Archive for January, 2015

Quite a stir!

Am Jan 24th 2015

The amateur astronomical community was buzzing with anticipation
over the 3 Jovian moon transit of Jupiter’s disc pre dawn on Saturday 24th
of Jan 2015. This was to take place with Jupiter low in the west, which means
that it was totally out of view of the main observatory as the house stood
squarely between scopes and target!

Luckily I have two observatories! The second housing the mighty
Victorian Calver 12.5” reflector is to the west of the house and has good views
in the direction required! Now with guilt, I have to admit not using this
instrument enough, when it is clear I gravitate to the 20” for deep sky work.
This event was perfect for the historical scope. I got in from work a little
earlier than usual on the Friday night and prepared the telescope for use early
the next morning, being out on the lane I can’t make too much noise there at
night so I left the roof free so that it could be slid open quietly, I chased
out spiders and moved any junk that my family had left in there so I could get
going at the required time of 5am the next morning.

The evening was cloudy, not looking good! I awoke a few times
through the night and it was pouring with rain, when the alarm went at 04.45 it
was crystal clear! The sky was washed and pristine 🙂 I was soon outdoor wrapped
up against the chill with a big thermal cup of tea. I got the scope pointed at
Jupiter and messed around with eyepieces and my binoviewer until I got the best
view, initially with one moon on and a dark sharp shadow seeing was steady and
views crisp, however with every minute Jupiter descended and seeing
deteriorated. I must let the reader know that I didn’t have any drive on the Calver I was twisting a knob with my left hand to keep the planet in the FOV, once you get the hang of it this can be suprisingly effective for tracking.

You can just make out the curve of the Calver tube pointing to Jupiter in the pre-dawn sky


By the time that the 3rd of the moons was onto the
disc, making out any detail was virtually impossible, however this had taken a couple
of hours and luckily during that time I had made a sketch, timed at 05.50ut which was a time that seeing was at least, half reasonable.

I was sharing excitement via text message with Andrew Robertson in Norfolk, Sally Russell in Berkshire and Es Reid in Cambridge, such communications certainly add to the excitement and satisfaction. It was good to be using the Calver, it made me feel a little better from the point of view of carrying on the excellent work that the previous custodian Dr Robert Paterson had done with the scope. I must try and give it more excercise!


Here is my sketch, Dale



More Love for Joy

I’m going to catch a couple of nights here Friday 16th of Jan 2015 and Sunday 18th Jan 2015.

I did visual on the comet, but I faffed around and never got it on the camera chip before it tangled up in the apple tree…grrr
Just running the 6″ scope a uncooled Watec  I took a look at M42/43 and thought about drawing…no..too complex, so I went for the Flame nebula NGC 2024, using what amounts to white chalk and an eraser that kept me quiet for a while.

The Flame Nebula in Orion

 I then went onto an open cluster in Canis Major NGC2374, close to Andrew’s favourite, Thor’s Helmet. I find clusters very relaxing to draw although the end results aren’t really very exciting, anyhow I think it was a new one for my files.

NGC 2374 a pretty open cluster in Canis Major

I took my first look at Thor’s Helmet, never been there before, after some considerable time I managed to get the settings on the camera just right and I was able to make out the brightening of the helmets dome but the horns eluded me, the sky in Canis M is very polluted for me as I look towards London just 30 flat miles due south. The 20″ would have told a different story, so I need to come back to get that done.
I then scooted off to Leo via Jupiter and put the small scope onto the wonderful NGC2903, after quite a bit of fiddling I got an image that I was happy with and made a sketch, stars marked in white watercolour pencil and the galaxy drawn in chalky hard pastel. My intention here is to show what  is a very moderate sized scope for deep sky observing can deliver when coupled with a video camera. I will leave you to decide what aperture would be required to show the same level of detail?

NGC 2903 a beautiful galaxy that dangles in front of the lion!

Well its now 3am and I think I will hit the hay, I don’t get to lay in, not in my house.
addendum, I didn’t go to bed, I have been taking a look at some fainter galaxies in Leo, just faint smudges no structure, so rather boring but what I have just noticed is that the screen view of NGC 3605, 3607 & 3608 is just about a perfect match for the sketch of the same on pg 300 of Brattons guide to the Herschel objects, apart from I see many more stars than have been sketched in there and that was made with a 15″ at 146x so that is a good equivalent of the 6″ and Watec.
really going to bed now!

Sunday Jan 18th 2015


An early evening look at Comet Lovejoy, which incidentally has been Naked eye for me now since Friday evening, if I haven’t already mentioned that? I went to add a focal reducer to the camera nose piece in the hope of getting a wider FOV and found that there was already one in place! Got onto the comet quickly and easily, still pretty close to the M45 cluster maybe 6 degrees or so away. Spectaculr sight on the monitor, sketch made using conte pastel which is very much like chalk, white water colour pencil to enhance the brighter lines in the forked tail and some white acrylic paint for the brighter stars and comet nucleus.

The drama of comet C2014 Q2 Lovejoy, an amazing sight!


Two for the price of one before Lovejoy

Thursday Jan 15th 2015

As I returned from work and parked the car in the lane outside of our house I had a look across the fields to the west, through a clump of hazel twigs I spied unmistakeable  Venus, harder to spot, but by no means difficult was pinkish Mercury just to the right, how wonderful. I rushed indoors and up to our bedroom window which looks due east, on the windowsill I keep a pair of zeiss binoculars for watching the bird feeders that hang from the aforementioned hazel sticks. They framed the two inner planets nicely, I called my younger son Aubrey and handed the binoculars to him, explaining for him to take a look at Venus and then note the ‘other’ bright object in the view, explaining that it was Mercury. Aubrey said that he could see Venus as a crescent, something I had failed to detect, oh for younger eyes! I took another look but still failed to be able to see the phase! Still what a lovely spectacle to enjoy, made even more special when shared.

The evening was very windy, with gales and servere gales whipping across the country, but the sky was clear and transparent so I just had to have another go at comet Lovejoy. I went out at 08.30 local time, not having the comet set up in my planetariun software I had to locate it and slew the scope onto it and then get it onto the Watec camera chip, this I managed fairly quickly, after locating the comet in 2.5x zeiss opera glasses and then taking a better look in my Takahashi 10×70 binoculars. I soon had the comet on the monitor and was happy to retire to the warm office to shut the wild night out! Well that wild night wasn’t good for holding a large 20″ telescope with a heavy 6″ refractor on its back steady! I watched the monitor as the comet and stars jumped about for 5-10 minutes before the was a lull which I seized and froze the frame so I could sketch at my leisure. This I did My  again I using the 6″ F9 refractor with the uncooled Watec 120N+ video camera, to sketch I used  white pastels, white water colour pencil and white acrylic paint on black textured art paper. The tail was obviously forked tonight and it took some time and rubbing out to get that right. The starfield was quite rich and added to the view. Once completed I posted straight away on facebook and matched it up with with a picture which my friend Dave Eagle had just taken and posted.

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy at 20.55ut on Jan 15th 2015

Dave Eagle's Lovejoy image taken at a similar time to my sketch

Not a bad evening, Dale

Curry & Comet

Saturday 10th Jan 2015.


Early this evening I collected my close friend Darren Smith from Stansted Airport he was on a flying visit from Italy to see friends and family it is with Darren and his family that we stay each summer and from where I have posted a number of observations to this blog, great skies. Well we got Darren settled in and headed into town for a curry, he hadn’t had an Indian meal for about 5 years, they aren’t as popular in Italy, after polishing off our Rogan & Tikka I had to feed a friends cat up the road a piece and then we were free to comet spot. Firstly I showed Darren Lovejoy in the 10×70’s he did well to pick it up quickly, not being an astronomer I expected “I can’t see anything” but no he got it quickly, I then lined the 6″ binoculars up for a better view before retiring to the office to show him a much more detailed view on the B&W monitor, with the uncooled Watec 120N+ running through the 153mm (6″) apo scope the view was fantastic with the ion tail showing nicely. I made a sketch using blacking heavy paper, white pastels, pencils and acryllic paint, having a guest I was able to get another verdic on my sketches match to the image. When I was satissfied that I had captured a likeness it was time for bed, a great night 🙂

Comet Lovejoy



Looking for Lovejoy

Wed 7th Jan 2015

I have been enjoying some nice views of comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy with binoculars both large 150mm and small 2omm over the past couple of weeks, this fast moving comet has been fun to locate on clear evenings as it has risen up below Orion and headed past the giant hunters shield up towards Taurus. I had even been able to view it whilst lying in bed, how about that 🙂

What I wanted was a view through my observatory set up that might give me a look at that thin tail visible only in CCD images. Well this evening was clear and the Moon was due to rise until around 9pm ish giving a window to study the comet. I got out into the obsy around 19.00hrs I guess and was reading via the internet that my friends up in Norfolk were getting great views further South where I was it was more difficult with patchy cloud building to a complete ‘white out’ by 20.00 🙁 I had enjoyed binocular views with 10×50’s & 10×70’s, then worked on getting the 20″ aligned and ‘syncd’ I failed to get the prime focus camera lined up on a known object due to narrow field of view and piggy back ‘slave’ scopes were out of collimation due to Rod’s poor mirror mounting design, so swapped over to 6″ refractor with (b) Watec camera fitted on a flip mirror which was easier to locate objects with, got that done using Rigel easily then started to hop to the comet, by the time I arrived in the vicinity, cloud cover was total!

As I have written on a good many occassions before, “that’s astronomy”


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