Rob Leonard

Observing – 25/2/18

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.
  • M52
  • Eta Cassiopeiae
  • 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.

An Unexpected Session…

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:

M51 Whirlpool

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….

Kemble's Cascade

RAG junior member fun

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.

Friday night man flu.

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!

The pictures are all 12 x 300s at ISO800.

Picture saved with settings applied.
Picture saved with settings applied.
Picture saved with settings applied.

Apollo 15

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!

A little session

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).

Warm Astronomy – first attempt.

So, the clocks have gone back, the dark evenings are here and (when the clouds and rain leave us alone) there’s some great stargazing to be done. Within reason I’m quite happy to get my thermals on and put up with a bit of cold to enjoy the show, but I also like to share (inflict?) my hobby with my nearest and dearest and my chances of getting them outside in this weather for any length of time are pretty slim. Over the summer I’ve been good friends with eBay and have picked up some bits and pieces to enable me to bring the hobby indoors.

The kit I’m using is: HEQ5 Mount, Skywatcher 130P-DS, ZWO ASI224 Camera (with an LP filter) and a laptop running Cartes du Ciel (I know lots of club members like Stellarium, but my geriatric laptop doesn’t!) to control the mount, SharpCap to run the camera and TeamViewer to control the laptop remotely (I tried using Remote Desktop, but Windows wasn’t having any of it).

First chance to use it came up on Sunday night- full moon or not! Altogether it took about half an hour to set up (hopefully this will drop with practice). Pictures below show the setup (complete with frost) and then images of what we could see in the session. Whilst we were running I saved the captures and later stacked them along with a dark stack (not sure I’ve got this bit right) and did a histogram stretch- these are shown alongside.
Altogether, it worked well- both being able to easily show images and the novelty of pointing at something on screen and then images of it appearing a minute or two later. Some friends popped over and they were quite taken with being able to all see it at the same time and discuss rather than taking turns at the eyepiece and being unsure of what they were seeing.

The brighter objects were certainly better- the targets we looked at were:
Albireo – right image is 15 x 10s exposure.
M57 Ring Nebula – right image is 15 x 30s exposure.
M27 Dumbbell – right image is 30 x 30s exposure.
M15 – Globular – right image is 35 x 30s exposure.

Gain was set to 300 throughout. I also tried the Double-double, which became the Single-single and M81 which just came out as a blob- I think this and the Dumbbell might work out better with a bit less moonlight. Overall it was a really successful evening- the setup time is a bit of a pain compared with the 5 mins it takes to set the Dob up (and that includes making a cup of tea!), and it lacks the magic of finding it yourself and seeing with your own eyes. But for sharing with others it’s brilliant, and later on I even managed to get my month-end books done with the scope still on which made that task less of a drag than usual!

Oh- and thanks for the earlier post in the blog about using old storage boxes to protect your laptop/shield the light from its screen- worked a treat!


Nice video, shame about the weather…

What completely pants weather this week!

Did manage to have a 5 minute astro fix with this video. Quality isn’t amazing, and hopefully still works for people not on facebook- if anyone can find a better copy please post:


An Interstellar journey to the Orion nebula.Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprioImages by Hubble Space Telescope

Posted by Beyond Our Sight on Freitag, 14. Juli 2017


Younger Stargazers and Electronic Astronomy.

I’ve had a bit of an e-bay splurge over the summer and bought a few bits of kit, one of which has been a small ETX telescope for taking away with us (see earlier post) and another of which has been a little ZWO webcam type effort because… well, why not?

With the full moon out and not a lot of chance for DSOs I decided to spend an evening combining these recent purchases and looking at the moon, and I decided to see how the little camera coped on what should be an ideal target. Sam came out to join me and the little ETX was giving us really beautiful crisp sharp magnified views through the eyepiece. This, to me, is wonderful, and I can easily spend hours doing it- Sam liked it too, but wasn’t quite as fascinated.

So we got the laptop out and plugged the camera in and started looking at the exact same thing on screen- what a transformation! Sitting with the hand controller, controlling what appeared on screen, picking out the major landmarks and taking snapshots of it, he was in his element- he could not have been any more thrilled.

Without wanting to attach too much significance to one event and one child, I do think there’s a generation issue here. For me there’s something brilliant in the knowledge that the actual light my eyes are experiencing has travelled across space from the source of the object I’m looking at. But for younger people (and how much of an old git do I sound?), who are used to experiencing the world through screens and technology, this is what grabs them.

Some photos below to give you an idea of what we were looking at- they’re not the greatest as frankly I was having trouble getting anywhere near the controls!