Archive for March, 2013

Piccolomini and the telephone dial

Good morning  and a very Happy Easter to you. Attached is my sketch of the magnificent Piccolomini and closely associated ‘telephone dial’ of craters.
I had risen early in the hope that I could catch Comet PanSTARRS rising in the NE, as I hadn’t had any luck getting it setting in the evenings to the NW. This wasn’t a success, with the rising sun washing out that part of the sky just as quickly as the comet was rising in And.
So quickly I turned my attention to the Moon, seeing was poor, the Moon low to the SSE and a radiating frost made conditions difficult. Due to the way the telescopesw were configured I used the full 505mm F3.7 mirror to live video feed the moon onto a black and white monitor, not exactly the best set up to beat poor seeing!
After deciding upon Piccolomini, I added a x2 barlow to increase the magnification and got on with my drawing. I’m constantly drawn to the circle of craters that so much reminds me of an old fashioned telelphone dial.

88Km Piccolomini and the 'telephone dial'

2013-3-31 time 04.30 ut
Drawing made on A5 Black 270gsm Pink Pig art paper, using conte, pastels, pastle pencils, water colour pencils and white acrylic paint.

Inspiring Children

Blog Friday 22nd of March 2013


Today was the last day of National Science and Engineering week 2013. It has become customary for me to be invited into Ralph Sadlier Middle School in Puckeridge, Herts to give a talk to all the year 5 pupils which I guess number 70-80 divided into 3 classes.  These children are about 10 years of age.

Naturally my talks focus on astronomy and this year there was a steer on discovery, so I opened with Galilleo and Harriott and then went onto personal discoveries rather that the rare firsts that only a few in society ever have the fortune, luck and insight to achieve. All appeared to go well with lots of questions, this year black holes being the number one interest, the theme of questions does vary from year to year, telescopes and aliens being popular to!

I was kindly presented with a card and box of chocolates at the end of my 1½hr visit, I hope some of the astronomer seeds I sowed will germinate in fertile minds over the years to come. I also hope to be invited back next year.

The very well respected professional German astronomer Wolfgang Steinicke had flatteringly approached me in 2012 asking if he might use some of my galaxy sketches to illustrate a new book he was working on. I of course said yes being delighted that he should consider my work worthy of sitting alongside his world class, or perhaps better put as world leading text! Today saw me collect my complimentary copy sent by the publishers Astro-Praxis. A very attractive paper back, unfortunately for me it is in German. This is the second German book from this publisher that my sketches have been included in, the other being Der Moonhopper by  Lambert Spix. It is a shame that Astro-Praxis doesn’t publish in English too and go for a much wider market; the books appear to be a cut above Springer publications. Unfortunately on this occasion reproduction on sketches used is ‘patchy’ not only of mine but others work too, this is a shame personally, but I’m more disappointed for Wolfgang as it must detract to a certain extent from the overall work. I know how upset my friends were with published image quality of their combined sketches in the recent Springer publication ‘Sketching the Moon’.

Whatever the finished standard of the sketches in Galaxien Eine Einfuhrung fur Hobby-Astronomen, the photographic quality is excellent, as is the print and paper quality, I’m flattered to be included in the book and wish Wolfgang every success with it.

Galaxien by Wolfgang Steinicke

Now when is the cloud ever going to part over Britain???


Late Post

Blog Tuesday 5th March 2013


A rather retrospective blog, but since I have had a chance at a clear sky since, little harm I guess!

I will keep this short and uncomplicated on this particular evening I pick up another new Hickson group to add to my list of observations, which must list 75 now? I really do need to do an accurate tot up!

My observation is timed at 21.15 and the sky quality meter SQM was registering 20.0 so not fantastically dark! However it was dark enough to creep up on HCG 45 up in Ursa Major almost precisely a degree north of galaxy NGC3182. There are 4 members in this group ranging in brightness from mag 15.2 for (a) UGC5564 to mag 17.6 for (c) PGC30143 (d) member PGC 30156 was actually brighter at mag 17.26 and certainly easier to pick up, (c) being an edge on, rather detached from the group to the S. A little further on to the SW in my sketch you should see another faint galaxy, although brighter that (c) at the time of writing it is unknown to me! Can anyone identify and let me know its identifier please?

Hickson 45

A good meeting then back to businesss

Blog Saturday March 2nd 2013


I travelled down to the village of Shurdington Nr Cheltenham in Gloucestershire with Martin Lewis and David Arditti to attend the BAA Deep Sky Section annual meeting. It was a long but worthwhile day, leaving home at 6.30am and arriving back at 9pm.

Below you can see the agenda

09.30    Coffee
10.00 – 10.45    Welcome and Review of the Section year – Stewart Moore
10.45 – 11.30    Barnard, Gordon and the Darkness – Nick Hewitt
11.30 – 12.15    Deep Sky Imaging & Processing Using a Modified DSLR – Paul Curtis
12.15 – 12.45    RR Tau and Nebula Project – Gary Poyner

12.45    Buffet Lunch

14.30 – 15.15    Eye and Pencil – Martin Lewis
15.15 – 16.00    Deep Sky Imaging on the Cheap – Grant Privett (covered by Callum Potter)

16.00    Tea

16.30 – 17.30     Cosmic Telescopes – Dr. Phil Marshall, Department of Physics (Astrophysics), University of Oxford
17.30    Meeting round up – Stewart Moore

Speakers L-R Dr Phil Marshall, Mr Enthusiastic, Martin Lewis, Gary Poyner,Dr Stewart Moore, Dr Paul Curtis, Dr Nick Hewitt, Callum Potter

My favourite part of these meet ups, which I make every effort to attend is the review of the year, results of section projects are presented by the Director, discussed and summarised being illustrated with numerous images, sketches and verbal observations. Personally it is interesting to see what others are doing, how I fit in and to see any of my work displayed for other to see. At this meeting Stewart Moore stood down as director passing over to Callum Potter, Stewart has always been very supportive of my work; I hope that Callum continues to see it in such a favourable light! Time will tell.

My friend and kind driver for the day Martin Lewis gave a very interesting and eloquent talk on visual observing and sketching, this generated plenty of interest and questions, Martin is a very bright chap and meticulous in detail and accuracy having a scientific engineering background.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the last lecture given by a professional astronomer from Oxford University but I was to be pleasantly surprised, it was interesting and readily understandable and well illustrated not to mention being bang up to date.

I have just picked out a few of my personal highlights but to be honest I can recall nothing worthy of any criticism, it was a great day well organised, well attended by 70 plus members with good content and atmosphere.

Meeting attendees on Shurdinton green in spring sunshine

We drove back under a darkening clear sky, three avid astronomers with appetites whetted by exciting deep sky talk and images all day long, we planned our observing for that evening as we travelled along.

As already mentioned I was home at 9pm, eager for astro action the observatory was open and ‘whirring’ at 30minutes past. After discussions with fellow astronomers throughout the day, I was determined to return to the Hickson trail and my sights were firmly set on HCG50 widely acknowledged as the toughest and faintest of the 100 groups on Paul Hicksons list, I have seen it written that the threshold for seeing this visually is a 30” telescope under dark skies. I was by no means certain that I would be able to pull it in with the Watec camera and 20” mirror, to add to the concerns it lay just a few arc minutes from M97 the Owl nebula in Ursa Major , a point in the sky that my unwieldy and rather poorly balanced telescope struggles to reach.

OK I won’t drag this out, I star hoped to the location without issue, stopping off at M97 and enjoyed the view of this large and amazing planetary nebula, vowing to return after I had hopefully done the ‘business’ with HCG50. From the Owl, I sent the scope the tiny distance to the group, I turned up the exposure time to 20secs and upped the gain a little, the monitor was fuzzy and grainy but it only took a second or so for my eye to pick out the tiny ‘circlet’ of smudges, distinct enough for me to count 5 members without trouble. I was delighted, perhaps it may sound ridiculous but I was buzzing from an adrenaline rush, this s a special moment in my Hickson quest, there were no groups my set up could see, if I could physically point it at them that was.

I spent a while adjusting monitor and camera setting until I got the best possible image and then I carefully sketched the ‘galactic fairy ring’, I labelled the members with info that I had available and listed their magnitudes, the brightest being document as mag 18.5 and the faintest as 19.3 the average member magnitudes works out at mag 18.9 incredible, totally incredible, I was delighted!

Hickson 50 the toughest of the 100

As previously decided I returned to M97 and made a sketch, what a contrast after HCG 50 even the tiny galaxy sharing the field, PGC 34279 appeared bright and sizeable after the diminutive Hickson gathering I had been working on. I used just my finger and pastel dust to create the nebula, the finish on the paper gave a grainy effect which was very representative of the nebulas appearance on the monitor.

The odd couple M97, the Owl Nebula and galaxy PGC 34279

Moving on, I went after another Hickson group under the dipper asterism of Ursa Major Major, HCG56 was much brighter than the tough HCG50, interestingly Arp peculiar galaxy NGC 3718 dominated the fov and dwarfed the diminutive Hickson group below it. I decided to put the big Arp out of the fov sketch the Hickson and then return to draw the Arp.

HCG56 turned out to be an attractive group, (A) member PGC3561 mag 16.1 a rather nice edge on orientated N-S is on the east of the group B-E lie in a nice chain running E-W with hints of interaction and spiral arm extension.

Hickson 56

As promised I’m back to Arp 214 a quite amazing looking barred spiral galaxy, elongated N-S it looks to have a twist this fact is accentuated by the wonderful snaking dust lane, I thought to myself this looks like a sea shell, perhaps one that has been partly worn away by the tide making it rather like a spinning top, so I’m calling it the ‘Whelk Shell’ galaxy. I hope you like the drawing?

NGC 3718, Arp 214, the splendid 'Whelk Shell' galaxy


So that concludes this nights adventure, midpoint I took a reading with the Sky Quality Meter which read 20.17 but I know cloud and haze built gradually to the point when all was obscured by 12.30, so that reading would have dropped as my observation list grew.

So not a bad session after such a derth of observing of late with new 2 Hickson’s including the toughest in the book and 2 bright showy objects in addition.

And so to bed, Dale

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