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!

Sky watching in Flamborough, Yorkshire

Had a couple of chances to do some sky watching when on holiday last week. Mars was clearly visible when the sky cleared. It seemed that it took quite a while for the sky to get dark enough. The moon was looking good. I was able to look out of the velux window in the bedroom, and see the moon out there. On one evening the Milky Way was visible, not too clear, but you could tell it was there.

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!

Observing on 14th August at Rosliston

Had a really good time at Rosliston last night. Everything seemed to go safely and smoothly (after we managed to get in!)

The gaps in the clouds made it worth going and Jupiter and Saturn kept us company for much of the time. The owls were hooting and planes going over head. The odd meteor made us happy too.

It was great be able to chat and chill together. Thanks to Heather for organising it, and to everybody who attended.

Alan and Angella Rodgers

RAG observing session at Rosliston Forestry Centre 14/8/2020

Our first observing session after Covid 19 pandemic lockdown. Predicted to be cloudy, it partially cleared, allowing us to view Jupiter, Saturn, M27, M57. Other attendees saw several meteors, most of which were consistent with a Perseid radiant – I missed all of them as I was always looking in the other direction!

Photos of Jupiter below taken with hand-held Samsung S10+ phone through Orion UK 10 inch Dobsonian telescope by myself.


Comet Neowise

Went out last night in Tamworth and managed to get the telescope onto Comet Neowise. It was an achievement, but I think I liked the view through binoculars just as much. I was delighted that after my posting on my FaceBook page at least 4 of my friends and relatives went out and looked at it too. Two close friends came to the garden last night, bringing warm clothes and their own binoculars. It was great to see how delighted they were with what they saw.

Sadly it looks like we won’t get a chance to see it tonight. Perhaps the forecast for tomorrow night might be exaggerating the cloud cover. Hope so.

Comet Neowise from Tamworth

We were delighted to see Comet Neowise very clearly through binoculars at about 11pm on the evening of 19th July 2020. We followed the bottom right line of Ursa Major and there it was, just where it was supposed to be. As it got darker the comet stood out very clearly. There was a clear core-like section at the bottom, and a long tail pointing upwards. It was icy white.

So pleased we persisted. Sadly our photo we took with a smartphone was just a reminder of the direction we looked. We didn’t capture the actual comet.

See its location here – https://www.nasa.gov/feature/how-to-see-comet-neowise/ . It will be closest on 22/3 July, and then will be about 64 million miles away.

Angella and Alan Rodgers

Observing in Lichfield on 10-11 July 2020

Had a super time with Andy observing (socially distanced) in his garden. We had great view of the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. Saw lots of other objects in the sky too. Andy is so deft at finding things. It was fun to introduce his neighbour to the night sky too. He was quick to pick things up and was soon using an app on is phone to identify what he could see in the sky. Thanks to Andy for inviting us.

We had the added drama on the way home of seeing a lorry extricate itself from the railway bridge by Lichfield City Railway Station! Good job it was 2am-ish, so not many of us waiting for it to clear the bridge.

This feeble picture of Saturn and Jupiter will remind us of the evening! Shame I didn’t capture the splendid views we saw through the telescope!

Angella and Alan Rodgers

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!