Archive for April, 2013

Craggy Lunar terain and slender galaxies

Blog for Friday 19th and Saturday 20th April 2013


With the Moon now approaching 70% it is dominating the evening sky making Deep Sky observing less practical, not that the Watec video camera won’t deliver under strong moon glow, but some wash out is inevitable so it is quite pointless making sketches that don’t deliver the most detail possible, otherwise this will only raise the question “what would it have looked like under a dark sky” prompting a subsequent return to check.

So I started Friday with a sketch of the Lunar region centering on Arzachel, because it caught my eye as I ‘cruised’ the lunar surface with my spaceship view J Arzachel at 96Km diameter and 3.6Km depth is a relatively young lunar impact crater located in the highlands in the south-central part of the visible Moon, close to the zero meridian (the visible center of the Moon). It lies to the south of the crater Alphonsus, and together with Ptolemaeus further north the three form a prominent line of craters to the east of Mare Nubium. The smaller Alpetragius lies to the northwest, and Thebit is to the southwest along the edge of the mare. Sketch made 20.30ut working at low power with the Watec 120N+ video camera using the 505mm mirror, Conte hard pastels on black art paper were used to create this sketch.

Arzachel and environs

So with some useful result for the evening secured and a sketch in the bag, these days having something tangible after every observing session is of paramount importance to me, otherwise I just don’t feel like I have achieved anything, more and more my life appears to me that it should be dedicated to creating things!

Enough of the philosophy, up into Sextan’s and after the ‘Spindle galaxy’ that I had been thwarted from sketching a week or so previously by cloud. A beautiful sight on the monitor, if relatively simple to sketch, at mag 9.9 NGC 3115 is also called the Spindle Galaxy or Caldwell 53, it is a lenticular (S0) galaxy. It was discovered by the great William Herschel on February 22, 1787. Distance is about 32 million light-years away from us it is several times bigger than our Milky Way. It is a lenticular (S0) galaxy because it contains a disc and a central bulge of stars, but without a detectable spiral pattern (the nucleus of which appeared somewhat square to me). Seen almost exactly edge-on it has occasionally mis-classified as elliptical. According to the internet there is some speculation that NGC 3115, in its youth, was a quasar.

The 'Spindle Galaxy'


With this concluded I looked up in the Spring/Summer volume of NSOG for another local target, the Sextan’s section isn’t extensive being a small constellation, I noted another edge on and settled for that. My target NGC 3044 also in Sextan’s turned out to an attractive mag 12 sbc edge on spiral. There is a slight fanning of the western region shown in my sketch, no nucleus noted.

Slender NGC 3044 in Sextans

That was it for the night it was now early hours and I had some gardening work for a customer to get on with first thing in the morning, so to bed.


Saturday 20th, another sunny day and a totally cloud free sky, the moon high to the SE very eye catching, to me anyhow from early afternoon was to be visited again by my virtual spaceship of Mirror, Watec video cam and monitor. This evening it was to be an intriguing complex of mountains to which I was going to lavish my attention and my pastels and pencils!

Montes Riphaeus are an irregular range of lunar mountains that lie along the west-northwestern edge of Mare Cognitum, on the southeastern edge of Oceanus Procellarum. The range trends generally from north-northeast to south-southwest. It includes a number of slender ridge lines with valleys flooded by intruding flows of lava.

This range is located at selenographic coordinates 7.7° S, 28.1° W. It has a diameter of 189 km, although it is typically only about 30–50 km wide. The nearest feature of note is Euclides, a small but prominent crater to the west. About 100 km to the north is the crater Lansberg.



Montes Riphaeus

Well I took my time with this sketch using white acrylic paint to highlight the numerous peaks and high ridges. Tired after my late night on Friday, early start and busy day, I was ready for bed


Moon & scudding clouds

Blog Wednesday 17th April 2013

I enjoyed  making my inpromptu sketch of the cres moon behind cloud so much on Tuesday night, I thought I would have another go, this time a little earlier at 8.30pm (local time) so the sky was still semi light and rich in the colours of dusk, wind was high, gusts approaching gale force on occassions, making for a dramatic and very fast changing scene. I tried to capture the magic again, spending 3 times longer than the previous night and working at a larger A4 scale with coloured hard Conte pastels, so what you think?

The 7 day moon through scudding cloud at dusk



Trying to capture a little of the magic

There is something very mysterious and magical about the moon showing through a cloudy night time sky, especially when the clouds are fast moving wind driven ones. I have long wanted to try and capture that magic, I need to keep trying I know, but at least I have made a start here ;¬)

Naked eye sketch made on April 16th 2013 of a 6 day old waxing crescent moon


Kellers, but not quite as we had planned!

Blog Kelling Heath Spring Star Party Thursday April 11th to Sunday April 14th


I’m not going to write War & Peace on this, just summarise. It was a Star Party without stars, totally without any night observing for the 3 nights we were there in North Norfolk in our aging Caravan, we being Es Reid, Aubrey my youngest son and me. We did get some great if fleeting Solar views through friends Sally Russell & John Adair’s solar set ups.

The weather threw wind, rain, fog, bitter temperatures and warm sunshine at us over the 4 days of our stay, but that aside along with the lack of observing we had a fantastic time, it was sociable and very relaxing. Yes there was plenty of astro banter, and kit to look at across the site, trade selling on the Saturday but there were few long faces at the event, would I have still gone if I had known there would be no observing? You bet 🙂

Here is a link to a new file on the web site with a few pictures that were taken; I hope they paint a reasonable picture.


Roll on the first week in October when we head back there again!

Clear skies, Dale

Not a bad night at all



Blog  Saturday 6th April 2013

Within my circle of Astronomer friends ran something of a buzz as the anticipation of a fine clear weekend sky became apparent! With Andrew Robertson, Rod Greening and Mark Turner at Hinton in Suffolk for the Breckland AS star party, David Reynolds using his 24” from his dark home site and Es Reid former optical boffin ever increasingly getting his hands dirty with late night observing, we were all poised to grab the opportunity with both… er?…eyes, I guess.

My personal priority was to sketch the SuperNova in M65 (SN 2013am). This I caught quickly as dark fell, the large galaxy just fitted into my circa 12’ x 12’ fov, the SN was quickly evident, I confirmed this by checking against the photograph in Stoyan’s Messier atlas. The Watec camera pulled out very impressive dust lane detail, so all in a very pleasing observation. Magnitudes for the SN are posted from high 13’s to 15.

Messier 65 and new face SN 2013am

I next went for another Hickson compact group that was within my  grasp, high overhead in Ursa Major, the north side of the plough handle or shaft, my telescope performed impeccably in getting there, I was expecting a graunching and grinding at any moment, but thankfully none came J HCG 66 turned out to be 4 tiny members, their outlines differing enough to make each member appear different from its neighbour, they were arranged in a short string, member (b) PGC 48231starts the chain  to the east, dipping towards the south as you move West running b, a, c, d in that order, with a galaxy I have not identified off to the SW, to the upper right NW in the fov you can see PGC 48198 which actually appears, larger and stands out a little better than any of the Hickson group members, yet it is only listed as mag 16.2.

Hickson Compact Group 66

I’m now looking around for something close to draw, I note on my software that M102 is pretty close, I take a look in my Messier sketch file and there is a gap where 102 should be, right I will fix that I thought!. Now if anyone asked me to give a description of M102 I would have had to guess if it was a galaxy or an open cluster off the top of my head! It turned out to be something of a galaxy gem! Looking like a sherbert flying saucer and sporting a subtle but distinct dust lane it should be better know, by me and by others I might suggest.

Messier 102, quite a looker

Well past midnight now, I scratched my head for my next object, Andrew Robertson often observer ‘The Hockey Stick’ NGC’s 4656 & 4657 an interesting and gravitationally distorted pair of galaxies close to the larger ‘Whale’ galaxy NGC 4631 in Canes Venatici, it had certainly been a little while since I had caught up with this very interesting object, and longer since I had sketched it, I certainly hadn’t sketched it using the 20”

2 NGC galaxies make up the unusual 'The Hockey Stick'

Well that was me completed for the night, it had be exciting and ground breaking for me insofar that I had sketched a newish SN and added another precious Hickson to my files. And so to bed.


Missed the close pass!

Blog Friday 5th April 2013


Thursday the 4th had been the closest conjunction for Comet PanSTARRS and M31 and it was cloudy, so an observation tonight I guess, was next best and some consolation, at least they were still in the same 10×70 5 deg binocular field of view, and in a different configuration from my earlier April sketches to give a little more interest.

Comet PanSTARRS and M31 side by side

They draw closer still

Blog for Wed 3rd April 2013

Again a clear evening allowed me the delight of checking on how Comet PanSTARRS was looking as it approached M31 in Andromeda. As previously the FOV in my sketch below is 5 deg and was made using my Takahashi 10×70 astronomer binoculars.

Comet PanSTARRS and M31 under 3 deg apart

Still a fan of a comet

Tuesday April 2nd 2013

Weather almost a re-run of yesterday, lovely clear sky as the sun set. I had already decided just binoculars tonight to record the closing apparent gap between PanSTARRS and M31 so the binoculars tonight set up on a tripod and ready. Picked up the comet at 20.30 but didn’t sketch untill 21.00 when it was dark and contrast was better. The distance didn’t appear to have closed much on the previous evening, I thought it would be travelling faster! Maybe I put then too close in my sketch on Monday night?

Here is tonights sketch:

Comet PanSTARRS pulls closer to M31 as seen through 10x70 binoculars with a 5 deg FOV


A fan of a comet

Blog: Easter Monday, April 1st 2013


At last, and nearly a month after I had hoped, I got a sighting of Comet C/2011 L4 PanSTARRS. I bagged it from my garden after first trying to observe from the roof of my observatory, only to find the view blocked by a large conifer in the neighbour’s garden, a once loved small Christmas tree, planted after the passing of the holiday and then let run to ugly and frustrating gianthood!

So plan B was put into place, which was to observe from just outside of the obsy office door, firstly I located the comet easily in my 10×70 Takahasi binoculars, I then took it up a level by observing with my trusty 60mm 20-60x Optolyth birding scope, framing the comet nicely with a surrounding star field at around 35x in the zoom eyepiece. Why you may be thinking is he not using the large and powerful telescopes in his observatories? The answer is that the comet is low in the NW, too low for anything but my portable instruments.

I was delighted at just how bright and impressive the comet actually was, I felt it to be a little brighter than M31 the Andromeda galaxy which I could compare it with easily as they were both framed in the 5 deg fov of the binoculars, the sky was still relatively bright the sun having not set just a little further to the east relatively recently. M31 is readily visible naked when higher up and away from the setting sun, on under a darker Chipping Sky this comet would be naked eye for me. A lovely spectacle nonetheless, and especially fine when paired and contrasted with the great Andromeda nebula M31.

PanStarrs and M31 though 10x70 binoculars


Here is my sketch of the comet on its own as seen through the spotter scope.

Comet PanSTARRS through just a 60mm scope at 35x

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