Fantastic stars !

Fabulous stars.
I’m always hesitant to detail single stars when folk are frantically seeking out fuzzy patches or vast clusters. However these stars have fascination that they are worth finding. Some show the gorgeous colour of enormous dying carbon stars, others just stun the eye with their history,

The “Methuselah star”, the oldest star we can observe. It’s on its own in Libra. It’s quite a thrill to look at Star born soon after the Big Bang. I returned to it several times in absolute wonder. We’re looking at 14.5 billion years old. It sits very much alone in the field of view. It’s metal poor showing it’s only a second generation star . It’s +7.2 at
RA 15h43m3s. DEC -10 56’0″.

” Herschel’s Garnet Star”, Mu Cephei ( Erakis) At the base of Cepheus and visible by eye. It’s a deep orange red in small apertures. Made more lovely if you defocus and get a larger circle of colour. It’s 1420 times the size of the Sun and 38,000 times brighter. It would reach out between the orbit of Jupiter and Saturn. It’s a variable from +3.6 to +5 over 2-2.5 years.
SAO 033693. RA 21h44m02s. DEC +58 51’31.4″.

“Hind’s Crimson Star” ,R Leporis,a winter showpiece in Lepus beneath Orion. It’s deep red colour gives it the name “Vampire Star” in the USA. Set low in the sky with the right conditions it has looked like a drop of blood. It’s a long term variable with a period of 427-432 days from +5.5 to +11.7. It’s one of the nearest carbon stars at 11,000 light years distance. It’s huge star between 480-535 times the radius of the Sun, it would extend to Jupiter’s orbit.
SAO 150058. RA 05h00m22s. DEC -14 47’04”.

“La Superba” , Y Canum venaticorum, in the Hunting Dogs, a very beautiful red tester star. It’s variable from +4.8 to +7.3 over 160 days. It’s 2.2AU across and would fill the orbit of Mars.
SAO 044317. RA 12h45m07s. DEC +45 26’25”.

Cor Caroli, “King Charles’ heart. ” really beautiful binary at the bottom end of the Hunting Dogs. It’s a wide 19.0″ split at +2.8 to +5.5.Named in honour of Charles II. It’s 83 times brighter than the sun.
RA 12h56m47s. DEC +38 13’30”.

“Piazzi’s Flying star” at the top of Cygnus. A binocular fast moving pair. They always make me smile as I expect them to fly off a trapeze. The pair are 31.7″ apart, at 11.4 light years away , they orbit at twice that of Pluto from the Sun. This orbit is very elliptical. It was the first star to have its distance measured. It’s a very fast mover at 108km/sec, five times that of the Sun. Thus is fast proper motion in the galaxy.
SAO 070919. RA 21h07m35s. DEC +38 48’41”.

“Plaskett’s star.”
V640 in Monoceros is a huge binary star. It’s a hundred times the mass of the sun.
RA 06h37m24s. DEC +06 08’07”.

“The Blaze Star” TCrB. A recurring nova caused by matter accumulating from a red giant onto a red dwarf. Leading to a thermo nuclear explosion.
SAO 084129. RA 16h00m12.1s. +25 53’32”.
Mira (omicron Ceti), the brightest in the class of pulsating binary 02variables.
SAO 173353. RA 02h20m11s. -02 54′.1

The Winter Albireo.
Two contenders here, see what you think of,
Iota Cancri. At 30.7″ separation.
RA 08h46.7m +28 46′.

h3945 in Canis Major at 26.8″ separation. The most wonderfully coloured binary . Very much overlooked.
SAO 173349 RA 7h16m36s. -23 18’56”.


Tegmine.(“shell of the crab”) Zeta Cancri.
Beautiful binary complex. Zeta 1 splits at 1″ , widening to 2020 The pair are 5″ from Zeta2. This has at least one red dwarf companion at .3″. Zeta 1 is a challenge. At one star party , novices picked it out whilst some very experienced observes couldn’t. SAO 097645. 08h13.1m   +17 35.7″.


Enjoy under
Clear skies !

Winter Window-sill clusters

Although last night was pretty clear, I didn’t feel up to going out (OK, I know, lack of dedication!). So having gone to bed, I was ultimately disturbed by one of my insomnia sessions. This is another one of those times when the window-sill observatory is worth its weight in gold! So, here are some images of 3 winter Messier clusters from the early hours.


Thank you…

Just wanted to drop a line saying thanks for the help on Friday night with my scope.

I learnt a lot just exploring and asking questions whilst you guys were working on it.

Im actually taking the scope up to Ros tonight about 1700 as Im picking my boy up from Linton just after 6 so thought I would pop up as its looking clear, unlike Friday night 🙁

Thanks again and see you soon


Let’s sketch !

Sketching at the eyepiece will give you a record of what you see and share the views. It’s pretty quick and easy , a simple dot becomes a star and a bit of shading , galaxies or nebulae. In addition, relaxing your eye and sketching will let you tease out more details .
This is especially so with planets. Very often you can just leave the focus and let the details come in and out of view.
A dim red torch and a clipboard are the essential bits of gear , if you can find a comfy seat , it helps relax and enjoy the view.

Pencils and pens.
A white hybrid gel pen will give you controllable points , either slight or a big more for brighter stars.
I found that white chinagraph pencils are soft enough to give shading without lines. Keep it in your warm pocket in winter and it’ll be nice and soft.
A black marker is useful for mistakes, make sure it doesn’t show up on your card.

Black A4 , you can cut into two A5 pieces .

Marking the circle fov.
With your chinagraph pencil , lightly draw around a cereal bowl which fits your paper. Leave a bit of space each side and top for notation.Marking a circle both sides will let you flip over if you’re not happy first go. You can add a smaller circle around any higher magnification details that you have drawn .
Let’s start !
Get comfy , put your card on a clipboard and keep your head light low.
Choose something simple to begin with, a galaxy such as M81 + M82 or a planetary nebula such as NGC 6543. Double stars are ideal to draw.
Put this in the middle of your fov with enough space around it to show some field stars.
Draw your target first. Then note the position of the brightest stars and dot these in. Then fill in around your target and the star fields. Use angles and shapes to get their position. Light edges and fuzziness can be edged by rubbing your finger over these areas. A blue pencil can be useful to add the colour of some bright planetary nebulae such as “The Eskimo nebula”. Similarly with coloured stars.
Try to avoid a picture of just a double star alone in the fov. Most stars have companions , even if this means drawing a widefield view first , then add a smaller circle.

Let’s finish !
You’ve got a sketch. Before you move on , you can add the cardinal points , west and north. This’ll help compare it with other drawings.
If you turn off tracking or note where the fov is drifting towards , this is west. Everything in the northern hemisphere drifts west. Look at a star at the edge of the fov and see which direction it exits. Check where your central target is heading , the exit direction is west.

If you are using an odd numbers of mirrors ( one for a refractor diagonal) , then mark the direction of drift “W” for west. North will be 90 degrees clockwise from west.
If you are using an even number of mirrors (Newtonian) , then mark west. North will be 90 degrees anti-clockwise from west.
You can find similar drawings from other observers and compare yours with their alignment . Or if you’re that bored , take up golf !

Include the name and constellation at the top. Below make note of the date and time. You can add the scope and magnification and anything else noteworthy . It’s your individual record .It’s quick and instant . It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw , it’s points and shading.

Improving with editing.
Scan your sketch . You can then darken or monochrome it with a basic editing app. There’s no point in changing any drawn details , as what you saw was at the eyepiece.

Drawing on white paper.
It’s better with a very bright target to draw planets on white paper. Some 4b and 6b pencils will give you shadings and a soft line. Don’t worry about getting the shape of Jupiter’s disc right. Simpler to draw some circles with compasses before heading out. With lunar views , try to just draw one or two craters, keep it simple to begin with.
I’ve tried astrophotography and it’s a quite involved compared to the quick and individual record of what you can sketch at the eyepiece. It’s also much cheaper ! It never fails to amaze me the number of folks at star parties who have absolutely no record of observing and who are similarly amazed when seeing simple sketches. Hopefully if we ever get clear skies at Rosliston it would be useful to get some sketching done.
Here’s a few , looking forward to yours under
Clear skies !
Nick.img_4211 img_4212

Review: “Double stars for small telescopes”.


A classic , just packed with the very best binary , optical and multiple stars. There are details of historical observations and Sissy’s comments. There’s enough room to add your own notes . There are also details of what hasn’t been spotted with various apertures and a range of colours experienced.

There’s a very full introduction to observing double stars. It’s taken me on many adventures. Each constellation is accurately detailed with challenges down and just below one arc second. With light pollution , double stars are very obtainable targets in any scope.

This will kick off your adventures. More can be found on the “Eagle Creek observatory , double star “site and the very comprehensive “Star splitters” site.


The Pocket Sky Atlas: One Atlas to rule them all !

Usually abbreviated to PSA , this is essential for sky exploration. There is a newer Jumbo edition,  with slightly larger pages, but the same detail.

Messiers and the best NGC and binary targets are detailed. In the inside cover is a print of the Telrad rings . You can either use this by referring to it or copy it onto a bit of acetate.

The Atlas is very readable under a red head lamp. I added a constellation index at the front for ease. It’s spiral bound , do it won’t fall to pieces in use. I used a roll of clear vinyl self adhesive to cover each page and edges. It’s been out when the dew was dripping off everything.

There are a couple of detailed charts at the back. There is a star and Messier index. Otherwise the index details by object type, galaxies, planetary nebulae etc. This Atlas has been out with me every session for 6 years under

clear skies   !



Review , books from beginner to ” about there”!

Probably the very best beginners books out there. It’s very comprehensive with guides to equipment and constellations. Experienced observers will get a lot out of this book. It’s written at just the right novice friendly level. It’s so inspiring that you’ll be waiting for a dark clear sky.
It’s very fresh and a lovely introduction into astronomy.



img_4204 img_4205It’s difficult to find books with drawings and descriptions of deep sky objects which don’t include Hubble images. “Observing the Deep Sky” presents a lot of information of the best features of each constellations and some great advice on observing. It’s a great beginners guide which includes a chapter on double stars. If you need a realistic view of what you observe , then this is a great resource.



With lovely realistic eyepiece views and great constellation summaries, this is a book to delve a bit deeper in the sky. There’s lots of information on deep sky objects and binary stars. There are clear charts for finding targets, much better set out and explained than by ” Turn Left at Orion”.

It’s ideal to find some elusive targets and packed with relevant information and details on observing. It’s a book that you’ll return to time and again as constellations come into view. A great resource for the observer off the starting blocks.



Here’s a great book for the more experienced observer. These are indeed some little observed treasures. The author has a few similar books out and goes into great detail about historical and current observing. His writing is very entertaining with amusing figures and names he manages to conjure up from a few stars. If you ‘ve moved on from the Messier’s and would like to explore targets that are worth the time, then this is the very book.

Clear skies ! Nick.


A new way of uploading photos into your blogs so that readers can open them in a new page and increase the size of the image by clicking on them

There is now a new way to add images to users’ posts on this website so that readers can click on them to open them in a new page and increase their size.

The picture below has this functionality. Try clicking on it to see what happens.

To do this with your own posts, when you upload a photo file on the “add media” page, in “attachment display settings” choose link to “media file”. I would also recommend you choose the full resolution option during this file upload process.

The picture below is a screenshot from a website that gives more information on the WP Featherlight plugin and how this works.