Archive for February, 2013


 Blog Tuesday 19th Feb 2013

My good friend Frank McCabe is so dedicated when it comes to lunar observational sketching, he shares his work with me on every occasion and I’m delighted to post it on my web site in his own folder. I have seen Frank’s already very skilled and impressive work improve considerably, especially over the past few years, this I personally attribute to the practice and effort that he put in for his part in the Springer Lunar sketching book.

Every time Frank sends me a fresh sketch, it makes me want to get out there and sketch the Moon, but I’m not doing so, and then I feel guilty. Tonight I pushed myself to get out there a do a lunar sketch, I could have done so on the previous night but I choose to practice music instead!

OK so I’m out there in the observatory, I open up, sky is hazy but the moon close to the zenith is bright, burning through the haze and offering much to the telescopic observer. I take the Watec 120N+ video camera off of the 20″ and put it onto the 6″ refractor, this later Watec camera has a setting where you can view bright objects through its very fast exposure time, the old camera didn’t allow this. I soon had the rugged Lunar surface on the monitor. I sat in the office, and flew my virtual space craft back and forth other the entire visual surface looking for a feature that cried out to be drawn. I picked out Clavius, I’m often drawn to its complex and pleasing topography. Seeing looked pretty good with the real time image being steady for 50% of the time. I wanted more magnification, so I went back into the observatory and added a x2 barlow lens, it took a while to find focus again, but once I had I was pleased with the result and sharp image.

I began my sketch, intending to make a large drawing, but instantly I had completed the outline lightly with a white watercolour pencil, I was annoyed that I had made it too small! I carried on, I didn’t want a failure in my sketch pad so pushed on, using, hard Conte pastels, in white & black, pastel & watercolour pencils in white black and various shades in-between I struggled with the drawing. I picked out bright peaks and ridges with white acrylic paint and a small brush. Reaching a point rather of resignation than satisfaction, I decided that I had finished and scanned my drawing in which you can see here.

Clavius on the terminator

I shared it with Frank a day or so later, expressing my disappointment, and pleading consolatory noises as is his nature. saying he recognised it easily and that the illumination I had chosen was challenging on Clavius.

The end ;¬) Dale

Wot no Asteroid?

Blog Friday 15th -Sunday 17th Feb 2013

The news had been full of the fact that an asteroid, DA14 was going to pass between the moon and the Earth at the distance of some 28,000Km, widely stated as being the size of “an Olympic swimming  pool “ it had raised everybody’s interest.

The ephemeris for the asteroid were widely available, basically it was to run up from the tail of Leo into Ursa Major passing over the handle of the dipper late on Friday evening. The UK was well placed to witness this event and it was my personal intention to video it passing through the star field of Ursa M using the Watec camera and 6” refractor. Thursday night had been partly clear so I took the opportunity to check to see if I could get my scopes onto the action, it was to take place fairly low in the NW but I should catch it OK.

Friday turned out to be a fine, bright spring like day with plenty of blue sky showing, it was looking promising and the media hype via radio, tv and web continued to grow.

That evening Aubrey was keen to join me in viewing this phenomenon, as he too had been caught in the hype. Well by 19.30 the sky was pretty much totally clouded out, can you believe that? The Watec camera when ‘turned up’ is very sensitive and can easily detect bright stars through moderate cloud. Using the goto I had it aligned on ? CVn which for a while occasionally showed up on the monitor, then it stopped showing the cloud claimed the sky completely. I left the camera running for the next 2 hrs until gone 22.00 and it didn’t clear once. For me the event had passed hidden, never to be repeated L

I went into the observatory and pulled the roof closed, the first leaf, closed OK but the 2nd one jammed! I got the observing steps and a torch, but couldn’t see what was stopping it close, despite repeated attempts I failed to close it. With no rain forecast, I sheeted up the exposed end of the telescope and resolved to get to work on it first thing in the morning with one of the boys helping me. I went indoors very fed up!

Aubrey and I got back onto it first thing on Saturday morning, it aapeared to have dropped off the end of its track, so with a shovel I eased it up and we pushed, both tracks collapsed at that point, the blocks that the steel angle iron is raised up on just toppling over! The roof section is very heavy, constructed of a timber frame, covered in thick narine ply, 2 layers of high grade roof felt and braced with heavy steel to stop flexure I needed help. I sent builder and astronomer pal Mike Atkin’s a text and thankfully he soon let me know he could get over at midday.

To cut a long story short we fixed the issue, got the roof closed and then made good the toppled tracks, the screws had completely rusted and let the tracks tip over under the weight when I tried to shove the roof back on.

I said to Mike “we can’t leave it like this! I can’t open it which will mean the next 10 nights will be clear!” ”If that’s the case” he replied “then we should, I could do with a few clear nights” ha ha very funny!

As it happened that night was clear and I was so very grateful to Mike for his invaluable assistance in putting things right.

Tracey and I had a 40th Birthday party to attend, when we got home it was around 22.30, so I made my way out into the observatory and got going, with no ‘work’ in the morning, a late one wasn’t a problem.

I wanted to go for something in Leo for starters as it was well placed and I was aligned and ‘sync’d’ on Denebola.

I reached up for Mark Bratton’s excellent ‘The Herschel objects’ for inspiration and soon settled upon Abell  galaxy cluster 1367 aka the Leo Cluster this is an amazing galaxy cluster about 330 million light-years distant, along with the Coma Cluster, it is one of the two major clusters comprising the Coma Supercluster. In my sketch made with the 505mm mirror and Watec 120N+ video camera I have captured just 10 of the potential 100! The bright member in the centre of my sketch is NGC3842, the 2 below are PGC36468 & NGC3837 respectively, moving above, north in turn are NGC3841, 3845, 3844 lastly in that direction PGC36457, the one galaxy to the left (E) is NGC3851 to the right we first have tiny PGC169975 and last of all for me the best a stunning thin galaxy UGC6697 known fantastically as “The Trout and Bait” North is up west is right.

Abell 1367


Just out of my field of view were NGC’s 3861 A&B which likely actually lay in the same group just the east, this pair where to be my next target they turned out to be a lovely pair of seemingly interacting galaxies NGC3861 A is a mag 12.7 spiral B appears to be causing all sorts of gravitational distortion as they get together. I caught a few other PGC galaxies in the same field with the big mirror and Watec camera, to the NE (upper left) is PGC36622 to the NW is PGC36544, There are another couple of fuzzies in the sketch to the south that I didn’t identify.

The NGC 3681 duo

Now one object I did have firm intentions upon, or rather objects was a group of galaxies that Andrew Robertson had happened upon and made a sketch of earlier in the week, he called it the “propeller cluster” and I wanted to make a follow up observation so that is where I headed next off into deepest Virgo as expected it turned out to be a delightful group which forms the southern end of the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies. Brightest member NGC 4273 in the centre of my sketch shows considerable spiral structure, to the left is NGC 4277, upper left is edge on NGC 4281 lower right is edge on NGC 4268 top centre is PGC 39760 and finally top right IC 3153.

NGC 4273 Group

 After completing my sketch I checked the Sky quality with my meter and got a reading of 20.70, there were lots more I could have gone for, an endless  amount in fact, that is one of the attractions of this amazing interest, but I was dog tired and I had a long drive to Hampshire and back the next day. I closed up and off to bed at 02.30, satisfied.



13th Feb 2013

The forecast was for a clear sky over most of East Anglia by the early hours, I set the alarm for 5am to give me 1hr for Coma B deep sky obs and a sketch. Alarm got me up before 5 but the sky was hazy/clear with just stars to circa 2nd mag showing. By 6am no stars showing at all! No sketch and lost sleep.


Dale, Dissapointed of Chipping!

A date with an old flame, oh and a horses head, but not in the bed!

Blog for Saturday 2nd February 2013


Not a bad looking sky, so I got an early start, with the 6” refractor and Watec combo working well I had no plans to change format at this stage. I sent the scope to Rigel in Orion and sync’d it there with the lap top.

Not quite sure what inspired me, but I then went to Alnitak, the left hand belt star and nudged it to the west of my field of view and there it all its glory was the amazing and spectacular Flame nebula catalogued as NGC 2024 and Sh2-277, it is an emission nebula lying about 900 to 1,500 light-years away.  Oh how magnificent it looked on the monitor, far surpassing any eyepiece visual that I could comprehend. Again another inspiration came to me, from where? From where ever inspirations come to me from! This was to create a sketch using pastels and acrylic paint on black art paper rather than pencil on white paper, I guess I wanted to capture the very dramatic nature of the scene with a little more va va voom than my normal, can I say “sterile” renditions?

The manificent Flame nebula

Once completed I went indoors and encouraged my youngest son Aubrey to come out and take a look at the monitor view, he couldn’t but help be impressed although he wasn’t familiar with the Flame nebula but he was aware of the ‘Horse head’ nebula (B33) which he knew was close by, so we took a look, I needed to adjust the camera settings as the HH is much fainter, but there it was, its unique and unmistakeable shape clear in its misty pastures. I took down a book from the shelves and showed him a glossy photograph, which rather highlighted the objects importance and our privilege of witnessing it live in our own observatory! It doesn’t get much better as an amateur astronomer to share such moments with your kin 🙂


I didn’t sketch, I could have I suppose, but the HH was rather dim when compared with a sketch that I had done previously using the half meter mirror. Instead I pushed onto the great Orion nebula, just intending to take a look but ended up once again trying to be artistic in a rendering of M43 the little brother to the much better known M42, to me this nebula is a ‘morsel’ about to be swallowed by the Angel fish that is M42 the great Orion Nebula. Putting dazzling M42 just out of the field to avoid its distraction one could view this nebula as a standalone and appreciate its form and the intricate darker regions and lanes that bisect it. When I showed my pastel sketch to friend Es Reid the next day, flatteringly he referred to it as like an ‘impressionist’s painting’ that will do for me 🙂

M43 , that extra bit near M42

Not yet finished and rather excited by the observations already enjoyed I moved up and across into Lynx in search of deep sky doyen, Wolfgang Steinicke’s Webb Society ‘object of the season’ NGC 2419 aka Caldwell 25 and the ‘Intergalactic Wanderer’, this is a mag 10.4 globular cluster residing in the often ignored constellation of Lynx. The IGW was discovered by William Herschel on December 31, 1788. This globular cluster is one of the most remote globulars of our Milky Way galaxy, both from our solar system and from the galactic centre, at nearly 300,000 light years from each. At low magnification it appears as one of 3 stars of equal brightness in a straight line, spaced rather like the belt stars of Orion, on closer inspection with increased magnification the eastern most star, shatters into a multitude of stellar gems. I have observed this globular before yet I can’t find a sketch, so perhaps it was a visual only observation with one of my previous 14” reflectors? On this occasion, just using the 6” and Watec I was able to get a degree of resolution and the wide field captures set the scene nicely I think.

The Intergalactic Wanderer


Still not satisfied and very much enjoying the observational run and fruits of the session I noted on my planetarium software that there was an edge on galaxy sitting just outside of my current FOV, well I might as well take a look as I’m in the locality! A rather wonderful edge on barred spiral of mag 12.6 and 4.0′ in Lynx that immediately appeared that it would require the half meter and not just the 6” for full appreciation so I moved the camera from one telescope to the other, pleased at the increase in detail on show I made my sketch. I was rather excited to see the brighter regions coming out both left and right of the central bulge, most notably on the left where mottling and waviness could be detected.


A bit on edge NGC2424 in Lynx

This rather more challenging galaxy was a very pleasing conclusion to a very exciting evening of observation, hope you the reader like the sketches?

Carpe Noctrum, Dale

Out with a Dol on Friday night

Blog Friday 1st of February 2013


With breaks in the cloud and a comment made by Stewart Moore in my head about my last sketch of an open cluster Dolidze 17 only being the second he had received of that group I could see an opportunity to observe and capture more ‘Dol’s’

I took the Watec camera off of the 80mm finder and put it onto the 153mm F9 refractor to go that bit deeper but also give a decent sized field of view (fov).

Canis Minor is a small constellation, it is also rather sparse when it comes to deep sky objects, however it does have a rather nice open cluster catalogued as Doldize 26. After getting this centred on the monitor it became apparent that it was wider than my fov so I added a focal reducer to the optical train, re-focussed and all fitted rather nicely. I took my time drawing in the stars, enjoying the mental focus and concentration that is required to achieve this accuracy.

A rather nice grouping I think, dominated by one star appearing exceptionally bright, with a couple of w like rows beneath of less bright but still quite eye catching stars. I have since read that estimates of star numbers range from 30-40.

With cloud blowing in ever thicker formations from the NW this was to be my only sketch of the night, and so to bed.

A Tale of Two Visitors

Blog 29th & 30th of January 2013


Two visitors to the observatory on two successive evenings, on Tuesday fellow astronomer David Davis came to give me some support with my Starlight express Lodestar camera.  I had purchased the guide camera last autumn at Kelling Heath Star Party but had failed to get it running. David has recently retired from a career in science based engineering and has embraced astronomy to fill the void, more succinctly deep sky imaging, which he has approached with steady determination and his perfectionist eye; he results thus far are very impressive!

David's latest deep sky picture

David is a very warm and kindly gentleman, an absolute pleasure to spend time with. He identified the issue with the camera; it turned about that the USB extension lead I had purchased placed too much resistance upon the camera signal so by the time it reached the lap top in the office it was too weak to register. I have since obtained another cable with less impedance. Whilst ‘at it’ David also up-grade and generally sorted out my observatory lap top in a number of ways. Our talking took in such diverse topics as deep sky observing lists and music to enjoy at the telescope? As far as the music goes we had both coincidentally arrived at ‘ambient’ music for its surreal space like quality, David coming up with Brian Eno and I with Klaus Schultz, an exchange of CD’s is on the cards.

Spending time with David was very inspirational; I hope that he felt the same about visiting Chippingadale too?

The next night a good friend of mine with the most enchanting name of Malachy deLacy came to visit, the purpose of Malachy calling was not primarily for astronomy but to take a look at our Ferrets and offer advice on behavioural matters.  Malachy and I share musical interest, but that of a very different kind to the ambient trance like electronic sounds that David and I had discussed the previous evening. Malachy is the singer of traditional Irish tunes and other ballads of working folk and is very keen on all aspects of traditional music.

Anyhow Malachy had expressed an interest in astronomy and for looking at the observatories, being something of a ‘moocher’ and in the habit of walking with gaze hounds he was no stranger to dark nights and starry skies 😉

His luck was in, there was a partially clear sky with some scudding cloud although the wind was strong and would have prevented any serious observation it was good enough for a look at Jupiter. The 6” refractor is a fine telescope for showing the planets in a fine light and when fitted with the Denk binoviewer rarely if ever disappoints, for Malachy tonight it gave crisp views with ample detail in equatorial bands and rendered the Galilean satellites as tiny sharp discs, Malachy was amazed, he had never looked through an astronomical telescope before! Shame Saturn wasn’t up, that would have given him an even bigger ‘wow’ as a follow on. Our guest was short on time so I decided upon a quick look at the magnificent Orion nebula through the half meter reflector, a 22mm Nagler eyepiece and that large mirror gave an impressive view, despite the nebulas low elevation at the early hour. The rather lurid green visible to the eye was striking, giving the nebula a ethereal quality, the 4 primary stars of the embedded theta (?) Orionis , ‘the trapezium’ caught the eye and Malachy referred to them as “gems”. My youngest boy Aubrey shared the experience too, not something he does so often, but as we had a visitor he wanted to be in the midst of things as he normally is!

A crude 1 video frame grab through a small 80mm refractor to illustrate the Orion nebula

 As our guest departed we quickly showed him the great Calver telescope in the other observatory, this massive Victorian telescope was once owned by Will Hay, whom pleasingly I didn’t have to explain who Mr Hay was on this occasion.

Will Hay's Calver telescope, known as the 'HST'

I think a great experience for all involved, a little spontaneous magic, you can’t beat it.

Carpe Noctrum

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