Author Archives: Rob Leonard

Observing Report 15th July – 12:30-3am

Had a fun evening with family and friends at an outdoor concert, but on returning home and seeing the sky looking absolutely pristine the temptation to slip out into to the garden was too much to resist… Having spent the evening with a choice of 3 bars to try out I decided I was a bit too “relaxed” to get the imaging gear out so I made it a purely visual session with 14 inch dob and Baader 8-24 zoom.

Mars- really large and bright, but still no detail visible except for the polar cap.
M13 – It’s nice to start with a familiar target to get a feel for the skies, and although it wasn’t properly dark and the sky was a bit wobbly from the hot day, it was a fine view.
M51 – The 2 cores were easily visible but I was initially unable to see any spiral structure. I put a Neodymium filter in and it helped a bit, but altogether it just wasn’t dark enough.
At this point I became distracted by a bat that spent a while flapping about directly over my head.
M31 – bright core, again with the filter I was able to spot some dark lanes, but I really want to have a go at this target at a darker site.
M32 – really bright & easily seen.
M110 – very faint and quite a challenge; I needed a couple of goes and some help from SkySafari to look in exactly the right place.
Vega – Blue and bright and beautiful in the eyepiece. Realised that when these photons started their journey I was sitting my finals…
Double-double – despite the evenings refreshments no more than 4 stars were visible here. An easy split at 200x.
M57 – wonderful crisp views. I did spent some time looking for the central star but was unable to find it.
M56 – a slightly tricky find and more of a smudge after the beauty of M13
Albireo – Gorgeous.
M27 – the dumbbell. A month ago I picked up a second hand Oiii filter from Astro Buy&Sell. The improvement in the contrast was terrific, but more than that, I was able to see the shape very easily. Obviously there was no colour, but otherwise it was almost photographic- a brilliant view.
North America nebula (ngc 7000). Spent quite a long time trying to pick this up in the scope, with & without filters, but no joy. However, I could see it (just) in the finder. This felt somewhat unlikely, but I went back and forth between the finder, the EP and Sky Safari and there was a very faint nebulosity in the right place and of the right shape, so I’m pretty sure I had it. Would be good to validate with someone else…
The Veil – I’ve never seen this before, but the Oiii filter seemed to help a lot. The eastern portion was very faint, but definitely visible. The western side was a wonderful sinuous strand much bigger than my field of view and I spent ages sweeping back and forth trying to pick out individual filaments. A real highlight.
NGC6826 – Blinking planetary nebula – a managed to miss this a couple of times before realising the clue is in the name. A gorgeous green, despite the now lightening sky.
NGC884/869 – Double cluster – lovely way to finish the session, it’s amazing just how many stars are visible in this section of sky, with lots of colour- especially the oranges!

From my log it’s been the best part of 2 months since I was able to look at something other than planets, it was great to get back to it! Lets hope the great weather continues as the nights draw in a little.

 

A Full Moon…

Away in Wales at the moment and regretting not bringing a scope (this wold have been so much better); but here’s a picture of tonight’s full moon taken through a 300mm zoom lens. A bit of a crop, but no other editing- the reddish colour is a reflection of the sunset.

Looks good through the 12×70 binoculars as well!

Rob Leonard

Needle and M13

Ebay has finally yielded some new tougher bolts and replacement battery for my mount so I couldn’t resist the lure of some clear skies on Sunday night. Given that it was a school night and it didn’t get dark enough until after 11, I thought I’d try and do it Roger-style with shorter exposures on my little ZWO camera (sadly I didn’t have any double glazing facing the right way for this).

As well as borrowing Roger’s approach I also borrowed one of his recent targets as I’m quite taken by the Needle Galaxy at the minute, along with M13.

Needle is a stack of 35x 20 second exposures. I had gain at 500 for this and it was very noisy and I had to process it to within an inch of it’s life to get something out of it.

M13 is a stack of 80x 7 second exposures- the same gain, but the shorter exposure/more subs seemed to help, and in comparison it fell out of the camera and processed itself (OK- I exaggerate).

Started imaging at 11:15 and done and dusted and in bed an hour later! Hopefully will get another go at this on a darker night and with more time to play…

Observing Report – 13/5/18

Between a cheap power pack, the infamous Skywatcher bendy bolts and the fact it’s so late before it gets dark, I’m very much visual only at the moment. Last nights efforts:

Part 1- 10-11pm before properly dark:

          Venus

          Jupiter- very wobbly with poor seeing and still too low in the sky. Only 2/3 bands really visible and the moons distinctly fuzzy.

          Epsilon Lyrae – the Double double. Still low in the sky but reasonably easy to split all four stars.

          M13 & M92– Spent quite a long time on this trying different magnifications. The sweet spot seemed to be about 300x, able to resolve stars down to the core, but without too much fuzziness.

          Ceres – Just a point of light, but a nice hopping challenge from Leo. I’ve put a hands free phone holder onto the end of my scope which means I’ve got Sky Safari right next to the finder and eyepiece. The scope is heavy enough that it doesn’t unbalance it too much and it really helps being able to jump back and forth between map and the actual view.

 

Part 2 – 11-11:30 pm dark enough for faint fuzzies…

          Leo Triplet 1 – M65 and M66 were bright enough to see the cores and shape quite clearly. NGC 3628 much more of a challenge and only with averted vision and knowing exactly where to look.

          Leo Triplet 2 – M96, M95, M105 – all 3 were faint but visible, but not the 2 companions to M105

          Sombrero – the failure of the night- seemed to be just behind a tree!

          The Needle Galaxy- wanted to check this out following Rogers picture last week. Tried very hard to see the dark lane, but couldn’t conclusively do so, although the shape and central bulge were both clearly visible.

          Melotte 111 – this was an accidental find in the finder when looking for the needle- very pretty!

Part 3 – 11:30pm-midnight… the bit where I tried to gather the will power to pack up despite the beautiful improving skies and kept telling myself one last object before bed…

          M57 Ring nebula – wonderfully clear, could see shading. Couldn’t quite see the central star, despite a long observation

          NGC6826 – Blinking Planetary Nebula

          Albireo

          Back to M13- even better against the darker sky.

          Jupiter- now much higher and steadier; 6/7 bands clearly visible, moons now nice and crisp.

Finally to bed. Felt like a long one at work today! Trying to convince myself that it’s not another clear night tonight…

Observing and Photography 19-22/4

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!

 

 

Second light with 14 inch dob

Just heading to bed last night when I spotted the skies had cleared…

– Ken’s 31mm EP gave beautiful views! Was having too much fun to try the other one.

– Could definitely see the spiral arms on M51 but not M81. Very similar to the single unprocessed sub that Roger posted

– Spent lots of time on Leo galaxies

Skies were improving but it was past midnight… Damn you work!!

Rob

(Slightly delayed) First Light report on 14 Inch Dob

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.

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.