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 Log 24-25/5/2020 Lichfield

Observations last night:

22:30. Set up Altair Astro 183M mono camera to take colour data on M106. Camera on my Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 80mm OTA on EQ6 on roll out platform in garden in Lichfield, UK.

Took while to synchronise mount with sky and then GOTO M106.

Guiding working reasonably well most of time – occasional big guiding spikes associated with error just > 3 arc-seconds – I suspect due to wind, settling to 1-2 arc-seconds RMS error on guiding, mostly < 1.

Went for shower before going outside to pull out 10 inch Orion Dobsonian on equatorial platform. Tomorrow is a Bank Holiday so I don’t need to go to work so I cam stay outside. Yippee!

Saw ISS go over to South.

23:48 Just seen spectacular meteor lasting couple seconds going from South to North in area between Great Square of Pegasus and feet of Ursa Major. Stood out for me as appeared to be dropping down although I think this is probably an artifact of where it was in sky – low in northwest.

Definitely the wind that is causing brief moments of worsening guiding accuracy – just witnessed it happen.

00:15. Taking a last look at Virgo cluster of galaxies this year before they drop down in the west – or more importantly drop behind top of my house in the west!

Aimed directly between Denebola and Vindemiatrix. Immediately dropped straight down onto Virgo A – comparing adjacent star asterisks to chart in Sky Safari confirmed location and find.

Virgo A is bright fuzzy blob in 20mm Explore Scientific (ES) 100 degree field of view eyepiece. In 9mm ES of same series it was a bigger fuzzy blob, still without detail – but then sky isn’t that dark, being summer and centre of Lichfield.

It might be summer but time for coat and hat! Getting a bit cold out here…..

Just taken photo of Virgo A using hand held Samsung S10+ phone through 9mm ES.

M57 Ring Nebula, hand held Samsung Note 10+:

I have forgotten which globular cluster this one was (below):

02:52. Sky getting light and more difficult to find objects. Got plenty of colour data on M106 so hopefully it can all be processed to help me get my first colour image of M106, and combine with the luminence data I collected the week before last.

03:30. Just packed away. Dawn definitely on its way with significantly brighter sky. No dawn chorus yet. I am off to bed!


Observing Log 15-16 May 2020 Lichfield

I started setting up my astrophotography gear at 21:30 in order to collect colour subs for M106. At the same time I pulled out my Orion Optics UK 10 inch Dobsonian and mounted on my Equatorial Platforms USA equatorial platform set for 52 degrees latitude. This allows high power viewing without the need to constantly nudge the telescope to keep an object in the field of view, and, as we discovered tonight, is also a boon for photography through the scope!
Rhys and I viewed a number of objects which Rhys then photographed using my Samsubg S10 Note+ phone hand-held to the eyepiece using a variety of exposure lengths between 1 and 4 seconds.
By this means, he photographed M51 and showed spiral structure, the Cigar Galaxy M82 and demonstrated its central bifurcationg dust lane, M13 and M92 globular clusters in Hercules showing the difference in compactness between them, and the Ring Nebula M57 in Lyra, showing its central hole.
The photographs were mostly through our 17mm eyepiece – lower magnifications tended to work less well as it became clear that he needed a bright star in the field of view to focus lock on and with longer focal length eyepieces stars did not appear bright enough for this purpose.
Phone set to maximum ISO 3200, maximum aperture F1.5.
When Rhys went to bed I continued my observing, as the night remained clear, contrary to the weather forecast.  I was continuing to take subs on M106 with my refractor and Altair Asyto 183M camera, so also continued to observe through Dob as well.
High magnification on the Ring Nebula with my 6mm Ethos eyepiece showed the centre of the ring well.
I followed this with Sunflower Galaxy both with 20mm Explore Scientific and 6mm Ethos eyepieces.  Given how difficult I used to find this object to locate, all of a sudden it seems very bright in the eyepiece, even on a night like tonight which has such a short period of astronomical darkness – although I guess I am in it as now it is 00:55!
M108 located with 20mm eyepiece – the sky isn’t really that dark and M108 looks like a faint slash – an easy star hop though.
Owl Nebula – could not observe tonight! Something obscuring sky at just wrong point – possibly high level cloud but stars there were faint and difficult to make out and the Nebula impossible to detect. Whatever it was would not seem to budge.
I have had a really enjoyable night after a difficult and very busy week at work. Feel a lot better!

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:


Observing Log 6/3/2020 @ 22:00-7/3/2020 @ 00:30 – The Moon

Observing Log 6/3/2020 @ 22:00-7/3/2020 @ 00:30

Andrew Thornett, Alan and Angella Rodgers


  • Orion UK 10” Dobsonian Telescope
  • Explore Scientific 14mm & 9mm 100-degree AFOV eyepieces
  • Tele Vue Ethos 6mm eyepiece
  • Tele Vue Big Barlow x2

As a night with predicted cloud cover around 50%, this was a poor choice for astrophotography. A bright 10-day old moon meant that most of the deep sky was washed out, plus cloud quickly passed through obscuring faint objects as we tried to find them. It therefore seemed a poor choice for an evening of astronomy. However, Angella and Alan came around and the three of us spent a wonderful time observing the moon. Usually, we “experienced” amateur astronomers reject the moon but it such a wonderful object with so much detail. Tonight, we took the time to eke out more detail than I have seen before on the moon….not because I couldn’t but rather because I didn’t and after tonight’s experience I feel that this was an error on my behalf – I intend to spend far more time in the future getting to know our close celestial neighbour! I can see now why Patrick Moore used to spend so much time looking at it from his dark skies in Selsey with his 15” telescope when he could have looked at other things.

I also discovered tonight that I still adore my first love of visual observational astronomy – over the years I have done radio astronomy, astrophotography, spectroscopy, amateur telescope making, and all those are great in their individual ways, but getting out there with the telescope and eyepiece under the stars cannot be matched! Wow! Wow! Wow! I also love the Dobsonian telescope – so simple to use and set up, and such great stable views – although does need quite a lot of star-hopping skills but then I enjoy doing that too. No circuit boards to die, limited dependency on batteries (illuminated finders mainly and your torch!)

We also used good old-fashioned printed moon atlases tonight. In particular, we used two books tonight: (I) Thierry Legault and Serge Brunier’s New Atlas of the Moon 2006 which gives large labelled photographs of the moon day by day throughout its cycle and close-ups of particular regions, and (II) Antonin Ruke’s Atlas of the Moon 1990 – this latter very famous tome (mine is the much cheaper first edition) has vast numbers of labelled drawings of different areas of the moon.

We started our journey by identifying Phocylides and Wargentin craters – that make up a Ginger biscuit man shape (2 circles of slightly different sizes close together and easily picked out against other craters). We tried to identify both small craters between these two – but one was over side of moon so could not be seen.

From there we hopped to the ray crate Tycho, and followed the two parallel rays down to crater Bullialdus with its central peak which we could easily see. We then hopped to Gassendi and spent a lot of time on this crater. We could identify a breach in its side wall but had difficulties seeing all the features in its base that were visible on the photographs in the New Atlas of the Moon, even with the 6mm Ethos eyepiece. However, when I added in my 2x Big Barlow to give magnification 400x (1200mm focal length on scope) then they became visible and the view was amazing!

Wikipedia gives a description of the crater which accurately describes the view we saw, “Gassendi is a large lunar impact crater feature located at the northern edge of Mare Humorum. It was named after French astronomer Pierre Gassendi. The formation has been inundated by lava during the formation of the mare, so only the rim and the multiple central peaks remain above the surface. The outer rim is worn and eroded, although it retains a generally circular form. A smaller crater – Gassendi A – intrudes into the northern rim, and joins a rough uplift at the northwest part of the floor. The crater pair bear a curious resemblance to a diamond ring. In the southern part of the crater floor is a semi-circular ridge-like formation that is concentric with the outer rim. It is in the southern part where the rim dips down to its lowest portion, and a gap appears at the most southern point. The rim varies in height from as little as 200 meters to as high as 2.5 kilometers above the surface. The floor has numerous hummocks and rough spots. There is also a system of rilles that criss-crosses the floor, named the Rimae Gassendi. The fresh crater Gassendi A is adjacent to Gassendi to the north.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gassendi_(crater))

The rilles, in particular, could not be seen with 6mm eyepiece but became visible with 3mm eyepiece (6mm+2xBarlow). We weren’t going to stop until we saw those – so were very pleased with ourselves when we got them!

The main issue with 3mm eyepieces (6mm+2xBarlow) was that (even though the Ethos has 100 degree AFOV) the image shot across the field of view, giving little time to take it in before we needed to nudge the scope – the main failing of a Dobsonian telescope in my view.

From Gassendi, we dropped down to Copernicus, and thence to the Sinus Iridum, which stretches from the east at Cape Laplace to Cape Heraclides on the west. This required the 6mm eyepiece before we could start to see detail in the mountains around the edge of the sinus. What a view! Incredible! So beautiful and full of wonder. We could also see ghost craters within it, and this led to a discussion between us on the history of the moon, when one crater forms, gets filled with lava and then new craters occur within the same area without lava filling them.


Observing log Burton-on-Trent Andy & Rob 27/2/2020

Rob and I having marvellous time with 14 inch Orion Dob!

Great view of M42 appearing green and six stars clearly visible in trapezium.

Bagged Comet 2017 T2 Panstarrs bright almost planetary nebula like in eyepiece. Also seen Comet 289P/Blanpain which is supposedly magnitude 1.8 according to Sky Safari – no chance – very faint slight brightening of sky – needed accurate star hop and some tapping of scope to confirm.

Just seen Leo triplet M65 and M66 very easy to see but that third NGC 3628 – we saw it in the 14 inch Dob but so much fainter although once found relatively easy to follow around eyepiece when you move it – certainly a lot easier than comet 289P!

Whilst all this is going on, Rob is also photographing NGC 2403 – avoiding the usual suspects of close by M81/82. Sky much better from his house near Burton than mine in Lichfield – lucky blighter!

Cup of tea – back into the breech dear friends!…

Three clusters in Auriga, Double Cluster in Perseus, nebulosity visible with UHC filter on both Heart and Soul Nebula – we could map out edge, absolutely fantastic.

Very bright contrast views of M81 and M82 – some if best I have ever seen.

Rob saw bright meteor I missed

We finished with the Needle Galaxy. Very needle like! Bright and obvious direct vision. Great place to finish.


Worth waiting for…

It’s been a bit of a barren few months for observing- bits and pieces here and there, but no really good session to get properly stuck in.

The forecast for last night was looking great all through the week but gradually deteriorated as it drew closer and was looking decidedly iffy by the time last night arrived. There were a few breaks in the cloud so I decided to set up just before ten (hey- no work today! 😀 ). This was soon looking decidedly optimistic:

First stint:

  • M42 – really nice view at 55x with UHC filter- well able to distinguish the fainter nebulosity behind as well as the bright core. Despite upping the mag, however, the trap would not reveal any more than 4 stars.
  • M43 and Running Man also looking really good. Until they disappeared. Yep, clouds.

Swung the scope round to a clearer bit of sky near Ursa Major:

  • M81 – Nice view of the core, but little extension beyond. First view for a while- nice to see this pair rising again after hugging the evening horizon for the last few months.
  • M82- A better sight- some distinct mottling along it and thickening at the core. Then the clouds got it.

There’s a gap!

  • Nice split on Castor
  • NGC2371 – Planetary Nebula – I don’t know this one. Quite faint. It really blinks. Oh- it’s gone.

Blow this- headed inside for a drink and some cursing of UK weather. Kept checking with gradually diminishing enthusiasm every 20 minutes or so. One last look at 12:15- Wow- crystal clear! Right…

  • Cone nebula – this was my imaging target for the night so I thought I’d have a look. The Christmas tree cluster was nice and pretty, but after letting my eyes relax and adapt the nebulosity emerged. This is the best view I’ve ever had of this object. Now we’re talking!
  • Dropped down to the Rosette- same experience. I’ve only seen hints of this before, but whilst the overall shape was hard to discern (it was filling the 30mm FOV) the central cluster was nice and prominent and by holding it centrally and just looking round the view lots of wispy structure gradually emerged. I spent a while on this. Really nice.
  • Next I thought I’d have a look at Sirius and see if the Pup was visible, despite being just above my neighbours house. Upping the magnification and putting the aperture mask on it was… dancing like a disco glitterball. No chance!
  • Leo Triplet. Leo was now rising high over the rooftops so I took my first view of the season at the triplet. It was really nice and prominent in the 30mm, but the best view was in the Baader zoom where a bit more shape was discernible. Even NGC 3628 was easy to spot- good conditions indeed.
  • C/2017 T2 Panstarrs Comet – This took a lot of finding- very careful star hopping in the ep from Miram on the edge of Perseus. In Sky Safari it looks like you can follow the tail, but for me only the head was visible and this was a pretty faint smudge, jumping several fields of view across to find it and working with star patterns.
  • From here it was a short hop to the Double Cluster- always such a good sight. By now this was well over to the North West, but this is a good direction for me and the view was lovely and steady with lots of the stars yielding plenty of colour- a wonderful sight.
  • I thought from here I’d go and look at the Heart Nebula, but took a slightly wrong turn and found the Stock 2 Open Cluster instead. This is a new one on me, but was a nice rich view, filling more than the eyepiece at 30mm.
  • The Heart was a bit fainter than the Rosette and Cone, but I could still see the bright section around the central open cluster.
  • The Soul was brighter- the nebulosity was more prominent- especially around the ‘neck’ and ‘feet’ bits.
  • This was fast turning into my best ever night for nebulae, and to keep it going I moved up to Capella to try for the Flaming Star. Very pleasingly, not only was it clearly visible, but I could make out the rippling texture along the top edge of it.
  • Feeling like I was on a roll I moved across to the ‘Tadpoles’ nebula (surely it should be called this?) next to it. This didn’t show any texture, but some wisps were definitely visible.
  • I’m really fond of the clusters in Auriga so I took the 30mm out and did a nice tour of M36, M37 and M38 with the Baader zoom.
  • It was getting on for 3 now and really time for bed but with Ursa Major rising high in the sky I couldn’t resist a quick look at M51. Both cores were quite prominent and the bridge between them too, but I couldn’t get much further into the arms on this occassion.

I’ve had the scope out a few times over the last few months and a few nice views, but for various reasons it hasn’t really come together into a properly decent session like this. There were some fabulous views and it was enhanced by some virtual companionship on the WhatsApp group. The thing that has me scratching my head is why the views of the nebulae were so good. I’ve been using the same equipment for a while now (14inch dob, 30mm Aero Eyepiece and UHC filter) but it’s never been close to this despite some apparently excellent transparency and sessions at darker sites. I guess just another reminder of what a capricious pursuit this is!

Keswick Observing Reports: Stargazing, but not as I know it…

Away for half term at the moment and staying in close proximity to some dark skies. Amazingly, for Cumbria, there has also been some lovely clear nights- and best of all, my wife agreed we could bring some astro kit with us. She may not have expected the whole boot to be taken up with it. Good job we have a roof box for the rest of their stuff (don’t ask how many days I’ve been in the same underwear)…

I’ve had two superb evenings, so please bear with me as I’ve got a bit wordy….

27/10/19: Whinlatter Forest Park

The Clear Outside astro weather app was promising a clear night on Sunday so I managed to get out for quick recce during the day. The nearest dark skies looked to be in Whinlatter Forest Park and, whilst the main car park was surrounded by very tall trees I managed to find a side road that had been closed off after 50 yards with pretty good skies and lovely views out across Bassenthwaite Lake and towards Keswick. Arriving around 7:30pm with Sam in tow we were greeted by the view below:

Whilst this was pretty stunning, even better was the view straight up. Our little eyrie was up at 300m, and although Keswick was only 6 miles away the height seemed to take us above the outer reaches of the light dome leaving the Milky Way bright and clear across the sky. The number of stars was breath-taking: much the darkest bit of the sky was the rift running through our galaxy. My friend Ian, who happens to be holidaying nearby at the same time had arranged to join us, and I had the dob set up just in time for his arrival. I’ve bored him in the pub on many occasions with my astro obsession and so it was great that the skies obliged us with such a wonderful display. We started off with a naked eye tour, first of the main constellations and then of the brighter larger objects that we could see- the Pleiades, Andromeda and Auriga cluster all easy to spot with the naked eye (thanks Paul M for the laser pointer suggestion). Then we moved to the dob for some showpieces…

M31 – Was clearly visible with the naked eye so I just pointed the dob at it- no star hopping. Checked in the finder to make sure I had it right and there was the whole thing in the finder! Bright core, elongated shape even M32 visible. Move to the eyepiece (30mm/55x) and it’s like a photo- and clearly bigger than the FOV. M110 was just there- no effort, no AV. Dark lanes prominent. A suitable “Wow!” from Ian. Yeah- it’s always like this, honest…

M27 – Dumbbell – Like M31 I was able to put the scope right onto it, and it could clearly be seen in the finder. In the eyepiece, with no filter, both the applecore and the wider fainter sections were visible. Gorgeous.

M57 – Ring Nebula – Stuck out like neon. A glorious sight with real texture in the outer regions and obvious darkening in the centre, although I couldn’t see the central star.

M45 – Pleiades – very bright and with clear nebulosity visible in patches around the brighter stars.

M81/2 – Bodes and Cigar – Nice rewardingly clear view, although try as I might I couldn’t see spiral arms. Ian very impressed with the idea that

Ian’s kids are younger than mine, so he had to head at this point and with the temperature dropping through zero Sam retreated to the car- I had an hour before forecast cloud to go after some fainter stuff.

M33 – Surprised to see this appearing in the finder as well. In the main eyepiece it was clear as day- and with a spiral structure. I’ve had it before on M51, and flattened in M31- but here it was, laid out in an exquisite swirl across the field of view.

The Veil – I’m quite accustomed to my back garden view of this in O3- sinuous green strands against a pitch background. Here, with no filter, the nebulous regions were brighter and richer, the challenge was only picking them out from the dense star fields that crowded it. East and West were easy to spot but the central sections were harder to pick out. Popping a filter in would have made it easy, but for this night I wanted to see it unmolested, so to speak.

NGC892 – Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda – A nice pleasing streak across the FOV. Tried for some time to see the dust lane, but it was not visible to me. At home this object is not visible at all.

Stephan’s Quintet -YES! I read about this object some time ago: a cluster of five galaxies , four of which are interacting, sat above one of the arms coming off the square of Pegasus. It’s almost a ritual on better, clearer nights at home that I go and have a look and fail to see it. Well here it was. To be fair it was a faint uneven smear: but still- the light of four dancing galaxies 200 million light years away with a fifth nearby at 39 million years photobombing them. Not a bad way to finish the evening.

Oh- and I got a star trail over the Northern end of Bassenthwaite lake:

29/10/19 Castlerigg Stone Circle

Wonderful as Sunday night was, the one downside of the site was that cars coming over Whinlatter pass would sweep their full beam headlights across it. I wanted to do some imaging with my Star Adventurer so tried for somewhere equally nearby that wouldn’t have that problem. Castlerigg is a place I’ve loved for a long time. It was built 3-4000 years ago on a plateau surrounded by mountains. We’ve found no evidence of settlement at the site and it was built pre-Bronze Age- no-one really knows what these early stone circles were for but it was obviously an important and sacred site for the inhabitants of the area at that time. And it’s a heck of a place to sit and look at the stars.

It was clear as soon as I arrived that the conditions were not quite so favourable- the sky wasn’t quite as dark (although the Milky Way was still easily visible), there was broken cloud scudding across it and a pretty stiff breeze across the exposed site. I quickly discovered that the ¼ to 3/8 adaptor had fallen out of my SA as well so that put paid to any serious imaging plans. No worries with the dob in the back of the car ready to go again. From the observing log:

M45 – Pleiades – very twinkly so seeing not great, but nebulosity was clear again. A wonderful sight.

M1 – Crab nebula – quite easy to pick out even with no filter. Whilst I couldn’t see the tendrils that feature in so many images, the uneven shape was nice and clear and there was an obvious fading from the core through to the outer sections, with some uneven mottling within the object.

Double Cluster – I had planned to make the most of the dark skies and focus on fainter objects, but the double is a favourite and was clearly visible naked eye so I pointed the dob at it and was surprised to find that even clusters are enhanced by the dark sky. Just so many stars! So next up…

Melotte 20 – this is barely visible as a cluster naked-eye at home, but here it was almost as prominent as the Pleiades. Pointing the dob at it gave almost bewildering fields of stars- so densely clustered it felt as though they were joined in a net.

NGC7331 & Stephans Quntet- The view was very similar to Sunday night and good to affirm the sighting. I concentrated more on NGC7331- the closer galaxy nearby which was quite prominent and showed a bit of shape. Again- I couldn’t distinguish arms, but it was good to be able to see so much more than from home.

M81- Bodes – Tried again for the spiral arms and spent some time on it. Outer reaches were visible and definitely the shape of the galaxy was not an even circle, but if I’d tried to draw what I could see there would be no arms on it. That’ll have to wait for another dark skies trip.

NGC1499 – California Nebula – This was really tricky to make out. I could detect it more as an interruption to the brightness of the stars in the field than anything else. I tried again with the UHC filter and a sort of fibrous structure was evident, but it took a lot of concentrating and relaxing and averting vision.

IC5070 – Pelican Nebula – As I had the UHC in I popped across to this one, but it was again very tricky to make out. There’s a bright ridge running above the 2 brighter stars and this was clearly visible, but the rest of the object only appeared intermittently in averted vision. Whilst I caught glimpses of it around the field of view I certainly would not have been able to draw the shape of it.

NGC7000 – North America Nebula – It was natural to move onto this after the Pelican. The Eastern seaboard section was similar to the Pelican- hinted at, but not obvious. It started to become more easily visible around Florida and the Gulf Mexico and the Cygnus Wall was quite prominent.

At this point a bobbing white light appeared in my peripheral vision. Someone walking with a torch. I always feel quite exposed when out on my own in places like this and I sat quietly, but with heart pounding, as the light gradually made its way toward me. Then it started sweeping the field, and stopped dead when it found me. Feeling a show of confidence was in order, I waved my hand in the air and shouted out a cheery “Good evening!” as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to be found on your own sitting on an ironing chair in a freezing cold field in the middle of a late October night. The torch again started bobbing towards me and as he came closer I could see he was clutching a tripod and camera bag and was most probably a like minded soul. My visitor turned out to be Javier- a Spanish amateur photographer having a week’s holiday in the lakes.

He was very interested in what I was doing and my equipment, so I whipped out the filter and started showing him some galaxies which he was very taken with. An explanation of what he was looking at, and the distances involved caused some rather pleasing swearing and evolved into a lengthy conversation about the likelihood that the universe is infinite and whether or not the multiverse theory is a pile of nonsense (not the word used).

His mission for the night was to take some nightscapes of the stones with stars beyond, using his torch to paint them in. It’s a fun technique and I was able to join in with my camera , which are the pictures that you can see here (his results were better!).

Whilst he carried on I returned to the eyepiece as Orion was now high above the mountains and above the lighter section of sky.

M42 – Orion Nebula – My first observation this season, at was as always a joy. With the UHC filter in I sent some time just enjoying the bright bow-like “front” of the object and then, with time, the billowing structure of the nebula behind began to emerge. Reflecting on the earlier observations of nebulae that evening, there really are no others that compare to it for me. It’s just an endlessly rich and fascinating object.
NGC 2024 – Flame Nebula – feeling encouraged by the fabulous views of M42 I slid the scope up to Alnitak for a gander at the Flame nebula. I found that the UHC filter didn’t really add anything (especially as the blue/red separation it puts onto Alnitak is a bit distracting) so I took it out and found that I could still see it. Far more obvious than at home it appeared as two prominent patches separated by a dark lane. The branches that you see in images couldn’t be seen at all, but the shape was very clear as was the central dark lane.
IC434 – Horsehead Nebula- finally! This was not easy at all. Following guidance I’ve read here and elsewhere I tried with a H-Beta filter in my Baader zoom but this wasn’t showing it at all. Switching back to the 30 mm with no filter I went through the ritual of just circling the area with the positions of the local prominent stars in my mind. The nebulous bank in which it sits was quite straightforward and with time the Horsehead appeared as a notch in it, a clear area of darker sky through the brighter part of the nebula, but not cutting all the way through. I couldn’t see the famous charismatic shape but the dark cut into the nebulous bank was there, as well as some hints of the shape in the clouds beneath it (I probably wouldn’t have been able to discern those clouds but for the darkness of the HH bit).
I called Javier over, but the stiffening breeze was making it very hard to keep the scope in place and I was unable to show him. As it as 2am and he wanted to be up to photograph the dawn at 6 he announced that it was time for him to turn in. Reluctantly I also started to pack up.

Reflecting back- what a couple of nights! My first time with a large-ish dob under pretty dark skies: it will not be the last. If you’ve read this far then- thank you – I’ve had fun re-living the experience and I would finish by repeating that the old cliché about the best upgrade to your telescope being petrol is one that I now firmly agree with.