Rob Leonard

Turn Back to Orion

Recently I’ve been struggling for ideas for visual observing. When there’s a clear night I keep going back to the same old targets, and whilst this is enjoyable, it doesn’t carry the same excitement of discovery. I think the root cause of this is not doing the leg work beforehand- I normally build target lists (often from other’s observing reports), but I’ve dropped out of that habit a bit of late.

A couple of days ago, whilst contemplating a tricky work problem, I picked up my old battered copy of “Turn Left at Orion” and started flicking through. In my first year of observing it was this book that really got me going, giving me target ideas and helping me to find my way around the sky. As I’ve become more proficient it has gradually fallen out of use, but flicking through it I found I’d done what everyone probably does and gone straight for the showpieces. There are a wealth of other targets along with nice little narratives.

So last night I worked my way with my 14” dob through pages 180-189 of my 4th edition. I used Sky Safari a little to help with the navigation (it makes it so much easier), but otherwise this is a session done Old Skool!

Mars: Alright- this wasn’t on the list, but you can’t ignore it, sitting there so prominently. I’ve become a bit spoiled in this apparition, having had quite a few outstanding views of it. Last night was a bit murky in comparison with the best of those, suggesting thin cloud, but I was still able to make out shading on the surface and the distinct solar cap. It’s been a wonderful target these last 6 weeks and I’ll miss it when it has receded.

Almach: Incredibly I’ve used this star to navigate many times, but never actually looked at it in the eyepiece. What a beauty! Very bright and to my eyes it looked blue and almost white with a hint of yellow!

59 Andromeda: Like two blue cats eyes, nicely separated and evenly matched.

56 Andromeda: This pair was a touch fainter and a less vivid colour, but more of a golden colour with a wider separation. It took a bit more finding, sat on the edge of a relatively sparse open cluster NGC752. With hindsight, I was sticking too closely to the script here and should probably have dropped in a wider eyepiece to enjoy the cluster more. The Baader 8-24 zoom I was using is very good for dropping in and out, but the narrow FOV at 24mm doesn’t give the best view of extended objects like this.

6 Trianguli: A much tighter pair at 3.7”, but quite easily separated at 8mm.

Lambda Arieta: A nice contrasting brightness, TLAO talks about contrasting colours but I can only see a hint of blue in the much fainter companion, whereas the primary seems completely white to me.

1 Arieta: Another tight pair at 2.9”, but quite easily separated at 8mm. Again, I was unable to make out a colour contrast.

Mesarthim: A more comfortable split and a much brighter double star, apparently even brightness (combined mag 3.86). According to TLAO the orientation barely changes, suggesting that we’re looking at the orbit edge on. I was curious about the name of this one so researched a but further- apparently it’s a corruption of nearby Sheraton; and as a star it appears in Chinese and Indian Mythology; in the latter as a doctor to the divine. It also gives its name to an Australian band who specialise in the Depressive Suicidal Black Metal genre. Who knew that was a thing? I’ll probably give it a miss…

M34: Turn the page and here was a more familiar object. To me it looks sort of like a flower stalk, set against the rich star field of the Milky Way. This time I did drop out to the 30mm- a really nice view.

The Double Cluster: Here’s an old friend, it even looks good in the finder. Sticking with the 30mm I was comfortably able to fit both sides in the same FOV. As well as the richness of the Star Field I love the different colours in this one. There are lots of tones of yellow and blue, and then a few deep red ones really stand out. Found myself in disagreement with TLAO here- it claims this is much prettier in a smaller telescope (a 4/4 frac view, but only a 2/4 dob view), but I find the view in my Dob for this one glorious- the number and concentration of the stars make this one of my favourite sights. On the other hand- I do like the way TLAO descriptions lapse into the whimsical- “the view from a planet in one of the clusters would be spectacular: perhaps a hundred stars in the home cluster would be far brighter than the brightest star in Earth’s sky, while the other cluster would be far more impressive than any open cluster in our sky”. Now there’s something for your dreams.

The Pleiades: Having the 30mm in the scope and talk of spectacular open clusters made me take a detour to the Pleiades. Perhaps natives of the Double Cluster have a better view, but this one does me just fine. The electric blue colour and patches of nebulosity still visible even with the strongly illuminated moon. Yum!

Back to TLAO…

Iota Cassiopeia: This again is a familiar target; I find it a good test of conditions, especially when the Double Double is dropping low. I quite enjoy pulling it up at 24mm, when it looks elongated but single, and then zooming. At 20mm it’s already a double, but I’m at 10mm before the third companion starts to appear. By 8mm it’s a clear separation. Sometimes I can see hints of colour, but tonight they all look white.

Struve 163: Another triple, but much greater separation. The A and B stars were showing fantastic colour- deep blue and orange, although the third was much fainter. This was another discovery for me, a lovely sight, I need to make this a regular stop!

Eta Cassiopeia: Another pair of contrasting brightness, I found this quite a straightforward separation. TLAO claims sharply contrasting colours, but I couldn’t get this- just a hint of orange in the secondary for me.

Burnham One: I struggled to find this one a little, and didn’t manage to split the A and B pair (1.1”- which is usually just in range for the dob). I should have tried a mask, but was more excited that the transparency had improved a bit and some clouds to the south were dampening the moonlight to the extent that I could see the PacMan nebula- something I’ve never managed from home before!

Sigma Cassiopeia: This, at 3.2” was an easier split- the clouds were coming closer now…

Struve 3053: Last view of the night and another new one for me. I had to be quick with the star hopping to beat the oncoming clouds, but got there just in time- and very glad I did. Quite startling orange and blue- a really lovely view.

The encroaching clouds ended it there, but really enjoyable to get the buzz of discovery back. I would happily have turned the page for a tour of Cassiopeia’s open clusters, but that’s going to have to wait until the next time!

A Couple of Wizards

Finally had a chance to process some data from 25th Sep- data taken overnight after Tom Fields spectroscopy talk. This data is of NGC7380- the Wizard Nebula. I used the 130pds scope and ASI1600mm Camera.

The acquisition details are:

R,G,B – each 20x 30s (Stars)

Ha,Oiii,Sii – each 100x 60s (Nebula).

All at Gain 250.

There’s 2 presentations: the first is SHO, but with the green channel then mostly re-distributed into yellow and blue, the second is more naturalistic with Ha and Sii fed into Red and Oiii into blue and green, with a 50% multiplier on blue and a reduction in Red where Oiii is present. So not very naturalistic!



Observing Report 25/9/20

I really wasn’t expecting much last night after the RAG meeting, as the forecast was iffy and I was tired. It was only Sam nagging that got me out really. I’m very glad he did.

Got the 14″ out (in for a penny…) and started off with some broken cloud and a nice view of Mars- it really is very good at the moment. Polar caps and surface shading were very prominent- and that colour- wow!

Decided to try and do an imaging run in the Dob on it- it’s harder than it looks!!! I barlowed it up to get some detail, and at 5m focal length keeping it on the screen, never mind in the middle, is harder than it looks!!! Eventually realised that the seeing wasn’t going to support anything special so we abandoned that idea and started observing instead.

Next went for the Pleiades, and at that point the penny dropped that seeing might be a bit wobbly, but the sky was very transparent. The nebulosity was evident all over the place, a gorgeous electric blue around the brighter stars. We both found that by gently wobbling the scope you could bring out the granularity right across the cluster.

Moved across to Andromeda, and just sat taking turns drinking it in- with the bright core centred the disk reached out beyond the fov of the 30mm EP. Even m110 was pretty straightforward.

Time for Sam to go to bed, so I said goodnight and then took a break to set an imaging run going.

Next up- Uranus- clear green disk. Lovely view.

M33 best ever view from home. Superb in 30mm. Core was clear with hints of the outer regions.

Ngc752 lovely rich cluster. Almost rose like. Gorgeous.

NGC 891 – Nope- even with this sky I couldn’t catch this at home.

I fancied some more galaxies so next up was Mirach and its ghost. At around 200x this was clearly visible.

NGC 7814 in the corner of Pegasus was really faint but there.
Ngc7331 above the north west arm of Pegasus was nice and obvious.
Worth going for Stephans quintet? YES! First sight at home in 30mm just a smudge, but definitely seen. Spent a long time on this one. I must have liked for this 10+ times and I’ve only seen it once before on a special night in Cumbria. It was only the faintest lightening of the sky without real shape, but the concept of seeing this galaxy cluster with my own eyes blows my mind.

Over to Cepheus for the Garnet star- like a glowing coal, with hints of nebulosity
Ngc7380- my imaging target for the night. No nebulosity seen but a nice v shaped cluster.

Caroline’s Rose. This was inspired a bit by Andy’s picture. On hazy nights I find this can be a bit meh- but tonight the hundreds of faint stars and were a wonderful sight.

Time for bed now, but went back for a last peak at Mars. Just a terrific sight. I spent a while looking for the moons without any joy- the planet was just too bright, the glow prominent even when the disk was edged out of view.

Tearing myself away from the eyepiece on a night like this was not easy!

Iris Nebula

Probably spent far too long processing this one, but I really wanted to try and bring out the dust. Still not quite happy with it, but been looking at it too long and need to walk away- for a while at least! Also noticed that there was a touch of tilt on the stars. I spent a while adjusting it… and I’ve made it worse!! So much for my DIY skills.

This is an 1 hr 20 minutes data from 14th. 30 second subs at 250 gain in SW200p- 20 mins of Blue and Green and 40 mins of Red (it clouded over before I got to the blue and green second time around!)

A Couple of Pelicans

This one has taken a while. Back in July I took a picture of the Pelican Nebula that was a combination of 30 minutes RGB and about 80 minutes of Ha. The plan was to add some Oiii and Sii and turn it into a full narrowband image. Almost 2 months later we’ve finally had a clear night that has enabled me to get those 2 other channels. I managed to get an hour on each filter. Looking at the data that came out of this, it really wasn’t quite enough as both are quite weak, but patience had run out and I put it all together anyway and tried to sort out the various defects in post-processing.

So for the imgers- Oiii and Sii are both are 60x 1 minute subs, added to the 80 minutes of Ha and 30 minutes of RGB. All used gain 250 to keep the read noise down so that I could keep the subs short. In both of the images the RGB is only used for the stars.

First here’s a more naturalised version in which the Oiii and Sii are both fed into blue and green, the effect of which is to bleach the Red Ha:

Secondly here’s an SHO version. As usual it initially came out very green (because Hydrogen is dominant), and I then used the Hue and SCNR tools to distribute this out into Blue and Gold before adding the RGB stars:



A little video made with FLO data

The weather has stopped me doing any imaging for nearly two months now, so I was quite pleased to find that First Light Optics have published some data of M16-  The Eagle Nebula – on Stargazers Lounge. Whilst I was on holiday I tried several different approaches to processing the data which reflect a little my own journey in observing and imaging which I though I’d turn into a video 🙂.


Pelican’s Head and a Dumbbell

Really great to see the clear nights over the weekend giving everyone a chance to make some pictures. I had a couple of wonderful observing sessions on Friday and Saturday, plus the chance to do some imaging and also the chance to see Comet Neowise at 3am- a stunning and terrific sight.

Unfortunately my handheld attempts on the comet didn’t come out brilliantly, and I couldn’t get it from my imaging rig. I did get 45 minutes on M27 on Friday night and 110 minutes on the Pelican nebula on Saturday.- all with Skywatcher 200p

M27: 30x 30sec per channel at gain 139

Pelican: 20×30 sec per channel of RGB, 80×60 sec Ha all at gain 250

Ha Only: