DSOs from last night (29th-30th Dec)

Thought I would have a look at the Trapezium in M42. Seeing was pretty poor with the stars wobbling about all over the place. The first picture sets the context, the next two have a barlow employed. You can, at least, make out stars E and F on these.



Next was a nice pair of galaxies in Cepheus.


Then C1 or NGC188, also in Cepheus. This is only about 4 deg. from the pole. To quote Stephen James O’Meara in his book “The Caldwell Objects”: “The region is largely devoid of bright stars and avoided by most amateurs whose telescopes ride on equatorial mounts; to point anywhere near the pole with such a set-up requires a truck-load of patience. For these reasons, NGC 188 could be considered one of the most forgotten clusters in the night sky.” Those of us with alt-az mounts have no such problems!

ngc188_samworth_301216 Finally, C7 or Then, NGC 2403 in Camelopardalis, another nice spiral.


Dew was now taking hold on the scope, and the cold was taking hold on me, and so, to bed!

Observing Log 29/12/16, Andrew & Hannah Thornett, LRO


  • Lichfield
  • 10″ Orion UK Dobsonian
  • 14mm Explore Scientific 100 degree FOV eyepiece
  • 6mm Televue Ethos eyepiece 100 degree FOV


Orion Nebula – Messier 42. Bright Nebula in Orion, 29 Dec 2016, 20:56:18. My daughter Hannah and I took out the ten inch Orion Dob into our garden. There was ice on ground, clearly below freezing, clear sky, very humidity according to detector in log cabin. Usually my son cones with me so quite a treat to have some quality star-time with Hannah!

First treat was to show her the Great Orion Nebula, Orion’s belt and sword and discuss how stars are made. We also looked at Betel juice and Sirius and discussed star brightness and colour and what could be interpreted from this information.

Andromeda Galaxy – Messier 31, Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda, 29 Dec 2016, 21:02:03. We looked at our closest galactic companion and Hannah was amazed to realise light took 2.5 million years to get to us from the Andromeda Galaxy. We then looked at M81 and M82 and discussed how these are ten million light years away. Led to a discussion on scale in the universe. Over Christmas, Hannah watched with me the programme on the universe with Eric Idle and Brian Cox and that programme concentrated a lot on scale.

Starfish Cluster – Messier 38, Open Cluster in Auriga, 29 Dec 2016, 21:06:15We discussed open star clusters and star birth.

Pinwheel Cluster – Messier 36, Open Cluster in Auriga, 29 Dec 2016, 21:06:50, Compared these two to Pleiades

Pleiades – Messier 45, Open Cluster in Taurus, 29 Dec 2016, 21:07:57

29 Dec 2016, 21:19:03, Eskimo Nebula – NGC 2392 Planetary Nebula in Gemini. Hannah has now gone back inside. In the past i have this object difficult to find when i have tried to star hop to it. Tonight I had success at last! I discovered that it is very bright and easy to pick out as fuzzy blob, clearly not a star, once it is in the field of view. The problem in the past appears to be that I have not been going far enough east of Wasat to find it – i.e. far enough away from the bottom line of the Gemini astronomical figure. Tonight, I went further and this led to my success. Once i did do that i found the star 63 Gem and that star was obviously brighter than the other stars between it and Wasat and I knew I was on right track. The 6mm Ethos eyepiece i purchased second hand at the International Astronomy Show is really proving to be useful. Its wide field meant objects stay longer in field of view of eyepiece and it is a great choice on objects such as this. With the 6mm, the Eskimo Nebula took on a miniature galaxy-like appearance with very bright central core and fuzzy periphery, perfectly round. As i say it is very bright, belying its magnitude of 9+. I guess this is due to its compact nature.

Collinder 89 Open Cluster in Gemini, 29 Dec 2016, 21:46:37. Initially I thought this was M35 but then realised it was too big and sparse for M35.

Messier 35 Open Cluster in Gemini, 29 Dec 2016, 21:47:20. More accurate star hopping led me to this. Once found it was obvious I was on the right thing. Beautiful bright open cluster occupying central 50% field of view of 14mm ES eyepiece.

NGC 2158 Open Cluster in Gemini29 Dec 2016, 21:48:23. Took a bit of toing and froing to find the football but got it in the end – it is like M110 to M31 by which I mean it is quite faint!

29 Dec 2016, 22:21:59. I went inside the house for cup of tea and scrambled egg on toast. Back outside @ 22:21, decided to have a last look at the Double Cluster but could not see anything, even stars! Looks like the secondary mirror has frozen over! I have a secondary heater but have never needed to turn it on. If clear over weekend and weather as equally cold i will need to make use of it.

Great news tonight is Hannah found my missing piece of Teflon from the Orion Dob. It was in the grass from two weeks ago when I lost it!

Two bits of great kit really helped tonight:

(I) heated eyepiece case – I was able to change over eyepieces and put them back to demist. This way avoided need for individual heating straps on each eyepiece. I made the case by using a reptile cage heating mat into my Peli 1550 case. Brilliant! The only issue is that it requires 240V. Does anyone know of good source of 12V heating mats?

(Ii) Damian bought me a Gillet for my birthday. Under a coat this did fantastic job of keeping me warm in sub-zero conditions. To accompany it I used the brilliant RAG beanie hat – it is really warm and worth the £10 price – highly recommended!

Andy (& Hannah)

Aurora, Alta, Norway (Tuesday 20th Dec)

_dsc1661Out on a 6Hr ‘Hunting the Northern Lights’ trip with GLØD Explorer, 60 or so Km away from our base in Alta.

Not as cold as we were expecting – or as much snow (which meant less cloudy skies). Also coincided with a G1/G2 magnetic storm hitting the Earth that increased the activity.

Witnessed around 10 auroral displays over the 4 days we were up in the Arctic Circle, 3 of which were magnificent!

Got a lot of shots to go through and will perhaps make up some presentation for RAG…

We started out from Alta with thick cloud (and light snow falling). Our guide Sara drove south in the 4×4 and eventually we found some clearing skies. A hint of the aurora followed  (so I took some constellation shots whilst waiting for the sky to clear). The aurora did put on a weak display that slowly grew stonger. Once it had started to fade we headed back…. within 5 minutes of doing so we could see activity rising – Sara pulled the mini bus over, we all jumped out (cameras still attached to tripods thankfully) and were just in time to catch this mesmerising 10 minute display (the shot above is from near the start!)

Above you can see the Hyades, Pleiades, Open Cluster – Melotte 20 in Perseus (above centre), to the right of that the Double Cluster and below that and a little to the right (obscured by the aurora) M31, The Andromeda Galaxy plus the Milky Way sticking out from the right edge of the aurora to the edge of the frame…

The bright-ish star a third of the way along from the upper left is Capella in Auriga – a quick scan around that region yields the three open clusters. If you follow them out towards the left of the frame…. that faint smudge is M35 at the foot of Gemini!

Manfrotto tripod mounted with hydrostatic ball head (trusty 8 year old, full frame 12Mp) Nikon D3 and Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm. This gives a field of view of approx: 114° – 84°, so at the angle I’m shooting at, this shot reaches up to near zenith.

ISO 800, 15 sec, Mirror up function with cable release. NEF RAW file (lightly) processed in Adobe LightRoom.




Beware overtightening !

img_4370This is from Paul who came down to visit the club from St Helens. Having had issues with his eq5 goto slipping, he took the mount apart.

Yikes ! This is the damage to the aluminium head that the ALT/DEC steel bolts push against to get polar alignment. The stock Skywatcher bolts are very soft. Any pressure on them and they’ll bend like butter in a toaster. Replacing these bolts with hardened steel will save you having trouble.

But beware, there is no need to force or overtighten any bolts. Treat everything as if it’s made of glass ( some of it is !) These adjustment bolts just have to press against the head, not drill through it.

In very cold weather overtightened bolts can snap, be gentle. Paul’s sending his mount off to Peter Drew at the Todmorden Astronomy Centre for a hopeful mend. Probably a steel sheet tapped into place or similar wizardry.

clear skies  !



From Draco to Hercules.

Swadlincote 26th & 27th December 2016. C6r 150mm refractor.
An early star as it darkened, our eldest inquiring granddaughter (8) was eager to see some sights, what eyes ! Counted seven stars in Pleiades and spotted Mizar Alcor. Then onto M31 after explaining what it was , ” there’s another one there “, M110. Then some doubles in Aries, M34, M35 and the Auriga clusters. We made some resolution in M15, but mainly it was high targets to get the ep down to her height. We had a look at the bright cut out of Venus, very impressive .Ended up “Daddy’s going to buy me a small scope next birthday “, “err tell him to see me first !”

A sturdy objective dew heater and a Telrad heater are quite essential. Temperatures suddenly dropped at about 3.30. Eyepieces need some warmth to avoid fogging up. A light pair of cycling gloves provided comfort, but stuck to anything with Velcro or frost on. It is possible to continue at minus 4, just takes more keenness than discomfort !

A scoot around including Draco, before early to bed…. to wake uptake 1.30 and find the skies dark and still. The incredible yowling ,all moaning whinging cat kept me awake from a few gardens away.
Leo draws the eye straight to NGC 2903 high in the head. Very nice comparison to bright Bode’s . Onto the Leo groups and Coma Berenices up to Canes Venatici and Ursa Major. Back down into the bowl of Virgo.

No great sights here, most of the Messier’s were amorphous blobs with little sky contrast.  
Best here being NGC 4725, NGC 4565, M64, M85, M100, M88 through to M60.
 Algieba and Regulus providing some sights. M3, the dim NGC 5466, M53 (resolved) and the dim NGC 5053 provided some good views.
Spent some little time on the binaries and triples in Leo and Leo Minor. Jupiter climbed over the roof tops, quite a sizeable disc with a good array of moons. No transits, but some lovely belt details.A sizeble disc is more ping pong ball than pea, but not the orange size at a good opposition.

Some very strange seeing, one moment I gave up with even wide separations , then Tegmine at 1.1″ snapped into shape. It’s not optics, just atmosphere. After midnight is just ace.
Sight of the morning was the keystone of Hercules in the north east , just line up between Arcturus and Vega, hurrah ! It’s still amazes me that in the midst of winter , the Summer Triangle is still on early evening show ,
clear skies and all the best for 2017 !
old Nick.img_4369img_4368img_4367

Observing log 23/12/2016 @ 21:45-23:55 Andrew and Rhys Thornett, Lichfield

Observing log 23/12/2016 @ 21:45-23:55
Andrew and Rhys

Pinwheel Galaxy – Messier 33, Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum, “3 Dec 2016, 21:45:23, The Triangulum Galaxy can be very frustrating especially when trying to observe it from light polluted locations such as my back garden in Lichfield. Using my ten inch orion Dobsonian telescope and 14mm Explore Scientific 100 degree field of view eyepiece (ES), i was pretty sure i dropped straight on to it, observing a faint smudge in centre of eyepiece. However the field had moved (as scope is un-driven) during time it took me to get higher magnification eyepiece out of the box. I then found it impossible to re-acquire the galaxy again, even when i tried a light pollution filter, or used 9mm ES, 14mm ES or 20mm ES or even 42mm eyepiece.
The sky is quite dark tonight with the Orion nebulae looking like a bright slash below Orion’s belt but even now M33 is elusive. Oh for the days when we were on holiday in Devon and with binoculars i could see NGC areas within M33!!
Talking of binoculars, i wonder if it is easier to see M33 tonight with binoculars. Hang on a minute – i will pull out a pair….
I have just returned with a very interesting pair of binoculars. These were given to me and are a pair of old 60mm binoculars that were used for horse racing and have loads of little leather patches attached from various race meetings. I am not a horse racing fan but i love the history inherent in this instrument, which comes in leather case and not some plastic thing!
I also bought out with me that most vital of astronomy tools – a tot of Monkey Shoulder blended whisky. Vitally important to help keep hands steady whilst holding binoculars and to warm cold toes. Goes particularly well with couple chocolate biscuits so i bought those too. So, all tooled up, can i now observe M33? I will take a look!
NB Before i do i am shocked to see how far Orion has moved across the sky in the time since i started this observing session.
Indeed, I have been able to see M33 with the binoculars as an obvious smudge. Less magnification really is more plus these binos do have amazing contrast.
I have gone back to using the 14mm ES in Orion Dob and found it there too! Now it is obvious, with a central brighter core and a peripheral area that grows the more i look at it until it occupies central 2/3 of field of view in this 100 degree eyepiece. Wow! OK probably not quite the same wow that Damian has been expressing to me down phone tonight as he described his experiences this week of observing the Northern Lights in Norway, but wow nonetheless.
Having written this note, i have just returned to the scope to find myself shocked how fast the eyepiece has dewed up. Time to pull out extension lead and plug in heater on eyepiece case…first time needed since September this year.
Orion Nebula – Messier 42, Bright Nebula in Orion, 23 Dec 2016, 22:30:37, Rhys came out to join me to look at M42 using 6mm Ethos eyepiece. He described the nebula as a complex spiderweb of filaments forming butterfly shape. Both of us only can see four stars in Trapezium. For all their brilliance, one annoying feature of Orion UK scopes is that they need tools to collimate! I wonder if i can het Bob’s knobs equivalent for this scope? It would help tonight. Slight mIs-collimation means we can’t see stars 5 and 6.
Andromeda Galaxy – Messier 31, Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda, 23 Dec 2016, 23:39:11. I asked Rhys to describe this in detail for this report. All he could come up with was a “spludge”.
Both M32 and M110 visible by direct vision although i think seeing these as much about experience as anything else. Had to point them out to Rhys before he could see them.
First one – an out of focus star – M32.
Second one – faint smudge difficult to see at first – M 110 – Rhys had great difficulty seeing this even when i pointed out exactly where it was.
Double Cluster – NGC 869, Open Cluster in Perseus, 23 Dec 2016, 23:47:58, Rhys describe it as two large groups of stars one bigger than other. All stars are about same brightness and all white in colour. He felt there might be third group in between and slightly offset from the other two in same field of view of 14mm ES. Could not see this myself but this is what he saw.
Bode’s Nebulae – Messier 81, Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major, 23 Dec 2016, 23:55:22, Excellent view of both M81 and M82 tonight. Bright easy to find. Surprises me that this is not always the case – galaxies seem to be easy to see some nights but not others and even these two bright galaxies seem to be at mercy of sky conditions for visibility.
Decided to finish now. Bad excuse I know but it has been a long hard day at work and sometimes i am just too worn out even to observe for significant period of time. Still i have enjoyed seeing old favourites, and spending some tome with my son under stars, just before Christmas.
It would be nice to have enough energy to start stretching my boundaries and start looking for stuff I have not seen before.

Norwegian Observing Blog (Damian & Jules)


Of course we went out last night (Wednesday 21st) and managed  to just see the faintest of whisps through the murk – and I mean faint… well, the camera picked up more than the eye!

We went out earlier today (Thursday 22nd) despite the iffy forecast, although it did say there might be a chance to view the aurora around 7pm… I think I was set up around 4.30 and by 5 or so there were subtle hints So I used the time Instead to try some arty night time photography and an attempt at a 10 minute star trail….Julie had gone for a sauna. Another half hour passed and things started to happen!

I texted J furiously to tell her to get dressed back up in the winter gear and head out…

The aurora was subtle earlier as mentioned – beautiful faint tendrils of grey light…

Then it was like someone switched on a light. Not like a few nights ago with a frantic/energetic display, more like 6-10 green (with hints of pink) elastic bands of light filling the night sky – all overhead it was difficult to know where to look!

The battery eventually died but I learnt a trick from our in house photographers to put the battery under my armpit – thankfully it worked and I was able to grab another 20 odd shots to record the event!

A Dutch couple missed that – they had gone in after seeing the ‘subtle’ display…

So after dinner they asked us to join them in a different location…. the sky was thick with solid cloud. We came to the bridge after a 1.5 Km snowshoe walk and after 15 minutes or so the sky did start to clear.

Then the aurora came out to play again, weak to start with but then stronger.

After it had started to fade we headed back. A bridge at the 300 metre mark back to the lodge I said I would stay on my own  – J said she would stay with me. No less than a minute later the sky erupted – it was so bright I had to reduce the exposure time to try and stop it clipping the bright points and try to get some of the details (rather than just a fuzzy blob!) AMAZING!

We have. Even so lucky I can’t believe it – I’m absolutely buzzing!

J has gone back, the aurora has gone, the clouds are encroaching… at the end of this last star trail exposure, I’m heading back…

I think a RAG presentation could be in the pipeline!


Got back this morning around 1.30 to the lodge (didn’t get attacked on my own either by elk or wolverine – despite the many tracks in the snow – although I did have multiple (borrowed) headlamps and the snowshoes make a hell of a noise to scare anything off!!!) Was buzzing so much that I didn’t really sleep and the alarm went off at 5 this morning…. taking the cases to the drive this morning and the aurora was still putting on a (different sort of) display…

Now at Oslo airport awaiting the flight to Heathrow and feeling slightly worse for wear!

Once we’ve got to the gate I hope to take a look at all the shots taken yesterday….

Have to say it was a great place to be for observing – clear skies and zero light pollution down to the horizon in every direction, you can understand why Nick raves about Skye…


Best binaries and triples in Taurus.

Recently , observing has been through milky skies with weather systems shifting quickly at height. There hasn’t been enough contrast for filling in clusters or observing galaxies.
Time for some binaries. Early evening views of Taurus have meant sitting comfortably at the eyepiece. Taurus is stacked with binaries, one of the few visible by eye is in the Pleiades.

Σ479 shows a wide but delicate L shaped triple. RA 04h00.9m. +23 12′
Σ523 SAO 076552, dim pair at 10.2″.
52 Tauri (φ) SAO 076558, ghostly speck gives light red and blue.
Σ559 shows a wonderful bright exactly even pair, really lovely.SAO 094002, just spectacular.
Σ7 and Σ401 are both caught in the field of view at x50, this is better than the double double. A really beautiful sight.SAO 075970.
Σ430 shows a delicate and difficult amazing looking triple with two faint companions , I often wonder what a sky with three suns would look like.
SAO 11340.
Aldebaran is a binary with a wide +11.3 companion, worth spotting.

Finally across the Moon this morning , a glimpse of someone practicing delivery, Happy Christmas and all the best for 2017 !
Old Nick.img_4364

Venus and Mars (there’s a song about that)

Venus is shining strongly in the evening sky, even brighter than Jupiter in the morning sky, finally cleared the roofs opposite so had a go at imaging it, tried a different approach this time, have previously attached the DSLR to eyepiece using T ring and adapter, this time tried it with the DMK42 mono CCD camera with a red filter, to remove any chromatic aberration. Used 120mm Evostar  refractor on HEQ5pro, sidereal tracking mode, max frame of 15fps with DMK41 , #23A filter attached, 600 frame .avi files recorded with, no magnification, x2 Barlow and x5Barlow, also imaged Mars to left and above Venus with no magnification.

All images produced from stacking .avi in Autostakkert, wavelets in Registax6 and final processing/sizing in Photoshop.6



Venus with no magnification, slightly gibbous (about 60%),will become larger and more of a crescent as it moves to Greatest Elongation in January.





venus3psx2b with x2 barlow







venus0005psx5bwith  x 5 Barlow







venusandmarsMars and Venus with no magnification, taken under same conditions.

Mars is so far away now, even high magnification only shows a red disc, with no features, a UV filter would be needed to draw out any features in the atmosphere of Venus. (Did you hear that Santa?)





Have a Good Christmas and New Year!

Pete Hill