Hannah re-plates out Petri dish cultures from 22/10/2017 to obtain single organism cultures and adding penicillin to existing Petri dishes 29/10/2017

Our Petri dish cultures of air born bacteria and fungi and mouth swabs from Rhys and Hannah from 22/10/2017 are now covering whole of Petri dishes. The air born cultures (open Petri dishes left outside for 4 hours to collect sample) show wide range of organisms – bacterial and fungal cultures – and the mouth swabs show much more limited number bacteria mainly (with smaller areas occupied by fungi). Interesting the swabs from the two children appear to have grown quite different bacteria, if the macroscopic view of the Petri dish is anything to go by. Rhys’ mouth swab has brown a gelatinous yellow-coloured shiny organism, whereas Hannah’s a rougher looking dry appearance to her culture.

Today, Hannah used a bent sterile needle on a diabetic syringe to attempt to plate out new cultures from the old ones on new Petri dishes – the idea is to obtain a single culture. She used her mouth swab culture Petri dish for this purpose.

After that, she poured some Benzylpenicillin powder (out of date penicillin from my surgery) into the old Petri dishes (her swab culture and one of air cultures) to see over this next week what effect that will have on the organisms present – she tried to get a straight line on the mouth swab – difficult to achieve as she did not want to touch the penicillin and contaminate it! – and more liberally splatter-gunned the air culture as this has lots different organisms and she wanted to see what the pencillin’s effect was on different ones.

As we do not know what we have grown here, there is a risk that some of these organisms are pathogenic (could lead to disease) so Hannah used sterile technique and gloves and we cleaned everything thoroughly afterwards!




For some time now I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the Pleiades! On some clear evenings ill set up my lunt 70mm bins on a tripod so my wife can have a look and it never fails to disappoint! I was checking the weather all week and finally on the Friday evening a clear night was forecast. I planned for Nick to join me with his 9″evo and we sat about imaging the Pleiades and the ring nebula. Nick got some lovely pictures of the ring which should follow shortly and i ended up with 12x3min exposures of M45. Ive still got some post processing to do with my image but I’ll change it over when complete.


Microscopy sediment from lake next to new waterfront apartments at Barton Marina 28/10/2017 & attempts at H&E on dry-fixed specimen & 63x Zeiss Plan objective

My mother came up to celebrate my daughter’s birthday and we went for a walk around Barton Marina (A38 near Lichfield) and enjoyed a Thai lunch. Whilst there, I collected a sediment specimen from the lake next to the new waterfront apartments.

Photos below are using the Zeiss IM microscope and Bresser MikrOkular camera, unless otherwise stated – the Mikrocam needs a good clean!

This was also a chance to try heat-fixing drop of filtered sediment water on a slide and using H&E staining. I also recently obtained a Zeiss Plan objective x63 and had try with this.

H&E staining (from http://www.histology.leeds.ac.uk/what-is-histology/H_and_E.php):

The most commonly used staining system is called H&E (Haemotoxylin and Eosin). H&E contains the two dyes haemotoxylin and eosin.

Eosin is an acidic dye: it is negatively charged (general formula for acidic dyes is: Na+dye). It stains basic (or acidophilic) structures red or pink. This is also sometimes termed ‘eosinophilic’.
Thus the cytoplasm is stained pink in the picture below, by H&E staining.

Haematoxylin can be considered as a basic dye (general formula for basic dyes is:dye+ Cl). Haemotoxylin is actually a dye called hematein (obtained from the log-wood tree) used in combination with aluminium ions (Al3+). It is used to stain acidic (or basophilic) structures a purplish blue. (Haematoxylin is not strictly a basic dye, but it is used with a ‘mordant’ that makes this stain act as a basic dye. The mordant (aluminium salts) binds to the tissue, and then haematoxylin binds to the mordant, forming a tissue-mordant-haematoxylin linkage.)
Thus the nucleus is stained purple in the picture below, by H&E staining.

This means that the nucleus, and parts of the cytoplasm that contain RNA stain up in one colour (purple), and the rest of the cytoplasm stains up a different colour (pink).

What structures are stained purple (basophilic)?

DNA (heterochromatin and the nucleolus) in the nucleus, and RNA in ribosomes and in the rough endoplasmic reticulum are both acidic, and so haemotoxylin binds to them and stains them purple.
Some extracellular materials (i.e. carbohydrates in cartilage) are also basophilic.

What structures are stained pink (eosinophilic or acidophilic)?

Most proteins in the cytoplasm are basic, and so eosin binds to these proteins and stains them pink. This includes cytoplasmic filaments in muscle cells, intracellular membranes, and extracellular fibres.

Brown structures in the H&E photos below are sand (small particles of rock). I think that the blue ovals are single celled organisms killed by the heating process (holding the slide over a flame to dry the drop of sediment water pipetted onto it) and then stained by the H&E staining process.

For future reference, it turns out the 63x Zeiss Plan objective has the longest working distance in the Zeiss IM microscope when the adjustment collar is twisted to as far as it can go on the 22 side of the scale (in other direction from the 12 on the collar scale and towards and beyond the 22 on this scale as far as it can go). Set at this distance the objective can focus through the bottom of a slide as well as through the top.


Video of microscopy live sample x32 objective Phase 1 annulus showing singe celled organisms (unstained live sample):

Barton-Marina-sediment-sand-grains-x20-Mikrocam-281017.jpg (below):

Barton Marina sediment unstained live specimen x32 obj Zeiss IM Ph1 Single celled organisms MikrOkular camera 281017 (below):

Following photo is of Barton Marina sediment filtered through tea strainer and seen through Zeiss IM microscope with x32 objective. Slide is heat fixed and HE-stained (below):

Following photos are of Barton Marina sediment filtered through tea strainer and seen through Zeiss IM microscope with x63 objective. Slide is heat fixed and HE-stained (below):

The following is photo of skeleton of stack of algal cells with 63x objective. This gives a scale to the small blue-stained cells – supporting the idea that these H&E stained small blue circles are bacteria – in this photo and also in the above photos.

Observing Log Friday 27/10/2017 7-9:30 pm

The forecast was correct, clear skies, a chance to used the skywatcher ST102 bought earlier in year and only used for solar work so far. ( see pic.1)

I started under the carport ,as moon was not visible from back garden, not quite first quarter, used it to complete lining up red dot finder, took some getting use to smaller image after the 8″ Newtonian or the 9.25″ SCT. When at IAS I bought a smartphone adapter to take afocal images using the wifes’ new smartphone, now was on opportunity to try it out, pic.2 shows adapter and phone, pic.3  image of moon, notice the chromatic aberration, however visually it was not noticeable. The image was taken with a 30mm plossl eyepiece with this 500mm focal length refractor this gives a mag of x17. The crater marked with a red dot in the centre is Ptolemaeus, at slightly higher magnifications the centre of crater appeared to have horizontal bands across it, is this an artefact, blemish on objective/ diagonal?? at a mag of x83 (6mm plossl) all was revealed there were shadow bands from the peaks on the Eastern crater wall, the wall reaches heights of 3000m (9000+ ft) and with the sun relatively low on the moons horizon the peaks cast some long shadows, it was fascinating watching the shadows shorten even over a relatively short period of time , Liz had taken her phone back, so I have attempted a sketch of the shadows cast over the crater floor ( see pic.4),  the floor is relatively smooth, having been flooded with lava, some very minor impact craters formed since, the darker shading on the west is due to floor slumping towards crater wall. This was the first time I have seen such marked shadows on a crater floor formed by the crater walls, shadows from central  peaks are usually observed and just blanket shadow from the wall, the continual changing of relative positions of sun and moon makes the terminator a dynamic visual environment, there is always something new to see, even in one evening.

I then relocated to the back garden, starting in the SW with Albireo in Cygnus, the 10mm plossl  ( x50) clearly showed B1 cyg ( Alberio) as a orange red K class star and B2 cyg B class blue star. Taking a line down to zeta Aq from Albireo, bisecting the line from Vega to Altair, just slightly left the Coat hanger asterism fell neatly into the field of view using a 40mm plossl ( x12.5) , normally I would use binoculars for this target, but the wider field of view afforded by this small refractor enables it to be seen in its entirety. Up into Lyra,aiming between Sulafat and Shellak to locate the Ring Nebula ( M57), fuzzy ring but no hint of central white dwarf in this planetary nebula. Continuing west into Hercules M13 and then up to M92, even with 6mm plossl ( x 83) not a lot of detail. Better with the double cluster in Perseus and as I headed to M31, Andromeda galaxy the cloud had rolled in bring the session to a close at around 9:30.

It was nice to get out with some clear skies and I found the AZ3 mount that came with the ST102 easy to use and manoeuvre and although the refractor shows some chromatic abberation as shown by the photograph of moon , visually it was not noticeable enough to be a problem.

here’s to more clear skies!!!

Pete H

Binocular observing in Lichfield 27/10/2017 @ 22:00-23:30: Vixen SG 2.1×42 Widefield Binoculars vs. Canon 10×30 IS binoculars

When we went to the International Astronomy Show, Damian was not going to buy anything……but then got tempted by a discounted pair of Vixen SG 2.1×42 Widefield Binoculars at 76% normal price. These premium binoculars are quite different to your usual astronomy binos – they are only 2x magnification with a massive 25 degree field of view.

The following is an extract on a review on these unusual binoculars from https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__alpha-2Dlyrae.co.uk_2014_10_25_vixen-2Dsg-2D2-2D1x42-2Dbinoculars-2Dreview_&d=DwIFAg&c=MI93KOczqiyhXk-AHGoDDUkr93TIMXWlgkPNdzxg9FA&r=4QbXFqVFP3-iwXXmdJhGrxCWcMPIAE70hQGiF6C2bW0&m=554ps7561Y2QFKTN9e8AF_TUnM9Am1RivTHFCxSjC5U&s=qQFqLy91c8jfq_MLjFBDJK6nJ_9dP5P7SLzMNerDhRY&e=:

“So why use 42mm lenses? In a Galilean system, the actual field of view scales linearly with objective diameter.  As such, for any given power, a doubling of the objective diameter results in the real field doubling.  As the exit pupil is virtual and located inside the optical system there is no fixed eye point and hence to maximise the field seen, the eye must be placed as close as possible to the eye lens, with the obvious implication for spectacle wearers.  However, the Vixen SG have fairly generous sized eye lenses which provides a more comfortable “eye relief” (stated as 8.4mm) without cutting off parts of the achievable field of view.

The question of light grasp and magnitude gain is not approached in quite the same way as a Keplerian telescope. The magnitude gain of a telescope (ignoring the benefits of darkened sky background) can be calculated as 5 x Log10 (D1/D0) where D1 is the diameter of telescope’s primary objective and D0 is the diameter of the eye’s dark adapted pupil.  In a low power Galilean system, the light grasp is dependent on the magnification and light transmission.  For the sake of simplicity, if we assume that the transmission efficiency is 100%, the Vixen with their magnification of 2.1x results in the effective increase in your pupil diameter by 2.1x, and as such the increase is 2.12 which is 4.41x more light.  The magnitude gain is given as Log10 (4.41) x 2.512 = 1.62.  If we assume 95% transmission, that factor is applied to the light grasp gain and results in magnitude improvement of 1.56.”

So, how do they measure up in practice? First light for us occurred last night – Damian bought the pair he bought around to my house and we compared it to my Canon 10×30 image stabilised binoculars. This is a pair I bought years ago from Astronomy Buy and Sell and I am particularly found of them – small, portable, great contrast – and they often go with me on holiday, when I have been banned from taking anything larger for observing….I even bought a “portable” 80mm Equinox and have been banned taking that!

Saturday night was predicted to be clear all night on BBC Weather website – which in practice meant rolling banks of cloud with intermittent 20-30 minute periods of clearness. It was not the best sky out although the Milky Way was visible overhead and the Double Cluster visible to the naked eye, although we debated whether we could see M31 with the naked eye.

Neither of us could see > 1 or 2 stars at best in the Great Square of Pegasus by naked eye alone tonight.

….Then we used the Vixen binos. Wow!! Wow!! They fit snuggly over your eyes and you move your head around as if you had no optical aid. The vast field of view makes it an experience similar to naked eye observing but the increase in number of visible stars was dramatic. I could see 11 stars in the Great Square of Pegasus. M31 was obvious. We could not see M33 last night with them but clusters were often obvious, especially in Cassiopeia and the Double Cluster was impressive. We each saw meteors x several that the other could not see with then naked eye – and they appeared bright in the Vixen binos. I can’t wait to try these out at the next meteor shower.

The view is quite different to that in the Canon IS binos. Not surprisingly, with the Canon IS 10×30 binoculars, the large light grasp and higher magnification meant that more could be seen – M31 was magnificent and big and bright and M33 just visible by averted vision and the Double Cluster incredible and smaller open clusters became visible including at least 2 of the main clusters in Auriga. However, the Canon did not allow you to move your head around the sky in the way you do with the naked eye or with the Vixen binos. The higher magnification means you need to know what to look for and where and aim for it.

Our conclusion is that the Vixen binos do have a unique role. They open up a whole new vista and have a solid well-made feel. It is worth buying eye cups to prevent stray light to go with them. Damian mentioned that after their initial introduction into the marketplace, Vixen did start to supply hard plastic cups that just fit over the metal eyepieces. These appear to push the eye just slightly further away from the eye lens – thereby reducing the field of view (FOV). He then tried some spare Televue eyecups he’d received when buying extenders for his 40 and 32mm TV plossls that he uses for solar observing. Even though they practically only extend a mm or two past the eye lens on the binoculars (once secured so they don’t fall off), they did start to cut stray light from your periphery. After some investigating on the web, he found a review of the binoculars on US forum Cloudy Nights. One post mentioned the use of Baader Hyperion ‘winged’ eyecups. These are around £10-14…. each! The ‘best’ place to buy Baader gear in the U.K. appears to be MicroGlobe – although you often have to wait for them to order the stock themselves!

The new winged eyecups arrived on Friday morning and do indeed cut stray light when observing, helpful both in the daytime and under darkness.

They are quite expensive and are not a total observing solution so this needs to be considered if you are thinking of buying them.

Andy & Damian

Flame and Horsehead from the window-sill

Its 4AM. I am having one of my insomnia attacks and need to find a distraction for an hour or two until my legs settle down. Looking out of the window, there is Orion in all his splendour. Maybe I could try for the Flame and Horsehead again?

Snag – -the window above the window-sill is all misted up.

Solution – hanging out of the window with a hair-dryer for a few minutes!

So, here goes. Another snag is that with the 10 second exposures I am using, there is a significant movement of the image due to poor tracking. Since you can’t see Polaris from the window, setting up the equatorial mount is not easy, and has to be done by estimation. This obviously causes the image to be blurred. I need to spend some more time more carefully setting up the mount.

Here is the result. Detail is clearly lacking due to the tracking error, but I am not entirely displeased given the limitations.

As I have said previously, my eyesight is a bit weak in the reds, so in some ways I prefer the black-and-white image.

Total exposure was about 300 seconds (30 or so stacked 10 second images), and total cost of the kit involved (including the telescope, but not including the double-glazing) is around £300.

And its FUN!

For reference, I have added an image that I did of the Horsehead last year from outside.



Crescent Moon and ‘Earthshine’

October 25th, 6.18pm

Taken out the bedroom window, looking to the West…

My old full frame Nikon D3 (12Mp) and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII plus 1.4x Nikon Teleconverter. Hand held.

Shot details:

280mm, 1/13 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200.

Processed in Lightroom Classic CC to bring back the burnt-out highlights!

What Is Earthshine?

Earthshine is a dull glow which lights up the unlit part of the Moon because the Sun’s light reflects off the Earth’s surface and back onto the Moon.

It is also sometimes called ashen glow, the old Moon in the new Moon’s arms, or the Da Vinci glow, after Leonardo da Vinci, who explained the phenomenon for the first time in recorded history.