Rob Leonard

Rosette Nebula in Ha

Always a bit tricky imaging under a bright moon, but even more so when you’re in clumsy mode. Last night I managed to disconnect the power from my mount whilst aligning. Twice! Then I dropped an eyepiece by slewing the scope without having it fixed properly (fortunately it landed on the rubber eye cup). Finally I spent ages trying to work out why I couldn’t focus my guide-scope until the penny finally dropped that I was twiddling with the locking ring and not the focuser. So I’m taking this picture as a victory of the scope over its owner!

15x 10 min subs – Canon 600d – 130 pd-s- 7nm Ha filter.


Building a Shed/Observatory in 5 minutes

The one upside of the last few weeks abysmal lack of astro friendly weather is that I’ve finally had the opportunity to put together the time-lapse videos from my shed project. OK- It’s only 5 minutes with the help of time-lapse video- but it was quite a quick build when I actually got the chance to work on it.

One evening last May there was a unanimous perfect forecast from different weather apps and I dutifully set all the gear up for some imaging. Just as we were getting to darkness a thick bank of cloud rolled in. As it was not forecast, I decided to hang on for the sky to clear, and instead spent the next hour looking round the garden working out how I could have a more permanent set up with all of the advantages it gives. And no- the sky didn’t clear that night…

Looking about the internet there are some amazing creations- both home-made and purchased- but these were all well beyond my available resources for this project in either time or money. Besides keeping costs down, I wanted the following:

–          Really small footprint.

–          I didn’t want it to look like an observatory (which is much too grand a word anyway for this shed).

–          If I wanted to bring my mount out to a club evening or dark site, I didn’t want it to be any more hassle than taking the mount and scope out of the garage is.


–          I used an 7’x5’ apex shed design. This has the disadvantage of limiting the view where the apexes are- but my views are restricted in those directions anyway- and with the smaller roof panels I can move them manually and drop them down the side walls.

–          Upside-down guttering is used to seal the gap at the top between the panels.

–          No pier- the tripod sits on bricks that come through the shed floor so I don’t cause vibrations when I’m walking around.

–          The roof panels slide off on fixed castors fitted to the shed walls (although in practice the tower bolts catch on the sides and it’s more of a lift than a slide).

–          The electrics are in a ventilated plastic storage box to keep them away from moisture. I run an outdoor cable from the garage when it’s in use. I’m using a Nevada power supply which has been a lot less hassle than using a battery, and I can’t prove it, but I think the mount is running better.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with it- it only takes a couple of minutes to open the roof, the polar alignment seems to be pretty much spot on each time I check it (despite not having a pier) and my setup time to when I start the first sub has dropped from an hour to around twenty minutes or so. Most of this time is to align, frame and focus.

The shed came from Tiger Sheds and seems to be of reasonable quality. The weight of the roof panels was heavier than I had expected (when I was checking out the design I didn’t allow for the weight of the roof felt- blimey it’s heavy!!!) and I was thinking about ways to overcome this. But I’ve got used to the technique to move the panels, and it has stood up really well to some very wet and windy weather over the last few weeks. For now I’m inclined to leave it as it is. It’s also pretty snug in there. I never intended to use it for observing, but if I ever changed my mind about that I’d probably need to start again because space around the scope is pretty limited and alignment often involves a short stepladder and hanging off walls…

It will just about take a 1200mm Newt OTA, but with that one it is really cosy.

It isn’t quite finished yet- I’m in the process of adding some shelving, I need to improve the ventilation (I’m looking into solar powered fans, but failing that I’ll just put some vents in) and I need to lag the walls to help keep the temperature more stable.

So, if anyone is thinking about a more permanent setup, but is concerned about the cost and effort involved, it needn’t be an architectural masterpiece. The basic shed was £320 and with the materials for the base and other odds and sods I’m probably a little north of £500 for the whole project. Which will hopefully allow me to be a little more spontaneous with imaging. Or at least have wasted less time when ‘secret’ clouds come rolling in…

Hope you enjoy the video (speaking of which- this was partly put together with Videopad as recommended at a RAG meeting earlier in the year- I can second that recommendation! 😊).

Observing Report 12/12/18

Slightly strange conditions last night- the sky south and east was distinctly murky with very ropey seeing. This isn’t unusual as I live north and west of Burton, but it seemed to be especially exaggerated. List below was all in 14” dob:

Aldeberan and the Hyades– whilst checking the Finder and the Rigel were lined up properly I put Aldeberan in the EP. It’s too easy to forget the simple pleasure of putting a big fat red star with whopping diffraction spikes (yeah, I know- not everyone’s cup of tea) in the middle of your field of view. Spent a while wandering round the neighbouring star field. A lovely start and almost forgot I had a list to go through.

Comet 46p – A nice little hop from Epsilon Taurus, but still took a couple of attempts. The head was really clear; I spent ages trying to see the tail. Eventually, with the 35mm in, a bit of averted vision and wiggling the scope I could see some elongation of the head and a hint of the tail.

Pleiades – Because if you’re in the area with a low power eyepiece it’s rude not to.

Mars – shrinking after the summer, but some detail still visible at 206x including polar cap.

Neptune – very small, but the blue colour is so striking. Given the seeing so low in the sky I didn’t try to go past 206x

NGC 6543 – Cat’s eye nebula – lovely pleasing green, and decent disk at 206x

NGC 7023 – Iris Cluster and Nebula – I got to the cluster OK, and I think I found some nebulosity but it was very faint. Not really sure.

NGC6946 – Fireworks Galaxy – Very faint and averted vision only.

NGC7331 and Stephan’s Quintet (NGC7320) – I’ve wanted to have a go at this one for a while, and with it high in a good part of the sky it seemed like a good chance. NGC7331 was straightforward- with an elongated shape clearly visible with direct vision. At low power (47x) it was easy to put it in same the FOV as Stephan’s Quintet. The four stars that they sit within were a distinctive shape and easily picked out. I think when you know what something is supposed to look like it’s easy to imagine it right there. There could possibly, maybe, have been a sort of mottling in the right area with averted vision??? I don’t think I can really claim that.

M42 – Again- rude not to and wonderful as always. The seeing was bad around there, although there was a hint of the ‘E’ star in the trapezium. Spent a while playing with Oiii and UHC filters. The Oiii filter just gives a brilliant view of the cloud with so much texture.

Rosette Nebula – My first observation of this object. The central cluster was easily picked out and I could find some faint nebulosity, especially beneath and to the right of the cluster.

Really enjoyable evening, and hopefully have some subs of 46p to play with soon…

Another go at Sadr

Finally got a finished version of last Saturdays subs- I’d left the camera running on Sadr before setting off to meet Neil. I managed to collect 16 ten minute Ha subs (it was a bright moon), along with another 10 of the shed wall whilst the rig was running unsupervised (not included here!). I used them for the B&W image below, then combined them into the red channel of an RGB image from 9th October on the same target (see here for previous effort: ). My framing was a bit different this time (framing is a bit random at the minute for me- I’ve definitely not got on top of this yet…), so the colour image below is the intersection between the 2.

Observing Report- 17/11/18

Sam and I met up with Neil Wyatt on Saturday night for an excellent night’s observing and imaging at Brankley Pastures near Barton under Needwood.

Neil was already setting up his imaging rig when we arrived at 8pm, and Sam and I got our 8 inch dob out to get started quickly. Unfortunately we quickly found that it was a night of absent mindedness: I’d forgotten the trusses for the larger dob, Sam had left behind 5 of the 6 pages of his lunar observing plan and Neil didn’t have the memory card for his camera. I can see that if I’m going to do more of these trips a checklist is going to be essential…

The moon was high in the sky so we started off with doing planetary and lunar with Sam doing the finding:
– Mars- polar cap just about vsible but couldn’t see other surface features.
– Lunar- Copernicus, Tycho, Altai Scarp, Theophilus, Cyrillus, Catharina, and Clavius (just around the same time Roger was imaging it).

Unfortunately this was as far as the first page of the Lunar 100 log gave us. So next we tried for a few deep sky objects- looking at Vega, the Double double and the Pleiades. Neil also brought up the Pleiades in his ED66 and it definitely looked better it the little frac with wonderful contrast and sharpness. I then ran Sam home, which was a good opportunity to pick up some Hot Chocolate and Dob trusses!

On my return the sky was darkening with the setting moon and we switched to the 14inch for some more deep space stuff with views of M1 (faint), The Auriga Open Clusters M36 & M37, the Ring, Andromeda, M81/82 pair and the highlight of the night: M42. We switched between the dob and the ED66 and used various magnifications, eyepieces and filters. At 205x, without filters in the Dob we both managed to spot the 5th brightest star in the Trapezium. There is a serious risk of my getting stuck on this target all winter…

A really enjoyable evening, and a pleasure to observe in good company!

A note on the site: Brankley Pastures is a Staffs Wildlife Trust site near Barton- so quite convenient for many RAG members and where- at least in winter- it’s possible to observe with minimal risk of being disturbed. It’s not a completely dark site- there’s a significant patch of light pollution to the North (presumably from Tutbury), and another to the North East from Burton. But overhead the skies are much darker than home and there is a great southern horizon. It was brilliant, as the moon set, to see the sky come alive- with Auriga turning from an empty circle to one rich with naked eye detail. Just next time I need to remember all the key parts of my kit!

Observing Report 11/11/18

The forecast was a bit ambiguous, but it was a lovely night out under the stars last night. Set the camera running on M33, got the 14 inch dob out and away we go:

– Double double: I’ve taken to starting on this to check conditions and collimation. It was an easy split at 205x which promised well for the evening.
– Mars: Although it’s diminishing rapidly following the summer, the height in the sky and the lack of a dust storm are providing a much better view- especially with an LP filter to reduce the glare. I was able to see the polar cap reasonably well and some appearance of surface features.
– M15 – Bright core, with individual stars resolvable almost all the way in. At 205x it covered an area almost half the diameter of the FOV.
– Blue Snowball – a first for me- it really is blue! Really pleasing fuzzy blue disk. I wanted to try different filters and found it stood out best with the UHC filter.
– Mirach’s ghost – another first for me. Mirach was very bright, but once you edged it out of the FOV this Galaxy was quite an easy spot.
– NGC7814- I was beginning to feel a bit cocky so I went for a random Mag 10 galaxy in Sky Safari. It was actually quite an easy hop from the bottom left star of Pegasus (it’s in the same view in the finder) so wasn’t too hard, but was really pleased nonetheless.
– Delta Cephei – lovely sharp double, with a blue tinge to the companion. I put it on the list because of its historical importance- but it’s a nice visual target as well.
– Garnet Star – This is such a beautiful vivid red.
– Elephant’s Trunk – Hard to see at first, but the UHC filter really helped and with this and a bit of concentration and letting the eye get in I was able to follow it for most of its length. The section at the top was the most visible.

At this point I went in to put the kids to bed and have some family time. A bit later…

– M1 – Crab Nebula – Took a long time to get back in the groove. It took me ages to find this- I had to get my eyes to adjust back and then spent ages point at the wrong star and generally confusing myself. Even with the UHC filter, and having gotten past my own ineptitude, it was quite difficult to spot.
– M52 – Open Cluster in Cassiopeia – This was a bit easier- and visually more rewarding.
– M45 – Pleiades – Put in the 35mm at 47x. Just stunning.
– Uranus – a faint greenish tinge to a small disk.
– M74 – Spiral Galaxy in Pisces- Despite being quite dim (Mag 9.4) there was a hint of shape visible on this beyond the core (I couldn’t see the arms, more just a fuzz) – it might make an interesting imaging target at some point.
– M77 – Spiral Galaxy in Cetus – A brighter core than M74, but less hint of the outer structure.
– NGC 2024 – Flame Nebula – Now I really should have gone to bed by now, but Orion was sliding in over the rooftops and I have precisely no willpower. Not much doing without a filter, but with the Oiii in, the nebulosity was visible. I was also able to track some of the dark lanes.
– IC434 – Horsehead – Fail! Emboldened by the views of the Flame I spent ages looking for the Horsehead. The bank of nebulosity that it sits in was reasonably straightforward, but I couldn’t find the nag. One for a dark site…
– M42 & 43- Really time to pack up now, but as I sat back from the EP I saw that Orion’s sword was (just) above the rooftops. Re-pointed the scope, leaned forward and shouted ”Wow!”, which is a bit weird when you’re sat all alone in your back garden. I think the surprise was because of the almost solid feel of the area around the trapezium after the wispiness of the HH and Flame. At 205x it’s a fascinating structure- this bit was almost photographic. At 47x, and without filters, the whole area was more gauze like, but vast, and with the dark lanes between M42 & 43 obvious. I then dialled it up to 530x (probably well beyond what my scope can sensibly cope with), but was unable to split the trapezium beyond 4 stars. Being right over the rooftops probably didn’t help.

The night was just getting better, but it was approaching midnight, I’d been out since 6 and it was really time to pack it in. The way it was going I would have happily stayed up all night…  Now where are those M33 subs…

Pelican Nebula (Part 2)

Last week I posted an RGB image of the Pelican Nebula taken shortly after the full moon. The evening before (28/10) I’d had my first go at imaging with a Hydrogen Alpha filter, and a few murky evenings has given me the chance to process it and then learn how to feed it into the Red channel of the RGB image using Pixinsight. Updated image, along with the monochrome Halpha image, is below.

Really pleased with this output- because light pollution is suppressed by the filter I was able to expose for much longer (9 minutes per sub) and the red signal is correspondingly stronger. Once integrated into image you don’t have to “push” the software so hard to bring out the detail in the nebula.