Author Archives: Rob Leonard

Observing Report 11/11/18

The forecast was a bit ambiguous, but it was a lovely night out under the stars last night. Set the camera running on M33, got the 14 inch dob out and away we go:

– Double double: I’ve taken to starting on this to check conditions and collimation. It was an easy split at 205x which promised well for the evening.
– Mars: Although it’s diminishing rapidly following the summer, the height in the sky and the lack of a dust storm are providing a much better view- especially with an LP filter to reduce the glare. I was able to see the polar cap reasonably well and some appearance of surface features.
– M15 – Bright core, with individual stars resolvable almost all the way in. At 205x it covered an area almost half the diameter of the FOV.
– Blue Snowball – a first for me- it really is blue! Really pleasing fuzzy blue disk. I wanted to try different filters and found it stood out best with the UHC filter.
– Mirach’s ghost – another first for me. Mirach was very bright, but once you edged it out of the FOV this Galaxy was quite an easy spot.
– NGC7814- I was beginning to feel a bit cocky so I went for a random Mag 10 galaxy in Sky Safari. It was actually quite an easy hop from the bottom left star of Pegasus (it’s in the same view in the finder) so wasn’t too hard, but was really pleased nonetheless.
– Delta Cephei – lovely sharp double, with a blue tinge to the companion. I put it on the list because of its historical importance- but it’s a nice visual target as well.
– Garnet Star – This is such a beautiful vivid red.
– Elephant’s Trunk – Hard to see at first, but the UHC filter really helped and with this and a bit of concentration and letting the eye get in I was able to follow it for most of its length. The section at the top was the most visible.

At this point I went in to put the kids to bed and have some family time. A bit later…

– M1 – Crab Nebula – Took a long time to get back in the groove. It took me ages to find this- I had to get my eyes to adjust back and then spent ages point at the wrong star and generally confusing myself. Even with the UHC filter, and having gotten past my own ineptitude, it was quite difficult to spot.
– M52 – Open Cluster in Cassiopeia – This was a bit easier- and visually more rewarding.
– M45 – Pleiades – Put in the 35mm at 47x. Just stunning.
– Uranus – a faint greenish tinge to a small disk.
– M74 – Spiral Galaxy in Pisces- Despite being quite dim (Mag 9.4) there was a hint of shape visible on this beyond the core (I couldn’t see the arms, more just a fuzz) – it might make an interesting imaging target at some point.
– M77 – Spiral Galaxy in Cetus – A brighter core than M74, but less hint of the outer structure.
– NGC 2024 – Flame Nebula – Now I really should have gone to bed by now, but Orion was sliding in over the rooftops and I have precisely no willpower. Not much doing without a filter, but with the Oiii in, the nebulosity was visible. I was also able to track some of the dark lanes.
– IC434 – Horsehead – Fail! Emboldened by the views of the Flame I spent ages looking for the Horsehead. The bank of nebulosity that it sits in was reasonably straightforward, but I couldn’t find the nag. One for a dark site…
– M42 & 43- Really time to pack up now, but as I sat back from the EP I saw that Orion’s sword was (just) above the rooftops. Re-pointed the scope, leaned forward and shouted ”Wow!”, which is a bit weird when you’re sat all alone in your back garden. I think the surprise was because of the almost solid feel of the area around the trapezium after the wispiness of the HH and Flame. At 205x it’s a fascinating structure- this bit was almost photographic. At 47x, and without filters, the whole area was more gauze like, but vast, and with the dark lanes between M42 & 43 obvious. I then dialled it up to 530x (probably well beyond what my scope can sensibly cope with), but was unable to split the trapezium beyond 4 stars. Being right over the rooftops probably didn’t help.

The night was just getting better, but it was approaching midnight, I’d been out since 6 and it was really time to pack it in. The way it was going I would have happily stayed up all night…  Now where are those M33 subs…

Pelican Nebula (Part 2)

Last week I posted an RGB image of the Pelican Nebula taken shortly after the full moon. The evening before (28/10) I’d had my first go at imaging with a Hydrogen Alpha filter, and a few murky evenings has given me the chance to process it and then learn how to feed it into the Red channel of the RGB image using Pixinsight. Updated image, along with the monochrome Halpha image, is below.

Really pleased with this output- because light pollution is suppressed by the filter I was able to expose for much longer (9 minutes per sub) and the red signal is correspondingly stronger. Once integrated into image you don’t have to “push” the software so hard to bring out the detail in the nebula.

Pelican Nebula 29/10/18 (Part 1?)

A nice week for astronomy so far- finally got my shed “operational” for doing astro pics which is exciting. Still some work to do as I’ve made the roof too heavy and I need to sort out the inside, but having proven it was weather-proof and with clear skies beckoning I couldn’t resist the temptation to move all the gear in and get it going. I haven’t quite got the Roger levels of convenience where I can do it in my pyjamas, but the setup time to take an image has dropped to 10-15 minutes.

I decided to image the Pelican (and then found out Ken was on the same target!). Sundays subs were in Ha and Mondays were colour. Sunday’s data looks promising, but with time scarce I’ve processed the colour data first. When I get some more time to teach myself how, I’ll try to enhance this picture with the Ha data, but for now here’s the colour version.

22×5 minute subs + darks, flats & bias.


SGL Star Party 2018

Ken and I, plus RAG junior members Ben and Sam decided to brave the wild weather of Storm Callum this weekend and attended the Stargazers Lounge star party at Lucksall in Herefordshire. The weather gods co-operated in the standard way for pre-organised astro events and laid on some gale force winds, torrential rain and almost complete cloud cover, but this didn’t stop the whole thing being a lot of fun.
A marquee was set up for the event and some excellent talks were provided, including a very interesting one on sub millimetre astronomy, the limits of our current knowledge and how we’re pushing against them.
In addition there were a few practical activities laid on including rocket making and virtual reality exploration of the ISS and Comet 67p, plus some unofficial events:
– Welsh whiskey sampling (It’s a thing, apparently, and very nice too!)
– Watching ever larger pieces of debris glide past on a very swollen River Wye. We thought the mature Oak tree would be the largest, but then a pontoon with several large canoes still attached went flowing past.
– Speculating on whether the campsite would actually flood- the water was only a foot or so beneath the top of the defences when we left this morning.

There was also around an hour last night where the weather gods were clearly distracted and the cover broke a little and we played a game of pointing the dob at the gaps in the cloud as some of the easier to spot objects made an appearance. Altogether we managed to share views of the double-double, Bodes & Cigar, Andromeda, the Ring, the Double Cluster (easily the best sight, given the conditions), Albireo and Mars- albeit on a now you see it, now you don’t basis. Despite this, it was a great craic doing it with like-minded folks.

Fingers crossed next year there won’t be the same clash with the IAS- it would be great if more of us could enjoy both events.


Imaging Sadr and Observing the Veil

Good night on Tuesday- managed to get a good imaging session in as well as some observing. The picture is of Sadr/Gamma Cygni from 20x 300 seconds plus bias, darks and flats.

Had the dobs out whilst this was going on, first star hopping with Sam to the Hercules cluster and the Double cluster then alone after his bedtime. From the observing log:

West and East Veil- superb. Sinuous strands, beautiful. Spent a long time sweeping back and forth.
N America nebula- found Mexico but rest was a struggle.
Andromeda group. M31 dark lanes were visible in the 35mm eyepiece, first time from home.
Pleiades- first sight this year.
M33 pinwheel- v v faint. 20 minutes to find. Not worth it!!!
Kemble’s cascade & ngc1502

Observing and Imaging 17th September


It’s been a sparse few months for imaging. As well as the short nights of the summer months I’ve also had a few problems with my DSLR, plus the roads around my house have all been fitted with tall bright LED lights (see photo below, showing how much bigger they are) rendering my light pollution filter useless and limiting me to subs <1min. To fight back I’ve invested in the new version of the IDAS filter which offers some relief, plus a second hand Canon 600d with the IR filter removed. Monday was my first chance to use it, and I decided to go for M31 for the purposes of comparison with previous camera and streetlights. After setup I had an hour to try it out and the results are quite promising- I think I’ve gained more from the new kit than I’ve lost from the LEDs. There are some further things that I can do to improve it (I think I can get away with longer exposures, plus I want to try and make a cooling unit for it)- but altogether I’m quite pleased. It’s 20x 180s exposures on a 130 pd-s, with guiding, plus dark, bias and flats.


Whilst the imaging rig was doing its stuff I went for some instant gratification with the Dob. Whilst the LED lighting has hurt the imaging it seems to be better for the visual. At a RAG meeting a while back there was discussion of how counting stars in Pegasus would give you a good indication of your light pollution levels. I went home and found I had a depressing big fat zero. Although the new lights are brighter, they are better directed and I can now see 3 or 4 (faint) stars. This realisation was a good start to an enjoyable session- transparency seemed pretty good, and I doubt there’ll be another session this year where it’s too warm for a jacket. From the observing log:

M71 – Struggled to get my eye in to start with and I found it a tricky find, but satisfying once in.
M15 – Really bright central core and with a ring of resolved stars around it covering around a quarter of the eyepiece at 220x
M2 – Was tighter and not quite so bright or widespread but still a nice view
M52 – Gorgeous open cluster- 30-40 bright stars and many much fainter ones. Tried it at 220x, 70x and 45x and the middle magnification was the best- really filling the view. Highlight of the night.
NGC7789 – Caroline’s Rose – Another nice open cluster- but quite faint, and I couldn’t really see the rose. Maybe it’s like one of those Magic Eye pictures.
M103 – A nice triangular shaped with a lovely red quite central in the Eyepiece.

Monday night’s a bit early in the week to stay up late, and the only downer was packing up as the skies were getting better still. At least I was heading to bed with a full memory card ready for the clouds and rain that have dominated the remainder of the week…


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…