Blog Monday Jan 31st 2011


Astronomy today began as night fell, my friend ,work colleague and indeed current ‘web master’ James Cooper accompanied me home from work with the intention of getting my newly installed Weather station to talk to the lap top computer so that data could be recorded.

 Naturally I had centred the weather station around the observatory. After a quick sociable tea brewing we retired to the observatory and within a matter of minutes James had identified a problem and rectified it with a few expert clicks!

With the temperature already a couple of degrees below freezing outside(yes the weather station told me that : )  and a delightfully clear sky I had to show James something exciting through a telescope whilst he was here, well it would be rude not too!

Aligning the 153mm refractor on Jupiter to the SW I inserted the binoviewer fitted with a pair of 15mm Panoptic eyepieces, the view at 234x was steady, sharp and beautiful. James who is well versed with microscopic observation picked up the technique of viewing quickly and was clearly impressed with what he saw; it is always nice to get a favourable reaction from a ‘first timer’.

After James left I grabbed some dinner and after tidying up I got straight back out into the observatory hoping to catch and sketch Jupiter before it passed behind the apple tree & house, ‘knickers’ I was too late! Literally by minutes, should have gone hungry!

Not to worry I fitted the old Watec video camera onto the 20” and for the first time added a focal reducer to it, I also added the Skywatcher Neodymium filter that Bernard Kapinski of Modern Astronomy had sent me.

I aligned and focussed on Aldebaran in Taurus before slewing to the Crab Nebula, the view was most pleasing.

Right now for some serious work, I read during the day of Paul Brierley’s observation and CCD image of globular cluster PAL 2 on the Webb Society chat site, Paul stated that this more elusive globular was in Taurus I found out later that it was just across the ‘border’ into  Auriga. I have sketched a couple of PAL’s before and they haven’t given up too much detail but this one looked like a real globular, pretty small but grainy with resolved stars and hints of chains streaming out and darker voids just off centre, excellent.

My next observations were also linked to a Webb Society prompt, this time following Tim Walker the society web masters notification of a site up-date, I went and took a look and was inspired by an image of M78 and McNeil’s nebula taken my Paul Whitmarsh. And so with that inspired memory I spent the rest of my observing evening studying and sketching M78 and the surrounding islands and ribbons of complex bright diffuse reflection nebulosity. M78 is in fact the brightest such nebula in the whole of the sky!

I have observed this area visually many times and I have sketched it before using a Watec camera and a 6” scope I think? But the 20” bring a whole different perspective to the scene. NGC 2067 forms a long ribbon running to the east of ‘staring’ M78 with its two beady star eyes, NGC 2067 had me in mind of a Barnard’s loop type structure or even slightly reminiscent of the divine Veil nebula. On its southern extent it is demarked by a slightly brighter and rounder patch designated as NGC 2064. I was delighted at the view of these gossamer structures I was really seeing detail that only a long or multiple stacked CCD image could reveal.

Above M78 is another seperate brigh and really quite large patch of nebulosity NGC 2071 was found to be home to proto planetary discs as far back as 1998

The most exciting was still to come just out of the fov below lay McNeil’s nebula. This small fan shaped wisp of reflection nebulosity laid undetected until Fen 2004 when Jay McNeil an American imager noticed it on some images he had taken with a 76mm refractor. The news in the amateur astronomical caused great excitement, giving the hope to many other amateurs that one day they might discover something previously uncharted! Although rather small and not the most startling or spectacular of objects, Mc Neil’s nebula with the history outlined above and the very fact that I had never seen this little nebulous fan before made it the highlight of the night.

And so to bed, Dale