Archive for December, 2012

A very nice Christmas present

Blog Wednesday December 26th (Boxing Day) 2012

December has been a real ‘bummer’ of a month for me in the observatory with AWR drive control issues and problems with power pick up with the main Watec 120N+ video camera. However that all feels to be  a million miles away as I write, after working for a few hours with the older basic Watec camera pre-dawn on Boxing Day.

As I came out of the house just before 5am a 96% moon low in the NW had the sky still pretty well illuminated. Leo was high in the south its bright outline standing out defiantly in the moon glow, ‘Coma’ I thought, I will go for something in Coma Berenices, the maidens hair 🙂

On switching on the drives and Sky Map pro 10, I noted that the cursor wasn’t to be seen on the lap top, indicating that the scope still thought it was pointing into the southern sky. I clicked the mouse on Deneb in Leo and hit GOTO, this sent the mount whirring into life and pleasingly the pulsing cursor soon appeared on the lap top screen rising up from the horizon, once the scope came to a standstill on what it thought was Deneb I manually aligned it using the 80mm finder to centre, the 6” and finally the 20” I then hit Sync in Sky Map and all was aligned. This was unexpectedly easy; this set up of mine appears to have a life of its own! I put the Watec 120N+ video camera into the 20” scopes focuser, the monitor screen flash bright and dark, I twiddled with the power feed into the back of the camera, I changed the BNC feed into the camera too, as I noted that yet another end had come loose….grrrrrr. Eventually I gave up with this camera and loaded in the old 120N camera, this is considerably inferior to the newer model but would be better than nothing. I need to have the 120N+ checked out and the internal wiring on the power plug re-soldered I should think.

With Deneb centred on the monitor a focused, I leafed through my Messier sketch file noting that my only sketch of M99 was made with the 6” refractor some time ago. I put the scope onto Messier 99 and spent a few minutes getting the best image that I could on the monitor, it was grainy and there was obviously dust on the chip but I could work with it and get a sketch, which I duly did, and after completion some 40 or so minutes later I was able to identify a few of the brighter Ha star forming regions using Stoyan’s excellent Messier Atlas.


I returned to my Messier file and looked for M88, there was a gap! How come I had never sketched this well placed bright Messier galaxy before? I sent the telescope the short hop from M99 to M88 and was pretty aghast at the image displayed on the monitor, it was an absolute gem of a spiral galaxy, its plane obviously at an angle to us, and arms very tightly wound, numerous slender dust lanes mixed in with the spiral structure with a wider and more notable dust lane close to the southern edge, a nice double star adorned the SE edge or should that be tip? This really was an absolute corker of a galaxy and a stunning view of it. The overall look was of a tight, powerful fast spinning vortices of water disappearing down a drain hole, amazing. After 15 minutes of trying to capture the spectacle I discarded my first attempt in disgust, the second attempt I had to accept as the best I could do after an hour. I was getting light outside the clock was showing 06.35, time to close the observatory, scan the sketches and write this blog!

The breath taking Messier 88

Happy Christmas 🙂 Dale

Not going too well :(

My AWR drive system which powers and controls the main Beacon Hill mount carrying the 20″ & 6″ refractor has developed an issue and thinks the observatory is situated in the southern hemisphere. I’m just about useless with such matters so I have sort the support of 3 friends individually who also use AWR systems and are much more accomplished with their setting up and adjustments than I. Unfortunately all have failed to eliminate the problem so the telescopes are currently unusable in GOTO mode which is essential for me to locate deep sky objects with the Watec video camera. It has now been in this position for 10 days!

I did last night ( Sunday 16th Dec 2012) get the scope aligned on a divine crescent Moon and enjoyed it visually for only a very short window before the astronomers nemesis, cloud obscured. Better than nothing I suppose, to short to sketch though.

I need to be more proactive in getting the AWR system put right otherwise it will be no sketching and that will put me right out of sorts.

Clear Skies, Dale

M30 and Party time

Blog Saturday December 1st 2012


I had a much anticipated party to attend to night and as dark fell it was clear and rather spectacularly so! By 17.00 the sky was workable so I got the observatory open and started to hop and sync the big scope on bright stars low to the south, again my desire was to nab those 2 Hickson groups down in piscis Austrinis, again it was not to be, I could just make out Fomalhaut if I got up pretty high but it was still too far to the west. I looked around in my planetarium software and noted M30, I looked it up in my Messier sketch folder and found the sketch there was made with the old 14” and was poor at best! So off I went after dropping the southern observatory wall flap star hopping up to Capricornus M30 or NGC 7099 is a nice globular cluster discovered by Charles Messier in 1764, who described it as a circular nebula without a star. In the New General Catalogue, compiled during the 1880s, it was described as a “remarkable globular, bright, large, slightly oval.” This cluster can be easily viewed with a pair of 10×50 binoculars, as forming a patch of hazy light some 4 arc minutes wide that is slightly elongated along the east-west axis With a larger instrument, individual stars can be resolved and the cluster will cover an angle of up to 12 arc minutes across with a compressed core one arc minute wide. M30 being close to my southern horizon it is a tough catch with windows of opportunity when conditions and positions are right being rare. This sketch is better than the earlier one but after completing I realised that I had the ‘video camera gain’ completely turned off, this would have taken many fainter suns away from the live image! So once I have failed to catch the globular as well as I could have!

M30 but not with enough stars!


Anyhow I had a sketch on the clipboard and I was scrubbed up and dressed up (it was a 50’s themed party) ready to leave by 19.00 so happy days.

It was a great party but finished at 12 midnight and were home shortly after. I having been driving so no drinking and buzzing after the party was back out into the observatory again, I could see the Plough rising straight up in the NW and decided that is where I would go after a number of Hickson groups that I knew were there. Being a long way from park the slow star hop and frequent resync’ing took a good while, approaching an hour I would say, or maybe closer to 40mins, I’m not sure. Any how I got close to HCG45 and sent the mount on the last leg via a goto command, I watched the cross with a sinking feeling It was going the wrong way! I jumped up pushed open the bi-fold door into the observatory and switched off the plug switches, just in time the scope was starting to swing through the forks! I switched the power on again and with the hand controller parked the scope and closed up it was 01.30 and I had one object re-sketched, nothing new L

After the very late night on Friday I didn’t have the will or energy to try and sort things out.

 So to bed, Dale

All talk tonight

Blog for Friday 30th November 2012


I have for around 5 years now been a member of the Norwich Astronomical Society (NAS) it isn’t local to me, but it is appropriate to my passion, circle of friends etc.  Andrew Robertson mentioned frequently in these blogs is a fellow member and leading light in the NAS and had invited me to give a talk to the society at the observatory club house at Seething in Norfolk, south of Norwich and at a very rural spot.

NAS Seething observatory site, taken from the club house

Now you will be expecting me to say that I was to talk on deep sky observing, video astronomy or sketching perhaps? No it wasn’t I have another ‘leaf’ in my astronomical folder; I’m interested in the history of observational astronomy, especially of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian era’s.

The talk was to be about the Rev T.H.E.C. Espin, his life and his works, mainly pertaining to his prolific observational astronomy legacy but also touching on his many other varied interests, he was truly a polymath, he was also very eccentric. In summary a very unique and interesting gentleman who lived from 1854 until 1934.

Thomas Espin dressed in period cold weather observing gear with his companion Kit


I left my work place in Hertfordshire a little earlier than usual as it would take at least 2 hrs to drive to Andrew’s were I was to enjoy home cooking by Amanda,  Andrew’s wife before arriving at the observatory site around 7pm. It was a cold evening, damp and frosty, the remote lanes as we approached the observatory were un-gritted and rather slippery. Despite the chilly conditions there was a good turnout of approaching 50 members.

Talking to the NAS members (picture courtesy of Adrian Orr)

I think that with questions I was talking for around 90 minutes, by and large it appeared to go down well with some pleasing feedback. I offered to return in 12 months time with a new talk, probably about Victorian telescope maker George Calver.

It was great to catch up with the many friends that I have at the society, a hot bed of enthusiasm for practical observing and CCD exploration.

I left around 22.30 conditions had deteriorated as the night had progressed, the sky was very hazy but it did look likely that the members remaining at the observatory would enjoy some Jupiter observing on the numerous scopes.

I was glad to get home, by the time I did the clock showed 01.00, it had been a long day.


And so to bed, Dale

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