Archive for March, 2014

Ring Galaxy

Blog March 4th 2014

Hi All,


A while back my eye was caught by an image I saw in Mark Bratton’s Herschel book of what turned out to be a galaxy (NGC 3081) in Hydra, at first glance I took it to be a planetary nebula, something along the lines of the Saturn nebula but without the ansae.

 Last night having got in from band practice playing my harmonica at  rehearsal and with a lovely clear sky I decided to take a look, lying pretty close to the well loved Ghost of Jupiter planetary, it was well placed for me around 23.00ut.

 It was a cold night a sharp frost had already formed, I hadn’t taken a jacket out so was just in my shirt sleeves, and so I opened up the observatory quickly and retired to the warmth of the office.

 With a short star hop I soon had NGC 3081 on the monitor….hmmmmm its faint, I thought? Which quite a bit of effort I got some more detail on the screen, that effort going in trying to balance the various camera and monitor controls. Happy that this was the best image I could get I sketched, main field stars first, the galaxy, fainter stars to conclude the sketch. I found this to be a rather unusual galaxy, having a distinct bright central nucleus and a definite outer ring, slightly elongated E-W but basically a ring, some discernible haze outside of the right but no evidence of any structure connecting the ring to the nucleus or of any arms projecting out from the ring, therefore back to my original thoughts that it looked like a planetary nebula with a bright core, stellar illuminated with a fainter outer shell of expanding debris.

NGC 3081, a very interesting galaxy!


Sketch completed, I  nipped outside and took a sky meter reading of the low south where I had been observing, SQM of 19.98, way higher than I normally get that low in the south, OK, let’s try the zenith, 21.00! Wow that is the highest I have ever recorded from my location (coincidentally Andrew texted me and said he had a very good reading of 21.65 at his location in Norfolk so it was a good clear dark night all-round) right back into the office I scanned the sketch in messed around on the internet for a while and then decided at well past midnight it was time for bed, well I had been up and active since 5am, so a 19hr day!

It was when I opened the bi-fold door from the office into the observatory that I realised that NGC 3081 was so low that the angle that the scope was pointing was only allowing a 3rd or of the mirror to gather photons! No wonder it appeared rather faint on the monitor, had a dropped the southern wall flap things would have been considerably different! Well it had been a long day 😉


And so to bed, Dale


Aurora everywhere


Blog Thursday 27th of Feb 2014

This turned out to be quite a night with a very impressive aurora display kicking off over large parts of the UK. I was out in the observatory quite early on hoping to pick up on some of the objects that I had not sketched during my previous session, nowadays the feed of information via the internet, not to mention text messages from friends is virtually instantaneous, I was therefore fully aware by 19.00-19-30ish that there was a good display of northern lights going down. I fully expected to see it and regularly went into the observatory from my control room (office 😉 to check the northern horizon, I set a step ladder out so I could get the best possible view. I carried out with these very frequent observations right until 02.30am but failed to see any hint of aurora at my location, despite it being recorded in the next county, my Norfolk friends were making the most noise about it and I can’t blame them, just look at this picture by Martin Stirland!

aurora from Winterton Norfolk by Martin Stirland

OK so amongst this hullabaloo I managed to see some deep sky objects and get a few sketches done. I started with NGC 2525 down in Puppis, this was the rather interesting spiral mentioned in my last blog that disappeared into the “clag” never to surface again. Basic details are: also listed as PGC 22721 discovered on Feb 23, 1791 by William Herschel a 12th-magnitude peculiar galaxy, type SBc peculiar in Puppis it has an apparent size of 3.0 by 2.0 arc mins.I hope you agree that the observation was worth following up?

NGC 2525 in Puppis

Now it was time to go for M99 in Coma Berenices and its wonderfully exciting supernova SN2014L . Es Reid was the inspiration here having got a rather nice B&W shot the evening before. I star hoped across Leo and was soon in the thick of galaxies and onto my target which is a most impressive face on spiral with some interesting patterns within its spiral structure, as soon as it appeared on the monitor the SN jumped out at me! It wasn’t until I posted my sketch on the Webb Society forum that Owen commented that the magnitude was now circa 15.3, which is faint especially for the vast majority of visual observers it is outside of their range, I just take such magnitudes, well without wishing to sound either blase or big headed as run of the mill, it is my kit not me that does the detecting after all!

Here is my sketch which has been well received so far at the time of writing appearing as Astronomy Sketch of the day on March 5th 😉

M99 in Coma complete with mag 15.3 SN, labeled

Es Reid's image of the previous night which inspired me to go for the M99 SN

Simple 2.5 meg pixel phone camera-screen-shot-of-M99-with-SN2014L

With this completed I took a look at what was close by? M98 pretty obvious, I pulled the Messier sketch file down from the shelf, flicked through and found a gap where M98 should be, ding dong I thought, a really useful opportunity.  I moved the very short distance to 98, a very different beat this one, long, stretching right across my 12’ field of view, and interesting, brighter wave pattern structure going on making it look somewhat like a twisted structure, nice I thought, quite a change, I pulled down a Messier book from the shelf after I had made my sketch, which wasn’t a simple one to make and give true representation, the book I needed to have a quick check for supernova, what a thing that would be!  Well it wasn’t to be but I did have a moment of fantastical hope.

The large and impressive M98

OK so that is my three observations explained and detailed, the sketches had to be scanned, labelled, inverted etc which takes me a little while, all the time through this evening don’t forget, I have been up and down, in and out peering north in hope of Aurora!

That is the end of my tale, I have arrived at 02.30, dog tired and only seeing black and white all night.


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