Solargraph in operation…

Got a few Solargraphs loaded last light (Wednesday 20th June), just in time for today’s Summer Solstice.

Attached mine to it’s usual place on the back of the house (facing SSE), before heading off for an evening walk with two under my arm to deliver to Andy (he beat me to the blog entry – see below)!

Andy has one of the new style cans to try – donated by Ed who has a fine taste of coffee (Azeri / Lavazza – I also like this version). I did make the extra effort to drill a bigger hole in the can, then fix tin foil over it and then pin a fine hole through that. The only ‘issue’ with these cans is that I only get three sheets out of a big sheet of B&W photographic paper, whereas I get 6 when cutting for a standard baked bean can.

Good job as well that it was set up ready for this morning – today was pretty good and should have set a fine ‘upper limit’ on the paper for when we open the  can up and take a look after December 21st…

This morning, in action (around 8.15am) !


Installing new solargraphs at LRO

Damian kindly delivered two new solargraphs yesterday and I installed these in my garden in Lichfield (LRO). Good job he gave me instructions to check the aperture after hammering in the stake – in one of them the paper turned around and covered the hole (hole looked white) so I had to take off top and move paper around again and re-tape it.


Crescent Moon 17th June 2018 @ 10.46pm

Thought this made a pretty picture – moon between branches of the front trees (slightly cloudy as well giving plenty of ‘glow’!)

Taken with my spare works camera, a Nikon D7000 (16.2 Mp on a cropped sensor), with my glass on the front:

Nikon 1.4x teleconverter and Nikon 70-200mm VRII f/2.8


ISO 160, 1/30 sec, f/4, Focal length 280mm (420mm in 35mm full frame terms), hand-held.

RAW file processed twice in Adobe Lightroom for the background and then the lunar features. Composited in Adobe Photoshop CC 2017.


Observing with small scopes on farmers field on way to Rosliston

11.20pm Saturday 9th June  – 1.50am Sunday 10th June 2018

Damian and I have just returned from a great observing session lasting a good two hours in a quite dark farmers field / public footpath, on the way to Rosliston from Lichfield…

Using only small scopes- Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 80mm and a 77mm triplet fluorite spotting scope, we scooped a range of objects including Jupiter and the Great Red Spot, Dumbbell Nebula, Ring Nebula, M3, M56, Harvard 20, M71, M51 and repeated definite direct vision observations of M101 amongst others……and all this on a night predicted to be quite poor for observing.

I also saw three meteors and what must have been my first ever sighting of an Iridium Flare – wow! I saw the flash of the flare and then looked at Heavens Above website and realised that one had been predicted to occur in that part of the sky at that time.

Just goes to show- you never can tell what a night will be like! I notice that in another post on viewing tonight, Nick has commented how clear the sky became.

The spotting scope put up quite a good show and really demonstrated its great portability. Needs some thought ‘re adding a finder and counter-balance weights though.

We noted the following differences and similarities between the design of the apo-chromatic spotting scope (SS) vs. dedicated app-chromatic astronomy scope (SW) of similar aperture and focal length:

1. The view in the SW was more contrasty with blacker background than in the SS. As a result, objects appeared brighter at similar magnifications in the SW. this may be due to the need for extra optics in the SS to correct the view for daytime viewing so that it is upright and correct way around. In spite of this difference, it did not significantly affect the amount of detail that could be seen in the SS compared to the SW.

2. Both showed similar small amounts residual chromatic aberration on edges of Jupiter, although SW possibly slightly worse.

3. The views were nevertheless comparable at similar magnifications – any differences were really a matter of personal preference and would not cause us to buy one over the other.

4. The manufacturer-specific eyepiece fitting used in the SS means that standard astronomical eyepieces can not be used. This limits the magnification to maximum 60x because that is the highest magnification eyepiece available for the telescope. At 60x both scopes showed a similar level of detail on Jupiter’s disc and the Great Red Spot was just visible. However I was able to increase the magnification in the SW to x125 by changing eyepieces and a wealth of detail on Jupiter’s disc became visible and the Great Red Spot became large and obvious. The benefit of magnification on a planetary disc was less useful for deep sky objects where the limited aperture meant that the object would become diffuse and become difficult to focus at higher magnifications suggesting that for most astronomical observations the 60x magnification limit on the SS is probably sufficient.

5. The 45 degree diagonal on the SS was not as useful as the 90 degree one on the SW for night time viewing, especially when looking at objects near the zenith or when trying to find things in the sky. The scope definitely needs an extra finder shoe attached to it in some way to facilitate the use of a finder.

6. The SS had a small inbuilt dew shield which was insufficient at night. It needs a bigger one made – an easy task.

7. The SS is incredibly portable without all the paraphernalia that went with the SW and this makes it as excellent choice to take on holiday or as the ultimate grab and go scope.

8. The excellent light weight tripod that comes with the SS is good but had its limitations. My heavy duty Mandrotto tripod and mount on my SW out-performed the smaller Manfrotto one with the SS but those can be changed and this simply the limitation of the physics – light weight tripods and heads are limited in what they can do. I was actually very impressed with how stable the tripod was with the SS on it. A bigger issue is balance – the SS was not properly balanced and needs some counter balance mechanism for night time viewing where it is going to be pointed upwards rather than horizontally as occurs during its intended daytime use.


A few additional notes from Damian:

Both instruments showed varying amounts of field curvature towards the outer 15-20% of their FOV.

The SS showed a whiter Jovian disc whereas the SW had a more creamy appearance – nothing wrong with either, some would say the whiteness was more ‘clinical’, others would say the creaminess offered a more pleasing and natural view. Could be from the objective or the eyepieces used.

The 20-60x zoom used with the SS was not as good as the Baader on the SW. Checking reviews of the unit online highlighted it’s shortcomings (“a narrow FOV at 20x” – like looking down a straw – makes me realise just how accustomed Andy and I have become to fantastic 100 degree views – and “pretty useless above 40x”). The 32x eyepiece also available was a “much better corrected optic” – wider and ‘cleaner’, although still showed some field curvature and chromatic aberration at the extremes of the FOV.

Jupiter on axis though through the SS was very sharp at 60x with four bands visible and the GRS clearly defined. Could not see the ‘streamer’ that Nick mentioned though in his post (but he was using 6” of aperture and over 200x mag!)

The Background sky displayed in the SS was not as black and the view not as contrasty (using the zoom, should have tested the 32x eyepiece) and this was rather disappointing considering the make of the SS and it’s fluorite Lens (which refractor nuts on the Astro forums go nuts over!)

I also now wonder just how quickly the objective had started to fog up into the evening… did this effect the contrast..? I suspect yes to a small degree but I think, having ready many reviews online with regards to using a SS for Astro uses, that even the best SS’s from the ‘big brands’ have until recently not been up to the quality of telescopes. Many times it was mentioned that for a long time astronomical telescopes have undergone the dreaded high power star test whereas SS objectives are rarely scrutinised in such ways… but again, it could be the eyepiece units used on SS are not up to the quality of astronomical units…?

The SS also had a very limited depth of field and I found it quite difficult to nail focus.

The 45 degree angled eyepiece was comfortable… up to a point, then it became a pain to have to raise a tripod leg to reach higher areas without breaking your neck.

Star hopping was great – the views matching directly to Sky Safari (of course you can switch them around as needed), which also meant that your manipulation of the scope was intuitive. This made it easy to locate faint objects – M101 for example (a notoriously dim object).

Other limitations are the lack of using filters.

Advantages are it’s extreme portability (one trip from the car up the track – carrying the SS in it’s case over the shoulder with a chair in one hand, eyepiece in a pocket, food and drink in a bag carried in the other hand with a tripod under that arm, ruggedness – manufacturer quoted as ‘shockproof’, waterproof to 3 metres, use of a travel tripod – the unit that Andy used for a similar sized telescope would have taken your entire luggage allowance! A lighter unit for the SkyWatcher would have made it very wobbly and negated much of it’s high power views.


Successful detection of meteor shower by radio scatter at Damian’s house Streethay from Graves’ radar

After Peter Hill’s brilliant talk at the last RAG meeting, we were both motivated to pull out Andy’s radio meteor kit and give it a try. In the past Andy has had real problems getting it working at his house and we don’t know why. First step was to try it elsewhere – Damian volunteered his house for the task today.

A useful day of testing Andy’s portable meteor detecting equipment…

Picture contributions from Andy, Damian and Julie (+ annotations!)

Setting up at Damian’s house…

Dancing around the Maypole!

Getting there…

Done…. and ready to go!

Andy bought along a selection of aerials – in the end he chose the simplest and cheapest off the shelf one rather than the hand-made and carefully cut (length to frequency by Bill from Lichfield) versions below….

Our chairman with his radio equipment at Damian’s house (below):

Peter used his FunCube Dongle for his detections. To simplify this initial trial, Andy bought along for this test his Yaesu FT817 portable radio. We used Peter’s settings file and a cheap off the shelf aerial and cable and a car battery to power everything.

The aerial poles are an ex-military carbon fibre Clansman kit – 5.4m high! Andy initially bought these several years ago to use with his Radio Jove Jupiter radio-observing radio and aerials but they are also very useful for meteor detection!

Clansman aerial mast kit:

Immediate success with the military aerial at full height !

Screenshots from Spectrum Lab showing meteors in Damian’s garden:

Success was at the Graves’ frequency 143.049 MHz (Upper side band):

We then tried reducing the height of the aerial to roughly the same height as the aerial on the roof of my shed (2.4m) where my current aerial is located.

We found we were still able to detect aerials roughly every minute or so. Their peak magnitude did not seem to be as large as when the aerial was twice as high………so reduced height = less meteors and reduced magnitude of detection.

Next step was to take the set-up which we had just proved worked back to Andy’s house to see if it worked in his garden to test the theory that he lives in a radio black spot which explains his difficulties over so many years.

The following are screenshots from Spectrum Lab in Andy’s garden showing meteors:

Next steps for testing Andy’s meteor observing problems in his garden:

1. Test the same kit as above with different heights of aerial.

2. Erect aerial above and record meteors over 24 hours.

3. Try recording meteors with lower height aerial in Andy’s garden during meteor shower – no meteor shower major or minor today in standard lists.

4. Use aerial on top of shed with Yaesu radio to see whether meteors are detected.

5. If yes to 4 then try changing radio to FunCube Dongle to see if still works.

6. Try kit as above in Andy’s and Damian’s garden but this time using FunCube Dongle rather than Yaesu radio.

For future reference, we came up with this list of equipment we need to take with us on future radio meteor observing sessions, out of the home location (such as outreach sessions at the forestry centre):

  • Yaesu FT-817 radio – make sure power cable, audio cable in the box.
  • Laptop with spectrum lab and settings files.
  • Computer hood or box so can see screen in sun
  • Portable table and chairs or stools
  • Car battery
  • Inverter
  • Multiple plug adapter so can plus both laptop and radio into the inverter (at least two plugs)
  • 12V power supply for radio – alternatively 12V battery
  • Mallet to hammer in pegs for aerial
  • The C-Clamp on the aerial is larger than the Clansman aerial poles so need piece of wood to go in between C-Clamp and aerial.
  • Clansman aerial poles kit in green bag – make sure 6 poles, 2 x round discs for attaching the guide ropes, 3 x metal strips wrapped with guide ropes x2 per strip, 5 x pegs.
  • Extension cable for aerial (may not be needed depending on aerial used).
  • Aerial – today we used off the shelf Yagi for UHF – cheap and cheerful but effective! If this one is used then extension cable not required as it has long cable with it.

We then returned to Andy’s house to try the same set-up at his… plus a beer!

Damian and Andy

Observing Log 26/5/2018, LRO, Lichfield, UK

Observing Log 26/5/2018, LRO, Lichfield, UK, Andy and Damian.

Damian came around to my house and he demonstrated that the iPad Air 2 that he owns works with my older SkyFi wireless box on my Synscan EQ 6 mount – important as I need to upgrade my very old iPad and have been considering what is the best option to replace it. Earlier today, I had great difficulty getting my Windows 10 laptop to link to it, ruling out the option of a windows-based tablet.

The sky is quite bright tonight with a virtually full moon. For a bank holiday Saturday, the main A38 is quite noise at this time of night – unexpected. Also, it is very windy. Thunder predicted later in the night. On the positive side, Damian is having a whale of a time playing around with his laptop controlling the mount whilst I write this!

ISS (ZARYA), Satellite in Ophiuchus,26 May 2018, 23:22:36, Just watched the ISS rise over my house and brighten greatly as it rises higher until it was a spectacular sight near culmination and then slowly fade as it moved to the east.

Bode’s Nebulae – Messier 81, Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major,26 May 2018, 23:43:23, Took two attempts at alignment to get scope working well tonight. This is often the case. I have read online that it may be due to backlash when the user must fiddle back and for with the controls to centralise alignment stars, causing errors to creep in. Second time lucky today! M81 proved that alignment had been successful by appearing in the centre of the field of view. It only appeared as faint smudge with brighter nucleus – and looked smaller compared to our usual view, again demonstrating the poor sky. Currently, we are using my Explore Scientific 14mm 100-degree field of view eyepiece.

Hercules Cluster – Messier 13, Globular Cluster in Hercules,26 May 2018, 23:49:41, Top left of view of field so not quite spot on re GOTO but is putting objects in field of view of 14mm eyepiece tonight.

Whirlpool Galaxy – Messier 51, Spiral Galaxy in Canes Venatici,26 May 2018, 23:50: 39, which means that the fact that we could not see this pair galaxies demonstrates again the poor sky quality as we would expect to see it with this scope from this location.

Messier 92, Globular Cluster in Hercules,26 May 2018, 23:51:35, Seen but difficult to resolve stars similar to limitations in our view of M13 – I think sky is not transparent even though can’t see the cloud easily.

Ring Nebula – Messier 57, Planetary Nebula in Lyra,26 May 2018, 23:52:44, Better view but higher in sky. clear Outside app suggested 68-90% cloud by midnight – not that from here but still there is something obscuring view, suggesting the app has identified correctly deteriorating sky conditions.

Double Double – Epsilon1 Lyrae, Double Star in Lyra,26 May 2018, 23:54:44, With 14mm eyepiece we can just about split each of pairs.

NGC 6229, Globular Cluster in Hercules,26 May 2018, 23:57:31, Visible without too much difficult. Mag 9+ so surprising we can see it but prob as high up. This is a globular that we rarely look at – in fact, I can’t remember seeing it before. Not a bad one – recommend folks add it to their observing lists!

Kuma – Nu1 Draconis, Star in Draco,26 May 2018, 23:59:52, Lovely bright easily split double – to me looked like white and yellow/white stars, about same brightness.

Cat’s Eye Nebula – NGC 6543, Planetary Nebula in Draco,27 May 2018, 00:01:04, In Draco too, easily seen as out of focus star.

17 Draconis, Double Star in Draco,27 May 2018, 00:02:55, To me this double star looks like blue white and yellow white pair.

100 Herculis, Double Star in Hercules,27 May 2018, 00:04:03, A little known and little seen double star pairing, Sky Safari says – but we saw it tonight!

Omicron Herculis, Variable Double Star in Hercules,27 May 2018, 00:05:39, I could not split this even with 6mm Ethos, but it did not appear round but oval suggesting the double. These are 0.1 arc seconds apart, so we were asking too much of the scope in this sky to see this.

Nu Herculis, Variable Double Star in Hercules,27 May 2018, 00:10:55, Could not split this either – 0.5 secs.

(With all these double stars, we feel like we are following IN Nick’s footsteps!)

b Herculis, Double Star in Hercules,27 May 2018, 00:12:50, Can’t split this either tonight – 1.4 arc seconds.

Mu Herculis, Double Star in Hercules,27 May 2018, 00:15:31, these stars are 35 arc seconds apart according to Sky Safari app in the iPad. To me, the second one is much fainter than the primary component – easily seen pairing.

Sarin – Delta Herculis, Double Star in Hercules,27 May 2018, 00:20:26, Strange that we could not see this double star at all, even after checking the alignment of the mount to ensure that we were pointing at the correct location in the sky. Possibly the reason we can’t see it is that the sky is deteriorating. It is starting to feel like rain soon and the sky has a varying tint across it which suggests high moisture content and formation cloud. We will try to view M13 again. That will be a good test of sky conditions….

Out last object we viewed tonight: Hercules Cluster – Messier 13, Globular Cluster in Hercules,27 May 2018, 00:23:20, We could just about resolve some stars but not a great view. Time to pack up.


A Day’s Observing from Streethay 19/5/2018 – The Royal Wedding…

The ‘big day‘… and the weather couldn’t have been better… sunny for most of the day plus into the evening forecast (although there appeared to be a layer of high cloud).

There was great excitement in the Briden household to see what our guest would appear in… would it be a one or two piece, perhaps sandals… or a hat.. or come completely ill-prepared…

Look who came around to play, after arriving in her (motorised) carriage !

Yes, well ‘Meghan‘ is a bit shy after all… and these solar hoods/veils can be a right pain to get into!

And a pic of ‘her’ using her own scope and trying a different… veil…

Our solar panels had a cracking day also – generating over 24kWh.

To get into the spirit of things Julie appeared with flags…

What a fine specimen of a man is our ‘Harry‘… It was a first chance for him to use his updated home-made sun shield – now faced with white card to reflect some heat and so stop the main cardboard construction warping (the other face is covered with DC-fix black self adhesive felt – the same stuff that ‘Harry’ had lined his 10″ OO Dob some years ago…)

Although the seeing was not so good today, one has to make do when the opportunity arises… besides it didn’t spoil the generally good feel of the day… we even managed a celebratory glass of Pimms No.1 no less – I say, can’t get more British than that!

Following two images are taken hand held, iPhone6 to a 32mm TV Plossl, (Takahashi TSA102s, Daystar Quark Chromosphere, 2″ Baader UV/IR blocking filter inserted before the diagonal), running at 107x

…showing a fantastic set of ‘Newton’s (wedding) Rings‘ there!

This prominence can be seen on the GONG images at the 8 o’clock position…

Time: 2.16pm


..and later at 4.44pm


My sketches of the evolving prominences throughout the ‘big’ day…

After a great day, we retired for dinner, then set up again with changed attire…. ready for the…. ‘evening event‘!

What a beauty, hey! Just checking how he looks on the ole social media! Here featured in a RAG jacket, matching trousers and footwear by….

Lunar shot taken at 9.50pm, iPhone 6 hand held to the 21mm TV Ethos (TEC 140-ED APO refractor)

..and another slightly later at 10.05pm (not so zoomed in) – those damn paparazzi, hey….

Had a chance to do some drawing…. managed quick sketches of both the Western and Eastern (Bridal) Veil portions. Seeing and transparencey was not good and my intended target, Jupiter, was just not great tonight to bother with…

Managed to just pick out the Crescent Nebula in Cygnus (only via my 2″ Lumicon OIII and UHC filters), but I’ve seen it through the same scope much clearer on a previous occasion.

Most tricky observation came early on in the evening after following Andy… sorry ‘Meghan’ to M81/M82… came across ‘Coddington Nebula’ in the same vicinity – IC2574, a spiral galaxy in Ursa Major, running at Mag 10.4. Took averted vision, patience and the superb Sky Safari Pro 5 charts (able to reverse the chart as well which really helps to double check everything). Discovered by Edwin Coddington in 1898 and classified first as a ‘nebula’.

Best observation was the ISS flypast just after half 12. Was able to use the laser pointer attached to the Nova Hitch mount to track it sufficiently well for brief periods to see the Space Station as clear as day through the eyepiece as it whizzed passed the ‘adoring throngs‘!

So to wrap up this post, a few pictures of the ‘Happy Couple‘ in the garden at Briden Palace!


…off on ‘honeymoon’ to RAG this Friday!

Damian (and Andy!)


Observing Log Streethay 19/5/2018 @ 22:00 -20/5/2018 @ 03:30

Damian and I spent a memorable evening outside last night. Not the best of skies. However with the help of his Tec 140 on his Nova Hitch and my Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 120mm on my HEQ5 Pro Synscan mount, we observed a wide range of objects including Moon, the Eastern Veil Nebula and Witches Broom part of the Veil (both of those required an OIII filter or UHC to view well & were virtually invisible without such a filter), Ring Nebula, multiple other planetary nebula, globular clusters galore, Jupiter (the tracking Synscan HEQ5 Pro really helped here allowing me to get Jupiter in the field of view and keep it there at 600x magnification – 6mm Ethos + 2 x Tele Vue Big Barlow + 2 x Tele Vue 1.25 inch Barlow! – where we saw a wealth of detail on the planetary belts, open clusters and a lot beside.

I “upgraded” to Sky Safari Pro 6 planetarium software on my iPad a few months ago when there was half price deal and it turns out that it is very difficult in this new version to e-mail our observations to myself so that I can upload them to this blog unless they are set up on the software correctly first under an observing list which I did not do last night – plus the software keeps crashing on me whilst I try to get them off the machine – my old iPad is the problem here. So, I will downgrade my version of Sky Safari software on my iPad back to version 4 or 5 which worked well on this iPad and where observations were easy to get off the machine. Thankfully, although I could not buy those older versions now, it turns out they are still available in the iTunes store under “My Purchases” as I previously purchased them…..so they are both downloading now!