So after a month of absolutely nothing doing at all, along- like buses- came several clear nights. Bit tricky to fit around work and family commitments, but at last had the chance to get out and really try out the new Dob. Despite a lot of turtle wax it’s still a little bit sticky, especially on the azimuth, but otherwise it now feels to be working really well.
On the 19th it was a bit hazy- I’ve started using M51 as a gauge of sky quality, and on this occasion the 2 cores were visible, but not the spiral arms. Nonetheless I pressed on to go Galaxy hunting around Virgo. I’m using Sky Safari to help me with this and find that for the most part I can manage to star hop by using overlay tool and I was able to explore the region around Vindemiatrix picking up 6 new galaxies for me. For the sake of comparison I got the 8 inch Dob out as well to see if I could achieve the same, but I simply couldn’t find them. My back garden certainly has a fair bit of light pollution, and it seems the extra aperture enables me to find things which I otherwise wouldn’t see.
On Thursday and Sunday I also had some time later on with slightly more mixed results. I spent some time on Leo- the M66, M65, NGC3628 triplet was easily found and a nice sight, but I struggled to get to M96/95/105 and really want to have another go at that. More satisfyingly, the Beehive looked wonderful, M92 was great and M13 was stunning- the heart of it was like a shimmering circle of sequins. Gorgeous. The best was yet to come- late on, Jupiter appeared over the rooftops. Unfortunately for me I’m looking through the light pollution and rising heat of Burton in that direction, but even with it dancing in the haze it was a wonderful sight, the bands strikingly clear and colourful. At times I could see the Great Red Spot.
Whilst doing this I had the 5 inch newt set up and pointing at Markarian’s Chain. I hadn’t managed to hop to this with the Dob, and trying to frame it was a challenge (I lost quite a bit of time trying), but I’m quite pleased with the result. It’s 15 4 minute subs, 5 darks and some flats & bias. I can find 15 galaxies in this shot which blows my mind…
The clear skies have been a long time coming but it’s been worth the wait!
The American humourist Will Rogers once observed that there are 3 kinds of men: Those who learn by reading, the few who learn by observation and the rest who have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. I’m joining the third category, as, against the advice of just about everyone I’ve discussed it with I’ve decided to get myself a large(ish) Dob.
Although in the last nine months or so, I’ve become interested in Astrophotography I also really enjoy visual observing, and especially hunting for objects. When I saw a 14 inch’er on Astrobuysell that was relatively portable there was only so long I could avoid temptation. Gotta have something to do whilst taking subs…
I’ve managed one short session between the clouds last week, which was a good reminder of the tribulations of getting to know a new scope but also a promise of fun to come. I could not find anywhere convenient to mount my Quickfinder- I put it too close to the eyepiece and managed at one point to head-butt it clean onto the grass. I also found that the 35mm Eyepiece that came with the scope gives truly horrible views (it may have a future career as a paperweight) and that the Azimuth adjustment is pretty sticky- especially near the zenith. All of these things are going to need some sorting. Attempts to observe M42 and M31 were both scuppered by banks of cloud rolling it at the wrong moment, but just as the frustration levels were rising I got M81 in the eyepiece and saw for the first time with my own eyes detail beyond the galaxy core. Next up was M51 and here I could see both cores quite clearly and some of the material that joins them. In five minutes I had swung from irritation to elation and with the clouds now rolling in I went for the Leo triplet, something I just haven’t been able to see from my location before. Just in time I found them- no detail, but the shapes quite easy to see even without averted vision. That was pretty much it, as the clouds rolled over and haven’t really parted since, but enough that I’m very excited about the next clear night…
PS- I’d like to apologise to everyone for invoking “The Curse of the New Scope” and ruining the weather for a few weeks.
After a busy weekend and several sessions where I’ve either been trying to take photos or improve my skills at finding objects I thought I’d have a bit of a night off, let the mount do the work, and just enjoy observing a few objects that I’ve been inspired to look at by other reports on this site. The setup for the evening was HEQ5 mount using the Wifi dongle, with the OTA from my 200p Dob (now working well on this mount due to extended counterweight bar- thanks Pete) and mostly with 40, 25 and 7mm EPs.
After a cold day the seeing was pretty good but the moon was bright so I decided to focus mainly on clusters. The objects were:
I started off during the alignment trying to see if I could spot Sirius’ companion, but no joy.
M35- looked good in the 40mm
M46- looked good in the 25mm, spent some time looking for the planetary NGC2437 but couldn’t find it, possibly due to the bright moon which wasn’t too far away in the sky.
M47- very pretty in the 25mm.
M48 – another new one for me- loved it in the 25mm
I then spotted that Uranus was still just visible from my location so I put the 7mm on and spent a while observing it. I’m still not quite sure if I imagined the green hue or whether it was really visible. Having moved onto solar system objects I thought I’d have a look at Ceres but couldn’t find a way to get to it through the Synscan app on my phone. I was getting a bit cold so I headed in to see if I could work it out and also warm up a little. The way I eventually managed it was by connecting Sky Safari to the Synscan app, however in the hour I was inside, the mount seemed to have moved a little out of alignment and it proved quite fiddly to get to the object- some thoughts on this below. I then returned to clusters:
NGC2264 – The Christmas Tree Cluster
NGC1502 – Kemble’s Cascade – needed the 40mm for this one, but very pretty and brilliant to see it with my own eyes after failing to star hop to it a couple of weeks ago.
Garnet Star- this was just visible from my location, a stunning red and a great way to finish off the session.
Some thoughts on the WiFi dongle:
This is my fifth/sixth session using it, and whilst I’m still very pleased with it (especially the ease of setup) there are a couple of reservations from the last couple of sessions, primarily based around touchscreen devices in the cold. First point is that the battery level drops much faster in the cold, even when putting the phone in your pocket between adjustments- you really need to make sure there’s a good level of charge before you start. Secondly, the touchscreens seem to become much less responsive in the cold, often needing several “presses” to make them work and on one occasion still seeming to think I had my finger pressed on a button long after I’d let go, resulting in the scope slewing way across the sky away from what I wanted to look at. This is all quite frustrating and can be a bit fiddly. I didn’t experience any of these issues in the first few sessions, where the temperature was 3-6 degrees, but in the last couple where it was zero or below it was really quite frustrating. On the upside, having SkySafari connected to it was brilliant and quite straightforward to do.
I’ve been working a couple of hours away from home a lot recently and have become accustomed to driving home in what look like great conditions for a bit of star gazing only to arrive to clouds, rain etc…
The BBC weather page definitely wasn’t optimistic, but after dinner the skies were clear (if not especially transparent) and so I decided go for it. I thought in for a penny and set up the photography rig. Target number 1 was to try and get some images of M51, but on setting up I found that it was hiding behind a tree (all 160 billion solar masses of it!) so I looked for something a bit higher in the sky and decided to go for the Double Cluster:
The images is built from 10x 5min guided subs. I left the camera clicking away whilst I put the kids to bed, and by the time I was back M51 had come out from its hiding place and I attempted the same exposure time. Unfortunately, with the temperature showing -3 in the back garden my camera batteries gave up quicker than usual and I only got 8 before it gave up the ghost. Enough for the results below, however:
Whilst the camera was working on M51 I got the Dob out for some visual observing. I spent a good few minutes on M42 (does anyone else do this every time they observe? I can’t get enough of this target) and then moved up to Alnitak where the sky was good enough for a hint of nebulosity where the flame nebula is. It then took me a while to find the Crab but I got it eventually before moving onto Andromeda and M110. I decided to go for some new (to me) targets and spent some time looking for M101. I definitely saw something in about the right place but not 100% sure so maybe something to have another go at. I decided to go up towards the zenith and see if I could find Kemble’s cascade, but really struggled to see the stars nearby and couldn’t locate it. It was about then that the camera failed so I got the spare battery out and decided to point the camera at Kemble’s Cascade instead. The first sub wasn’t quite aligned correctly (see below) and when I tried to re-align the mount my tablet decided it had had enough of the cold as well (touchscreens don’t work well with frost on apparently) which left me unable to control the mount. I was getting properly cold by now, but at least I’d had a bit of an astro-fix….
With a clear (cold) night forecast and no school the next day last night was a great and rare chance to do some family astronomy, so we invited Ben and mum Jules over. Mindful of the plunging temperature I lit a fire in the back garden and set up both the 130 pds with the Go-to and camera and got the Dob out.
Fire or not, it was a bit parky to stay out for long, but we still had the chance to do a round of the Crab Nebula, The Orion Nebula, Betelgeuse and Andromeda and discuss each one. There was lots of discussion of “that splodge there” and so on, and it was great to be sociable whilst looking up at the sky! Hope the weather is kind to us and it’s not too long before we do it again.
With a streaming nose, feeling full of flu and having cancelled a Christmas night out it was a bit frustrating to look at the Friday night weather forecast, especially as I’ve just picked up a little metal ring adaptor to turn my finderscope into a guidescope. Temptation got the best of me- I set up as much as I could indoors then did the final alignment bits outside and attached the laptop for the guiding and setting the camera going before heading back indoors for the lemsip and night-nurse.
The intent was to try 5 minute exposures at ISO800 on a couple of targets and work out how to do guiding. First thing that I learned is that the Push Here Dummy software is really well named- I was up and running very quickly. Second thing is that rushing is never a good idea as the first hour of exposures was lost. I’d set the ISO to 12,800 to check the framing and forgotten to set it back. An hour later, instead of subs of Andromeda I had 12 pictures that were completely blown out. The second batch was more successful. I then moved the scope to the Flame Nebula for the third hour and M81/2 for the fourth. With bed calling I did some flats and bias and then put the whole kit in the garage to do the darks whilst I headed to bed.
Didn’t get to finish processing them until today. I think all of the targets could clearly have done with more subs and possibly longer exposures (especially M31), but altogether they’re a bit better than previous efforts- there’s even a hint of a Horsehead! Wish I’d felt well enough to sit out and do some observing (especially after reading Andy’s post!) but given how rough I felt on Saturday it’s probably as well I didn’t. Mucking about with the pictures on Gimp was a reasonable substitute!
Bringing the kids back from an afternoon out today at sunset we were looking at the moon and discussing earthshine, as you could clearly see the part of the moon unlit by the sun in the darkening sky.
As we got home I tried to get out and get a snap through the scope, but by the time I’d sorted the kids out it was too dark and the moment had gone. I did however manage to get a decent focus on the moon (for once) and looking through the photos later there was some good detail. I checked the web for what to look out for on a seven day moon and one of the best features is sunrise over Mons Hadley the landing site for Apollo 15. Very pleasing!
Wow- sounds like some members have had some brilliant sessions over the weekend. Parental duties have got in the way for me a bit, but I did manage to get a out for a mini session on Friday night with the Dob and the Goto and managed to get some pics of M1. Thanks to Roger for some tips to improve my GIMP knowledge.
(SW130 p-ds, ZWO ASI224, 35 x 60s lights + darks and flats).