Archive for January, 2014

A bright light 12 million light years away

Blog Thursday 23rd January 2014

The astronomical grapevine had been buzzing with the news that 12 million years ago a star had exploded and gone ‘Supernova’ in the famous M82 cigar galaxy in Ursa Major. On arriving at our blue dot the photons of light were captured by a telescope at the University College London Observatories, Mill Hill. An astronomy lecturer working with a group of students noticed the bright mag 11.5 star, where a star shouldn’t normally be and raised the alarm, what a fantastic story and well done to them for that 🙂

So what with the buzz in the astro community, the fact that I adore M82 and that I know Mill Hill observatories pretty well my self having visited on three separate occasions, and also driving past it many hundred of times, I had to take a look at the supernova (SN2014J) and make a sketch.

Now Ursa Major is simply a nightmare to point my 20″ telescope at, by the time it gets right around to the north, it is unbalanced, tied in knots of cables and usually unhappy and inaccurate, now you know why the a few UM sketches in my files! Tonight I had to brave these perils, it was steady as she goes, I was out in the observatory driving the scope on the small hand controller around the east and int UM to the north, now I got very close to the plough asterism, known by our American cousins as the ‘Big Dipper’ at which point I decided that I was out of danger and could now ‘goto’ the mount to a bright star, sync on it and star hop the relatively short ‘sky’ distance to M82. I sent the scope to Merak (beta UMa), I hooped back out into the observatory to find the scope going in the opposite direction to the one it needed to go for just a few degrees. I pushed all the buttons and the scope stopped, phew! I thought that we are going to be OK, so I manually pushed the scope onto Merak, lining it up by sighting along the skeleton tube, it took a while but I eventually go the bright star onto the tiny video camera chip and centered on the monitor screen. I then ‘sync’d the star in my planetarium software Sky Map pro 10. It soon became apparent that all was not OK! everything was reversed, the mount didn’t know where it was and I couldn’t get it to go to M82! Not to be thwarted I pushed the scope manually, against the clutches in an ungainly but old school star hoping style closing in on  M82 and its bright visitor. I stopped off at Dubhe the upper of the two pointer stars and got the 80mm finder scope pretty well centred. I pushed it onto where I knew M81 & M82  to be, I took a look in the eyepiece of the small scope and there they be! I got M82 into the middle of the field and moved into the observatory where I gently moved the scope back & forth, up and down until eventually M82 came into view on the monitor. I had the integration time set very short but even so the galaxy was bright and the SN so very obvious. I was delighted and so glad I had persevered 🙂

Because the object was so close to north, and my polar alignment being pretty poor, the image trailed if I tried for too longer an exposure so I was limited to just 5 seconds or so that notwithstanding the view was dramatic and detail aplenty was on view as you can see for yourself in my sketch. A quick thanks at this point to Simon Kidd for adding the pointers for me.

M82 complete with Supernova SN2014J


It’s 1954 in Lepus!

Blog Monday 20th January 2014

I had to push myself last night to grab an observation through a clear sky window last night. Family taxi duties, followed by a music practice session at a friend’s house (thanks Stuart, great session 🙂 saw me return home under a cold clear sky with a frost already forming. I had intended to be in bed early as I had to be up at 5am for work, but! I couldn’t pass by a chance to grab a sketch before the moon rose could I?
I had nothing planned, so I looked through the Arp catalogue for something new in the vicinity of Orion, there were a few Arp’s that I hadn’t got but they lacked any wow factor so I looked to Herschel’s NGC observations, noting that NGC 1954 looked both attractive and a little different, this lay in Lepus beneath the giants feet. I star hoped to this mag 11.8, 4.2’ x 2.0’ spiral, it appeared rather faint on the monitor, I adjusted the monitor controls to maximise the contrast and the remote camera controls, I then went out into the observatory and lowered the southern observing flap, as this was cutting the 500mm aperture down by around 50%. This improved things but it was by no means bright all considerable detail was displayed. I drew in the main field stars and when I came to work on NGC 1954 itself I turned all the lighting off to elevate the contrast still further in an endeavour to pick out all the structure that I could. A smaller companion galaxy NGC 1957 which appears as an extended amorphous fuzz to the upper left in my sketch is a more distant mag 14 spiral.
Once my sketch was completed I was quite pleased after my initial disappointment at the targets lack of ‘star’ quality. Taking my SQM reading of the observation area, low in the south towards London showed as just 19, compared with 20 overhead, however the Moon was now above the horizon to the east.
In all a worthwhile observation, which had taken an hour and resulted in a reasonable sketch of an interesting and new galaxy for me. 

NGC 1954 a fine galaxy in Lepus with plenty going on


Identification sketch for NGC 1954 & 1957

Clear Skies to you, Dale 

First look at Mars

Inspired by Andrew Robertsons Mars observation earlier in the week I got out at just after 05.30 this morning, with a brew of course. A frosty morning, good clear sky for observing the red one which at the moment is tough, tough, tough, like trying to see detail on a tomato seed at 100 paces! Anyhow I made an atempt at a sketch, I don’t have a clue how it stacks up with reality as seeing was doing a merry jig!

I would be interested if someone who can use web gadgets would let me know what Mars was looking like at 06.15 UT this am?

Mars 2014-1-10-06.15ut

I used the 6″ F9 Triplet, Denk binoviewer, Vixen 8-24 zoom ep’s set to 12mm, Baader Neodymium filter, x281
Sketch is a mixture of Watercolours, HB pencil worked with a blending stump on textured watercolour paper.
Have a great weekend all, Dale

The Lynx effect

                                    Blog for Sat 4th Jan 2014

I was lucky to get a few hours out last night before the sky clouded over around 01.30am.

My main focus was on observing Owen Brazell’s January galaxy of the month NGC2683 in Lynx, as added to the web-site by Tim a couple of days back. This galaxy was actually my last observation of the evening but certainly the most exciting visually an absolutely lovely looking galaxy, with a ‘solid’ upper half and a mottled almost lacy lower half, a real corker.

NGC 2683 a stunning spiral in Lynx

My other two observations. both Arp’s (in Eridanus) for my project, the first Arp 187 a single edge on galaxy with some interesting activity occurring in its extended arms which was not visible to my set up.

Arp 187

 Rather more glamorous is Arp 259 which I have subsequently realised is also Hickson 31 which I have observed before, digging out the previous observational sketch I’m pleased to say that I bagged a little more detail this time,  however I was using the later cooled Watec video camera on this occasion which likely accounts for the improvement.

Arp 259

Here is the link to my previous sketch as Hickson 31

I hope you find the sketches interesting and motivational.

Clear skies, Dale

two slithers of silver!

2nd January 2014

I got a quick walk up the hill behind the house this afternoon with 8×32 Nikon binoculars, I scanned for Venus at 4.20 and was surprised to see a very thin crescent moon in the same fov, also even in the binoculars Venus was a sharp and beautiful crescent, I walked home quickly and made a memory painting in watercolours to try and capture a totally exquisite sight 🙂

Crescent moon with a crescent Venus


Mentioned in Dispatches!

Shortly before Christmas having lost my bookmarked link to my own website, I Googled ‘Chippingdale Observatory’ and was delighted to come across some unsolicited kind and positive comments from Brian & Jan Halls of Cokeham Observatory down in Sussex UK. I dropped them a note as a thank you and received this generous reply, I’m so delighted with this I thought I would share it with you 🙂

“Hi Dale,

Thank you for your comments – you may be pleased to know that you are also mentioned in the January 2014 issue of the newsletter of Worthing Astronomers – (we are members) – and which I edit.
You can read it here –

I found your website informative and having the same ethos as myself – hoping to get people to look through their telescopes and draw what they see if they cannot image. There is certain satisfaction about putting pencil to paper and drawing the storms of Jupiter and the crescent Venus.

I am also interested in your observatory page due to the provenance of your telescope. I have followed Will Hay’s astronomical career with interest – someone wrote an interesting article about Hay and observations in a BAA Journal a few years back.

Best wishes and plenty of clear skies in 2014 from both of us.

Jan and Brian”

Back on the Arp Safari

                                                     Blog for December 30th 2013

A couple from last night and I’m back on the ‘Arp Safari’.

Arp 37 is actually better known as M77 in Cetus an object that I have sketched a number of times before, this one was deliberately just for my Arp project, lots of detail seen in this very interesting galaxy, perhaps not as much of the faint extended halo that can be seen in some CCD images a I would have liked. The sky was somewhat ‘milky’ with the SQM reading just 19.05 compared with 20.70 the previous evening, any moisture in the air causes light scatter and brings the London glow to the south, regrettably, closer to home!

Spectacular Arp 37 aka Messier M77

Next we have Arp 123 aka NGC’s 1888 & 1889, a tiny pair of galaxies low in Orion close to the Lepus border, so even lower into the murk than my first observation, that notwithstanding some useful detail was seen and sketched, notably the hooked southern tip, and a faint, ghost like presence on the opposite side of the main galaxy to the minute NGC 1889. Also noted is the way the brighter central region of 1888 starts level with 1889 and extends towards the south but shows no extension northwards, interesting.

Arp 123, a tiny but delightful duo in Orion

I have also attached a rough detail sketch labeling the galaxies FYI.
labelled detail of Arp 123
I hope that some of you find these to be of interest?
I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New with good observing sessions throughout.
Carpe Noctrum, Dale
Return top