Equipment for Astronomy

CCDSPEC Spectrometer/QHYCCD 6 camera – effect of turning on the fan

When I last used my CCDSPEC spectrometer with its QHYCCD6 camera, I was concerned about the number of apparent hot pixels appearing on the image. OK – it did not matter as the nature of the spectrum meant a few hot pixels were neither here nor there but still I wanted my new kit to work properly!

….Then I noticed that I had not been turning on the fan – so tonight I took pictures of the night sky (without telescope) using Nebulosity – with and without fan turned on the QHYCCD6 camera. The effect of cooling by this method is dramatic for these 30 second exposures as you can see below.

NB The spectrum of the night sky is just visible in the middle of each picture (30 second images).

All images from tonight’s session, including FITS files can be downloaded here:

QHY6 camera on CCDSPEC spectrometer – spectrum images of LRO night sky (30s exposure) without telescope – taken on 13/01/2019


With fan TURNED OFF:

With fan turned ON – only a couple of hot pixels remain:

Dark frame of fan turned ON:

Eq6 rail mod .

Xmas goodie, overcomes the steel adjustment bolt versus Aluminium mount problem. Shouldn’t be much of a problem if folk supported the weight of the mount whilst adjusting the altitude to get polar aligned. However , eventually the adjustment bolt will begin to make its slippable groove into the mount head. Modern Astronomy used to sell a cumbersome and well overengineered fix.

The rail mod is much cheaper at about £130 and very easy to fix. Takes about 15 minutes , including time to gather a 16mm wrench and spanner.

Heres what you get ,

It’s beautifully made and you get a choice of self adhesive side plates. First job is to remove the existing glued on ones.. I ended up using a soldering iron to melt my way through. Make sure that you’ve marked your zero on the alt. Cover. Loosen the 16mm bolt on this side at the same time as loosening the holding bolt the other side. Slacken off the three 2mm Allen grub bolts. 

Then remove the bolts and gently ease the head apart . Note where the plastic spacers and metal one go. Clean everything up. Grease the mod and insert it , best remove the adjustment bolts first. Then insert the bolts , ensure the rear bolt enters the hole on the rail barrel. Put plenty grease here, metal to metal. Ensure everything is secure , the rail stops and fits exactly into the bed of the mount, easy.

This shows how it works,

Slide the base into the head . Grease on the plates will hold them in position . Ensure the adjusting bit of the head is between the barrel and the front adjustment bolt . Replace the main bolt . Tighten to give no movement if you jiggle the head. Tighten up the retaining nut and snug up the three grub bolts. 

Fix the side plates on , I used a couple extra strips of self adhesive tape.

The stock bolts are soft steel to stop over grauching of their action on the mount head . The rail mod moves the altitude delightfully easily . Use the front bolt just as a stop, it doesn’t need to be overtightened.

There’s a rail mod for the Heq5 mount in the pipeline.

Easy and it actually works. Polar alignment does not have to be spot on for visual observing and alignment . Accuracy here does allow the fov to stay still at high magnifications.

Very pleased to recommend this mod. For those with plenty time and resistance to repetition , there’s a guide on YouTube.


Solargraphs – Summer>Winter Solstice 2018

All from Baked Bean cans within a 10 mile radius, using Ilford Multigrade B&W paper. Scanned and played with in Photoshop.

Andy’s first one, slightly different angle to his usual version.

And his second – massive amounts of water damage (was still a few mm of rain in the bottom of the can), but love the effect it’s created. This is his usual angle (so can be compared to previous attempts). Can just make out the house bottom right of centre and the tree to the left.

Mine, screwed to the house, SSE facing.

Sister’s from her new home. Was surprised at the very upper sun trace, but it can be matched to my own above. Thought at first it must have moved or have been a reflection from the inside top of the can. The cans are painted black inside and any movement would have created a double image of the houses – there isn’t anything to suggest that.

One I made up for a lady at my new workplace.


Observing Report 12/12/18

Slightly strange conditions last night- the sky south and east was distinctly murky with very ropey seeing. This isn’t unusual as I live north and west of Burton, but it seemed to be especially exaggerated. List below was all in 14” dob:

Aldeberan and the Hyades– whilst checking the Finder and the Rigel were lined up properly I put Aldeberan in the EP. It’s too easy to forget the simple pleasure of putting a big fat red star with whopping diffraction spikes (yeah, I know- not everyone’s cup of tea) in the middle of your field of view. Spent a while wandering round the neighbouring star field. A lovely start and almost forgot I had a list to go through.

Comet 46p – A nice little hop from Epsilon Taurus, but still took a couple of attempts. The head was really clear; I spent ages trying to see the tail. Eventually, with the 35mm in, a bit of averted vision and wiggling the scope I could see some elongation of the head and a hint of the tail.

Pleiades – Because if you’re in the area with a low power eyepiece it’s rude not to.

Mars – shrinking after the summer, but some detail still visible at 206x including polar cap.

Neptune – very small, but the blue colour is so striking. Given the seeing so low in the sky I didn’t try to go past 206x

NGC 6543 – Cat’s eye nebula – lovely pleasing green, and decent disk at 206x

NGC 7023 – Iris Cluster and Nebula – I got to the cluster OK, and I think I found some nebulosity but it was very faint. Not really sure.

NGC6946 – Fireworks Galaxy – Very faint and averted vision only.

NGC7331 and Stephan’s Quintet (NGC7320) – I’ve wanted to have a go at this one for a while, and with it high in a good part of the sky it seemed like a good chance. NGC7331 was straightforward- with an elongated shape clearly visible with direct vision. At low power (47x) it was easy to put it in same the FOV as Stephan’s Quintet. The four stars that they sit within were a distinctive shape and easily picked out. I think when you know what something is supposed to look like it’s easy to imagine it right there. There could possibly, maybe, have been a sort of mottling in the right area with averted vision??? I don’t think I can really claim that.

M42 – Again- rude not to and wonderful as always. The seeing was bad around there, although there was a hint of the ‘E’ star in the trapezium. Spent a while playing with Oiii and UHC filters. The Oiii filter just gives a brilliant view of the cloud with so much texture.

Rosette Nebula – My first observation of this object. The central cluster was easily picked out and I could find some faint nebulosity, especially beneath and to the right of the cluster.

Really enjoyable evening, and hopefully have some subs of 46p to play with soon…


I use handwarmer pouches as a simple alternative to a dew strap from my refractor and guidescopes.

You just open the plastic outer bag and use a rubber band to hold it in position near the lens cell.

The best deal I have found is this:

That’s about £20 for 20 pairs, so 50p a pack.

The packs contain salt and iron filings, and when opened moisture in the air causes the iron to rust over about ten hours giving a gradual but worthwhile release of heat.

They are non-toxic, but beware – if your labrador east one the salt content makes it a very effective emetic…


Algae growing on Pot Plant Slide 1/12/2018 – Zeiss IM microscope; QHY6 mono camera vs. Bresser Mikrocam SP5.1 colour camera

About a month ago, I placed a slide in my pot pond outside and the algae on the photos below are those that have grown in situ. The slide was in the top ten centimetres of the pot pond – where sunlight would hit the slide every day.

This has also been an opportunity to try out my QHY6 mono astronomical camera on my Zeiss IM microscope & compare photos taken with that camera with those taken with my trusty Bresser Mikrocam SP 5.1 camera – the main issue is the small sensor on the QHY6 gives highly magnified image & loss of detail as in monochrome.


x4 objective, QHY6 mono camera:

x4 objective, Bresser Mikrocam SP5.1 colour camera:

x32 objective, QHY6 mono camera:

x32 objective, Bresser Mikrocam SP5.1 colour camera:

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…