienced in the midst of winter, this was that weekend! Usually the star parties held on this large and well appointed site take place in the Red, Yellow and possibly Blue camping fields, for this one had deliberately targeted the smaller, quieter and more remote Green field offering an excellent horizon.

As usual with such organised events people drop out and fail to commit at the last moment so the total number who attended I think was about 14 or 15 that includes my son Aubrey, not an astronomer but along for the adventure, however it doesn’t cover one astronomer who was at Kelling by coincidence and did join us! The Mystery guest was ‘Cal’ a member of the Loughton astronomy society and regular at the main Kelling events, he was staying in one of the static lodges with his wife but had bought along his Astro Physics  5” Starfire refractor for cheeky nights out in the dark!

I’m guilty of bringing very little to the party, just 3 pairs of handheld binoculars in a range of apertures up to 70mm. The intention being to work with friends and their splendid large aperture Dobsonian scopes. The list of telescopes present from top to bottom reads 1 X 24”, 2 X 20”, 2 X 18”, 2 X 16”, 2 X 15”, Cal’s refractor an Intes Mak Newt of 6-8”? and a Tele Vue 85 refractor, not bad between 14 observers, so my contribution was hopefully not missed.

A few of the attendees had arrived Thursday, which turned out to be wet & wild! Friday on the other hand was calm, sunny with clear skies and an autumnal chill. That night proved to be a good one, not perfect there was a degree of haze but good to very good by most standards, M13 was naked eye, for me that is a bench mark for a good quality sky. Observing began around 19.00 and ran through until about 3am on average although Andrew pushed it another 30 minutes in his competitive fashion to remain the “last man standing”. That was 8 hrs observing in cool conditions and for many after a long drive and then setting up camp, so hardly a wimp’s performance.

As you can imagine there were many objects viewed during that 8 hrs session with 12 telescopes pointed skywards, comet 186P Hergenrother just passing out of the square of Peg must have been observed by all, it looked fantastic in the larger apertures. Some of the party from city locations contented themselves with ticking off brighter objects at lower latitudes that they had no chance of getting from their home observatories, others tested their optics and the sky to see just how deep they could go, yes that had to be Andrew didn’t it! Although Jason Caird with his 20”, Rod Greening with his 18” and Adrian Orr with his 18” were all pretty much following suit, going deep and exotic.

For me a few of the most memorable views of the evening were, the Eskimo nebula sprinting through the field of view in Andrew’s 24” at circa 700x, the image scale and inner detail, mind blowing for a deep sky buff, NGC 383 its neighbouring galaxies aka the “Pisces Cloud” or ARP 331 were much enjoyed and studied with the big guns, coincidentally Paul Brierley, active member of the Webb Deep Sky Society took this image of that group on the same night

Another memorable view was of the striking pair of edge on galaxies at contrasting angles in Pegasus NGC 7732 & 7339, the list goes on, Andrew’s big scope showed the central star in many planetary nebulae including the elusive central star in M57, I remember being fixed by the stare of the ‘Cats eye’ nebula.

To summarise it was a wonderful night of communal deep sky observing, banter, laughter, ooh’s and argh’s as numerous meteors were spotted, by 3am feet and hands were cold, backs a knees aching and eyes heavy, all were glad of their beds and heaters, apart from Deep Sky director Stewart Moore who wins a medal for toughing it out sleeping in his car!

Saturday morning dawned bright and fresh, those warm and comfortable slept in, those not so or creatures of unbreakable early rising habits were up early and mooched around like zombies in search of tea and breakfast.

When most of the camp was up we mustered for a group photograph, both John Axtell and Adrian Orr took tripod mounted timer shots, John’s is posted below. Absent from the picture, my son Aubrey, too busy watching TV in the caravan, nothing unusual there! Jason Caird, still fast asleep (or avoiding the camera)  Dave Balcombe banished to another field as a dog owner, and Cal who I have already said was an opportunist party member and residing in a more robust residence off in the woods.

Stewart took his leave and those remaining went about various local excursions a good number of us agreeing to meet up in the nearby picturesque seaside town late afternoon for a fish & chip dinner.

This came to pass and on returning to Kelling Heath shortly before nightfall it look likely that we were in for another fine night, despite the forecast for afternoon cloud and rain. Observing began much the same as it had the previous night, except that a few of us had stopped at the bar for a ‘swift’ beer, it was literally just the one and out again in 15 minutes, but by the time we had gotten back to the green field ultra keen big Andrew Robertson was at the eyepiece along with Rodders & Jason, I turned the lights down to ‘side’ only but when I noted bodies up step ladders at eyepieces I turned them off completely rendering me ‘blind’ and nearly colliding firstly with Adrian’s 18” scope and then his landrover. Despite my best efforts at light etiquette I was to receive a few words on the matter from Andrew later!

Ok we all settled down to some observing, cloud built from the west and dissipated but by 21.00 raining began to fall gently at first turning into a deluge, that was it, game over for the night and for those leaving on Sunday morning which was most of us, game over for the star party. This turn of events could not detract from a fantastic gathering, personally I had enjoyed the company, stunning views made new friends and spent what is commonly called quality time with my son Aubrey (Tudor couldn’t attend as he was playing football in a cup tie)

I understand that another such gathering is planned for March new moon 2013, simply can’t wait, until then the caravan is wrapped up for the winter and I shall be working from the warm office in my observatory.



Comet on the boil!

Blog Wednesday October 10th 2012


My closest observing pals are Andrew Robertson, Norfolk England, and Frank MaCabe, Illinois & Arizona USA. Both had on Monday night coincidentally found out about comet 168P-Hergenrother which had brightened unexpectedly as it passed through the square of Pegasus, both sketched it on that night and shared the results with me, Andrew true to form was delighted he had beaten me to it. Tuesday night didn’t give me a clear sky, and I had waited up until 12 in the hope of it clearing, yet Andrew 60 miles to the east managed a follow up observation, and made sure he let me know, how frustrating!  But last night I got a chance and I took it.

Now I don’t often discuss my health problems here but this comet and a certain very painful and rather large boil on my backside will remain synonymous in my memory!  Last night pain reached a peak with my unwanted posterior buddy, the thing half the size of a medium apple was agony, throbbing like a big base drum and hotter than a coal shovel on the flying scots man! the antibiotics had yet to take effect, I didn’t know what to do with myself and sitting around wasn’t much fun!!

I took some pain killers opened the observatory and got to work trying to locate a small comet with a small 1/2″ccd video chip and a crude finder chart.

At mag 10.5 the comet wasn’t a standout object in my 6” refractor. I roughly matched where the chart indicated the comet would be then tried panning around visually with the 6” at 71x but no luck. I went back into the office got onto the internet and found the ephemeris, I then matched that by moving the scopes position on the hand controller RA & Dec readout, back outside into the obsy and looked through the 6”, again nothing obvious, so I took the camera out of the 20” focuser and put in an eyepiece, There it was on the edge of the field, plain as day! I centred it, put back in the camera, got back in the office and cranked up the settings, it looked lovely on the monitor, result!

I made my sketch, which for once I’m actually quite pleased with, I think I have caught the internal detail of the comet head and tail well 🙂 I packed up for bed around 00.30 the hunt for 168P-Hergenrother had certainly taken my mind off of ‘The Boil’

Comet 168P-Hergenrother flying through Pegasus


And so to bed, Dale

2 Hicksons and an embarrassment!

Blog for Saturday October 6th 2012


A clear evening sky with the moon not rising until around 11pm local time saw me out in the observatory with Hickson’s on my mind!

My targets were to be 97 & 98 which are found in Pisces just below the bottom right hand corner of the great square of Pegasus. I engaged in my usual process of ‘star hopping’ the scope from rest position to my target. The smaller the hops, with ‘re-syncing’ at each stop the better my chance of hitting small and faint objects.

For Hickson 97 my literature had IC 5367 listed so I had a ‘goto’ catalogue input once I got close enough. So it wasn’t too long before I had this quartet on the monitor and I was twiddling settings to try and get the best view. It was during this time that I was struck by 2 things about this group, firstly on the upper left NNE, was a lovely little edge on, sharp a svelte, quite delightful, secondly one star to the right appeared to be out of focus, or was it a collimation flare? On closer inspection it turned out to be a faint group member galaxy IC 5351 which has a bright star (relative to its own brightness) on its southern tip. Now this star wasn’t shown in my planetarium software, I got a little excited thinking that it could be the ‘unimaginable’ a SN! Rather hastily I pinged off an email to Guy Hurst (BAA Supernova Patrol Coordinator) Martin Mobberly (regular BAA SN verifier & prolific imager) & Tom Bowles world record holder for Super Nova discoveries. If I had hung fire for a few moments and checked some on line images I would have discovered this star was a regular feature! “Stupid boy Pike”. Too late! Martin replied very quickly that he had just closed down, Guy & Tom both relied early the next day, both saying they had aborted observations due to fog & mist. I had by this time of course followed up my original “I think I have” email with a grovelling “I know that I have not” one!

Hickson 97

Moving along after my embarrassment, onto Hickson 98 listed as having NGC 7783 as a searchable member my software database told me it wasn’t listed, so I had to slew the scope manually onto the coordinates given and then search for a suspect galaxy group when I got very close, this didn’t turn out to be too difficult and I soon had the 4 members forming a chaining with a few stars on the monitor screen. A star bright enough to display diffraction spikes headed the chain to the north, all very neat and attractive. It turned out that all 4 members are NGC 7783 A-D so that is likely why I could find it; I probably needed to enter the full nomenclature to find it in the database.

Hickson 98

I ‘zoomed out’ in the software view and noted a couple of other galaxies very local, all be they just across the border into Pegasus, firstly I went to NGC 14 which turned out to be small and shaped rather like a guitar pick/pluck, nothing much else to report, apart from a subtle amount of internal shading observed, brighter central region and what was probably a faint star close to the SW edge, after sketching I moved on.

NGC 14 "The plectrum"

The next a final stop off certainly had drama, it was a fantastic edge on, NGC 7814 popularly and aptly know as the “little Sombrero” it is a truly handsome classical edge on galaxy, resplendent with well defined dust lane and flying saucer outline. Getting such a large, and it was large completely spanning the filled of view and therefore completely spanning the monitor screen down on paper accurately is time consuming and I rarely render such splendour to my satisfaction, this instance proved to be no exception.

That was it, the Moon was up in the east and a hazy sky only recording 20.30 at best on my Sky Quality Meter was brightening fast. Still I was pleased with 2 more Hickson’s taking the running total to 70! NGC 14 was new to me and revisiting stunning NGC 7814 a lovely bonus, and so to bed 01.30.


An afternoon at the Proms

It is a long time since I have posted on any solar observations and I’m somewhat ashamed and embarrassed at this fact! Anyhow I now have a little scribble, made a week or so back using my friend Es Reid of Cambridge’s excellent 4.5” F15 Spectrahelioscope.
 My eye was caught by a large, extensive and complex prominence, I borrowed a sheet of A4 paper and a pencil from Es and quickly made a sketch. This was a flying visit as I had much to do on that day so I departed shortly after. Not long after leaving I realised I had left the sketch behind, so I called Es that evening and asked him to pop it in the post, sketches become very personal and important, I think other sketchers will appreciate that, there is something of your very essence in each one, no matter how simple and brief they be.
After a couple of days there was no sign of the sketch, so I called Es who assured me it was posted alright, another couple of days passed and I returned home after work to find the dreaded postal card, could not deliver! In this case postage was underpaid by 9p! I bet the card left and the time taken up by the postie well exceeded 9p in monetary terms, let alone the huge inconvenience factor to all!
I went online the next day to pay the 9p plus handling charge of £1 but after 15 mins failed to succeed in making the payment, so the following morning, today I drove the 13 miles to the sorting office and retrieved the envelope containing the sketch, this involved a 10min wait even at 07.30am as there were a number of others waiting in the same situation as me.
So that is the story behind this sketch 🙂 Perhaps it might make it a little more special, but I suspect you might be thinking, why did he bother?
Wishing you sunny skies Dale

Complex solar prominence sketched on Saturday 29th September

Return top