Double and Multiple Stars

Observing Feast

Had the 14″ out as the forecast looked good and no work today… Before joining the others for the virtual star party Sam and I tried splitting a few doubles that were emerging in the twilight. It’s funny how your observing develops- doubles didn’t really interest me much to start with, but as time has gone on I’ve become a little addicted to it. I’ve found with my gear an aperture mask and (if the seeing will take it) really high magnification (470x last night) works well.

Epsilon Lyra: you could drive a bus through there!

Izar: Ok more like a road bike (with skinny tyres) but still a nice clear split.

Next spent a bit of time setting up an imaging run, then rejoined the club online call on audio and we tried to look at the same features on the moon. The seeing was superb. Great to share these highlights with others:

Lunar X- my first observation.

Lunar V- likewise!

Walther- spectacular shadow reaching from central peak and picking out features on the crater floor.

Ptolemaeus- wow! Just perfectly placed with the crater rim picked out as a shadow across the crater floor. I spent ages on this trying to imagine the sight at the edge of the shadow as the sun crested the 2.5km high ridge above the crater floor. Reading today that the crater is close to 100 miles wide it isn’t quite as I imagined. I suspect for 95% of the lunar day this crater is a bit meh to observe- but so perfectly placed tonight with all sorts of textures and features in the floor it was an awesome sight.

Ok so now it was darkish, time to go deep space…

M13- familiar, but a wonder every time. Propeller visible.

ZetaHerc- split came and went in the seeing, but pretty clear at times. Credit card split, not road bike.

M81 Central shape, hazy outlying areas
M82 a sleek line, some mottling despite proximity to the moon.

Now Cygnus was over the rooftops to the east. Time for a summer target feast:
Full veil complex in oiii & 30mm. Lovely view, witches broom much the brighter bit, wonderful to have it back.
Crescent nebula- yes! First sight!!! Faint but just visible in oiii. Only really sure because of the keystone asterism framing the wisp.
M27 dumbbell- in Baader zoom and Oiii filter. Apple core shape prominent with fainter view of the outer lobes.
M57 the ring – very bright in oiii, still easily visible with no filter.
M71- quite faint but pleasing
M56- very nice- quite faint but with even distribution.

Ok- now 2am and only Andy and I left so one last object and the sky is now darkest around Ursa Major.
M51- spiral arms!!! Yes! Drifting in and out of perception and requiring AV but a very fine view.

So- packed up the dob and the imaging rig and was just locking up and about to go to bed when Jupiter popped round the side of the house and said “You don’t want to do that!” Quickly grabbed the 8 inch:

Jupiter- 4 moons and stripes oh yeah!!! Couldn’t make out much detail with it being so low in the sky, but great to see it again.
Saturn- My log says “& Titan” but looking at Sky Safari now I think it was more likely to be Iapetus. I couldn’t see the Cassini division but there was a hint of banding.

Wow- one of those super awesome sessions that come along so rarely. A real pleasure and such a range of stuff seen. Would have preferred to do it at Rosliston, but a good alternative to share it virtually with other club members.

Best not plan anything too demanding today!

Observing and another wide image.

Sunday night was one of those rare occasions when a clear night is accurately forecast in advance. Shame it was work the next day, but the forecast meant I able to set up both imaging rigs and the dob in the daylight and get going as soon as the sun set..

The observing was pretty good- I really wanted to make the most of the winter targets that are now drifting away and had good views of Venus, M42, the Running Man and the Flame. Conditions were good so I had a go at the Horsehead with a number of eyepieces and filters, but no joy. Having seen it once (at a darker site) it always seems to be teasingly on the edge of vision- the bank that it sits in is often just discernible and so logically you would expect a gap in that bank to be visible too…

To make life easier I spent a bit of time on the Pleiades. It may sound funny, but after 5 years of looking at it, including 2 with the telescope I’m using now, it seems I’m only just now learning how to look at this. When I first look, the magnification of the scope (it’s 1650mm fl) makes the stars relatively sparse. Some strong nebulosity does appear quite quickly, but it’s only after literally minutes of just gazing around the object, wobbling the scope and moving just off the object and back on again that the filmy nebula away from the brighter bits emerges. Really gorgeous. And maybe I’m a just a bit slow on the uptake.

I then moved onto Perseus (which is in the darkest bit of sky for me)- looking at Mirium (lovely yellow/white double), Theta Perseus, Melotte 20 (better in the finder), M34 (not my favourite), the Double Cluster (always lovely), and Iota Cass (I couldn’t see the colours very well this time, which was a bit disappointing).

I then moved up to Ursa Major for M51 (it was quite high, the 2 cores were bright, and the bridge was visible, the arms less so, but a nice view all the same) and NGC 2403 which I recently imaged, but which was hardly visible in these skies. Next up was M106, but the clouds beat me to it and it was time to pack up.

Whilst enjoying the relatively balmy night (it didn’t hit the dew point until the very end) I also had the imaging rig on M106 (which I’ve yet to process) and the camera doing an 18mm field along the Milky Way. I’ve done two of these before; running the galaxy from bottom right to top left, and I had vague notions of turning It into some sort of super mosaic of the galaxy across the year, but it’s so much lower in the sky this time of year that it was impossible to frame it like that. I was also shooting into the light pollution over Burton, which gave me some wicked gradients across that wide view- here’s the stacked image after a stretch on it.

When I look at images like this it seems a miracle we can see anything at all through that murk. Pixinsight’s DBE tool did battle with it- and I’m going to call it a score draw- the bottom left corner was pretty much a lost cause, but after I cropped it out the rest of the image came out OK, with just a bit of vestigial lp gunk remaining. It seems really marked how much more sparse the galaxy is looking away from the core like this:

And here’s an annotated version:


20/9/19 – Part 1 Observing Report

Having been away with work and other commitment through several clear nights this week I was itching to get out last night and had the kit set up before it was properly dark. I set the cameras going for some imaging then concentrated on the visual with the 14” Dob and Baader Zoom. I didn’t really have a plan, but instead spent the time wandering through Sky Safari and just going for stuff that might be interesting.


Double-double: This is a regular starting point for me- I align the Rigel and Finderscope on Vega then check out the double double to see what the seeing is like. It wasn’t the best and the sky was clearly a bit milky too, but even without the aperture mask there was clear separation on both pairs which augured well.

M13: Just a short hop down and I almost go there out of habit. A nice view with good resolution into the core; couldn’t see the propeller though. Never quite sure whether it’s the conditions or me- but I can only see it about half the time.

NGC7331 and Stephan’s Quintet: This was my first imaging target for the night and I wanted to see what I could get visually as well. NGC7331 is a nice target- quite easy to see the core, and then with a bit of time and some averted vision more of the shape becomes clear. I’ve had quite a few goes at this and always feel it’s right on the edge of my vision. I spent a long time on it last night- moving the scope, looking around the object, just relaxing and trying to let it float into view. There was definitely something there- a faint mottling of the sky. But not distinct. I have dark sky 2 trips coming up where, with a bit of luck with the weather, I’ll have more of a chance. It’ll be great to finally tick this one off.

M15: It’s a couple of years since I put this one in the eyepiece and I’d forgotten what a wonderful target it is. To me the core seemed to appear slightly below centre (so I guess above centre as I’m using a Newt)- but I’m guessing that’s an effect of local atmosphere as it certainly doesn’t appear on any photos that I’ve checked online this morning. I also tried the Binoviewers; I’m a huge fan of globs in Binoviewers- they both seem to add an extra dimension and support seeing more detail in the object; but on this occasion it didn’t really seem to add anything. No worse, just no better either.

M2: This was a nice view, but being a bit lower in the sky than M15 it was a bit murkier and harder to resolve, so suffered a bit by comparison. I probably did them in the wrong order!

NGC891: In Sky Safari this looks reminiscent of the Needle Galaxy so I was keen to have a look, but I really couldn’t see anything at all. I spent a long time on this- trying averted vision, and then dropping the magnification right down with a 30mm eyepiece- but nothing at all. Then, as I had the 30mm in…

M31/32/110: This I COULD see! Lovely to sit back on the chair and just drink it in. I find that it reveals itself in the same sequence each time. The core of M31 leaps out at you and then M32 is right there as well. Gradually some of the dark lanes appear and I then have to work a bit to get to M110. On really good nights I can see the edges spilling over the field of view, but the sky was too milky last night for that. It really is an awesome thing to contemplate: the light of a trillion stars travelling for millions of years and landing in my back garden. I hope it wasn’t too disappointed in the state of my lawn.

Caroline’s Rose: Next, and with the low power still in, I wandered up to Cassiopeia. I could see the dark lanes in this open cluster; I sort of get it as a rose but it doesn’t quite leap out and grab me.

M52: I much prefer this open cluster- not really sure why. The odd brighter star (not sure if it’s foreground) reminds me a bit of the Wild Duck Cluster- a pleasure to look at. I went back to the Baader zoom and quickly dropped back down to 8mm for the best view.

Blue Snowball Nebula – I love the colour of this, it’s great to have something that’s not grey. I can never make out any details on this, but I always enjoy the blinky thing that PNs do. This inspired me to jump across to…

Blinking Planetary Nebula- which always sounds like an exclamation to me. Strangely it didn’t blink as much for me as the Blue Snowball.

M57 – The Ring nebula. Always a favourite; I decided to try some filters and also the BV’s on this. In the end reached the conclusion that it’s bright enough that none of these approaches really added anything. In the Baader, at 8mm/206x it’s a lovely view with a darker section (although the central star was beyond me last night) in the middle and variations in shading around the ring. Always good to experiment, but in this case the simple view is the best for me.

M27- The Dumbell. In this case it really was worth experimenting. In the zoom it’s only a faint wispy thing at any magnification, and only really the apple core shape is visible. Dropping to the 30mm and it appears much more strongly, standing out a little against the star field. Popping the Baader back in with the UHC filter on it made it stand out a little further against the background, although at the expense of a little detail. Putting the Oiii filter on turbo charged this effect: in monochrome green the full extent of the object was visible against the pitch background, there was a lot of shape as well, although it was quite blurry and you could only really focus by sidestepping to a nearby star.

M71 – Nice, but quite faint and small compared with the other globs in the session.

The Moon was up now and bed was calling, but like a kid left alone with the biscuit tin I was unable to resist a few more targets. The moon itself was in a really wobbly bit of the sky so I didn’t spend too much time on that, and switched back up to Cepheus.

The Garnet Star- always a beauty, nice and sharp with the aperture mask on it.

Delta Cepheus – A nice easy split; and almost Albireo like with the contrasting colours.

Kemble’s Cascade – Too bright to find in the moonlight; no stars to hop from.

Double Cluster – A wonderful place to finish!

Right, where are those subs…

Fading Noctilucent Clouds

Popped out for a quick session on Friday night and there was a lovely Noctilucent Cloud formation to the North, so I popped my camera on a tripod and recorded it.

The video above was using a Canon SL1 at 22mm f4 taking 265 shots between 23:49 and 00:30. I used Pixinsight for a curves tweak and some unsharp masking and then Videopad to string it all together and add a bit of music.

The red light in the foreground for part of it is me setting up the dob. It doesn’t really add to the ambience- but it led a pretty good session despite needing to do a bit of cloud dodging. Finally got the Binoviewers dialled in for some good views of the Double Double, Izar, Albireo, M29 and M57. Really surprised that at similar magnification they outperformed my 7mm Celestorn X-Cel Eyepiece- the split on Izar was really clear, and the companion was a vivid blue, wheras the Celestron had them fuzzier and less colourful. Even Saturn came out to play- and despite hugging the horizon, the seeing gave me glimpses of the Cassini division plus Titan, Rhea, Dione and Enceladus. Best of all was M13- it resolved close to the core, but with tails everywhere- it looked like a ball of wool after a kitten’s been at it!

Moon, Methane and Messiers

Splendid night of observing and (hopefully) imaging last night.

Sam had his mate James round, and then Andy T came over to join us as well. Due to the long evening twilight and the terminator being in a prime position on the moon, we started there. Once they’d got the hang of it the 2 lads were thoroughly enjoying scanning up and down the terminator taking videos of moonscapes, which when I get some time will hopefully become some nice images.

The areas we looked at were the craters around the South Pole (Scott and Amundsen!) then worked our way down (the image appeared upside down in the mark/planetary camera) past Cuvier, Stofler, Albertegnius and Hipparchus toward the smoother area that’s more dominated by mare. The highlight for me was Albertegnius which was just in the perfect position to be in complete darkness, but with the sun illuminating just the summit of the central peak.

By this time Andy had set up his spectroscopy rig and took a reading from the moon- and matched in to an internet reading of the sun- explaining to the lads that this was because all the light coming from the moon was reflected from the sun, and how the technique enables us to derive what the elements are in the star.

We also did some visual exploration of the terminator- and no matter how amazing the views of the moon through the planetary camera, there is nothing for comes close to the stunning HD quality through the eyepiece. Even at 465x through the zoom the view was sharp and full of contrast; a really stunning view.

It was, by this time, bed o’clock for the boys, but Andy and I carried on. First step was swapping the mak for the 130pd-s and setting some imaging runs going on globular clusters with the planetary camera as I felt that the glare from the moon made any other targets a bit unrealistic. I’ll post these when I get the chance to do some processing!

For the same reasons I decided to go for similar targets visually whilst Andy did his spectroscopy and we shared the results with each other. First up, though, was the double-double- it didn’t split as easily as normal which suggested the seeing wasn’t great (I already knew my scope was both cooled and collimated). Nonetheless I pressed onto some globs:

– M13 Obvs! Always a lovely sight. Whilst there Andy moved the scope onto NGC 6207- a new one on me, and just next to M13. It was a struggle to see and needed averted vision to spot, but at Mag 11 the skies cannot have been too bad to pick this up.
– M92 It’s a bit smaller, but somehow feels more compact and symmetrical than its big brother.
– M3 Again- like M92, more compact and symmetrical. It was nice going through these one after the other- on their own globs are all similar, but when looking at them one after the other you really start to see the differences.
– As we were in the neighbourhood popped over to see the Whale galaxy- several club members have been imaging this lately so it was good to have a proper look. With proximity to the moon it was quite an effort to find this and I had it in the eyepiece for quite a while before I was sure I had it. By relaxing and just looking around the target it became obvious how huge it was- nearly filling the ep at 210x. I couldn’t make out the distinctive shape, however, and neither could we spot NGC4656
– Next stop as M5, which was visibly smaller, but with a dense bright core and was pleasingly circular.
– The next Messier glob easily visible looked to be M9. Whilst aiming the scope Andy asked about the bright light in the same direction- which is over towards East Mids airport- and we both agreed was clearly a plane- although not moving too much. Realising that this meant it was heading towards away from us I tried to aim the scope at it, because sometimes it’s a great view in the eyepiece. This plane turned out to have horizontal banding and 4 moons. JUPITER IS BACK!! Albeit hugging the horizon in a boiling atmosphere. Because of this the views were not brilliant, but it was great to see after a long break. Andy quickly headed back to his spectroscopy gear and lined it up- the result was a mixture of the same elements we’d found from the moon, plus a couple of lines for methane. Very pleasing! I then moved onto M9 and caught a quick glimpse, but was kneeling uncomfortably over the telescope by this stage and was getting decidedly cold so we decided to head in for a cup of tea in the warm and to look at Andy’s spectroscopy results.

Suitably refreshed, and with the moon down near the horizon the sky was darker, but also more hazy. We decided to look at some summer targets and started off with the Ring nebula. I think the effects of time and cold were beginning to set in by this stage as I struggled to get it in the eyepiece- not helped by the fact that everything was dewing over. Andy quickly rectified this and we were rewarded with some lovely rich views and spent some time comparing the views in the Baader zoom with Andy’s Binoviewers. The conclusion was that the binoviewers offered a different experience- more natural and pleasing to look at, but also there was some loss of detail. Partly this is caused by the higher magnification available to the Baader, but we also thought it may be down to the greater number of optical surfaces involved on the binoviewers. We returned to M13 to see if we’d find the same outcome- and it was pretty much the same; although the binoviewers rendered the glob as a sphere- a wonderful view.

I’d have liked to try them out on Jupiter, but by this point it was behind the neighbours house, so we returned to deep sky targets instead- trying for M51. Unfortunately, by this point, the sky was pretty hazy and despite being certain I had the dob in the right place, I could not see the galaxies. Spent a while trying to remove dew from EPs, finders etc, but it was pretty clear that the sky was lightening and it was time to pack up. Big thanks to Andy for coming over- observing in company and sharing ideas adds so much to an evening and the output from the spectroscopy was really interesting!

Stunning February views.

There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting at the eyepiece with a red headlamp and some simple drawing equipment .

Not only does it relax the eye , but enables more detail to be observed. Monoceros has been well placed, with “Hubbles variable Nebula” NGC 2261 providing superb views, well worth finding. Here are some show case targets, some spectacular binaries including 15 Monocerotis, the brightest star of the Christmas tree cluster , NGC 2264.

The winter Albireos provide a lot of colour as does ” Hind’s crimson star” SAO 150058 , a glowing deep red coal in Lepus.

Temperatures have dipped before midnight and just a few hours has been adequate. My sky has not been bright enough to catch much galaxy action just yet. Here’s to clear skies ! Nick.

Observing Report- 17/11/18

Sam and I met up with Neil Wyatt on Saturday night for an excellent night’s observing and imaging at Brankley Pastures near Barton under Needwood.

Neil was already setting up his imaging rig when we arrived at 8pm, and Sam and I got our 8 inch dob out to get started quickly. Unfortunately we quickly found that it was a night of absent mindedness: I’d forgotten the trusses for the larger dob, Sam had left behind 5 of the 6 pages of his lunar observing plan and Neil didn’t have the memory card for his camera. I can see that if I’m going to do more of these trips a checklist is going to be essential…

The moon was high in the sky so we started off with doing planetary and lunar with Sam doing the finding:
– Mars- polar cap just about vsible but couldn’t see other surface features.
– Lunar- Copernicus, Tycho, Altai Scarp, Theophilus, Cyrillus, Catharina, and Clavius (just around the same time Roger was imaging it).

Unfortunately this was as far as the first page of the Lunar 100 log gave us. So next we tried for a few deep sky objects- looking at Vega, the Double double and the Pleiades. Neil also brought up the Pleiades in his ED66 and it definitely looked better it the little frac with wonderful contrast and sharpness. I then ran Sam home, which was a good opportunity to pick up some Hot Chocolate and Dob trusses!

On my return the sky was darkening with the setting moon and we switched to the 14inch for some more deep space stuff with views of M1 (faint), The Auriga Open Clusters M36 & M37, the Ring, Andromeda, M81/82 pair and the highlight of the night: M42. We switched between the dob and the ED66 and used various magnifications, eyepieces and filters. At 205x, without filters in the Dob we both managed to spot the 5th brightest star in the Trapezium. There is a serious risk of my getting stuck on this target all winter…

A really enjoyable evening, and a pleasure to observe in good company!

A note on the site: Brankley Pastures is a Staffs Wildlife Trust site near Barton- so quite convenient for many RAG members and where- at least in winter- it’s possible to observe with minimal risk of being disturbed. It’s not a completely dark site- there’s a significant patch of light pollution to the North (presumably from Tutbury), and another to the North East from Burton. But overhead the skies are much darker than home and there is a great southern horizon. It was brilliant, as the moon set, to see the sky come alive- with Auriga turning from an empty circle to one rich with naked eye detail. Just next time I need to remember all the key parts of my kit!

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…

Pegasus stars !

Swadlincote 28/10/18 C6r reduced to 120mm aperture.

Lovely clear forecast , set out the chair , looked at at a huge rainbow and heavy rain. Set up the mount at 5.30, hurrah for dark evenings.

Some chill , but superb seeing before the Moon climbed up. I reduced the aperture to 120mm to get more contrast , certainly worked. Pegasus gave some  stunning binaries.

I had a look at Bu1.  The triple in NGC 281 (“Packman nebula” in Cassiopeia). Very pleased not only to get some tight splits , but some faint companions, clear skies ! Nick.