Observing

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.

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.

So…

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…

Hunter’s Moon?

Being unable to sleep last night, I was greeted in the early hours by seeing the Moon lurking in the Hyades, hiding behind Taurus’s head, presumably to protect itself by being clobbered by Orion the Hunter.

Here it is, taken with my Sony DSC-HX60 compact camera with a bit of GIMP magic to combine images of different exposures to avoid the Moon’s glare washing out the stars:

And here is the Moon’s hiding place in the Hyades:

Alexander’s dark band

Now here is a name for an effect that I have observed and been puzzled about!

Alexander’s dark band – – Alexander of Aphrodisias first described the effect with double rainbows in 200 AD and it now carries his name.
Light rays undergoing a single reflection in raindrops form the primary rainbow or brighten the sky inside it. Rays reflected twice are deviated to form the secondary bow or brighten the sky outside.

Raindrops along lines of sight between the two bows cannot send light to your eye and so the sky is darker there.

You can see the effect in this image I posted a year or so ago.

 

Read more at https://www.atoptics.co.uk/rainbows/adband.htm or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander%27s_band

Lunar data mining and “Alexander’s beaded rim”

October’s “Sky at Night” magazine has quite a few lunar images. The regular “Moonwatch” article is about the crater “Alexander” and its environs. Alexander is a difficult to identify eroded crater. In particular it talks about “Alexander’s beaded rim” about which it says “The peaks that define Alexander’s western rim appear like tiny stars arranged in a beautiful arc”. I have to confess that from the images in the magazine, this clair-obscur effect totally eluded me.

So, as I now have quite an extensive set of window-sill based images (of varying quality!) of the Moon in a variety of phases a bit of data mining was indicated. I found the following image which I cropped and labelled the features to be approximately the same as that in the magazine;

Then, after a bit of contrast stretching in GIMP, we get this:

NOW I can see an effect, although whether it is the one they were talking about, I don’t know! It is pretty though.

 

While looking at this image set, nearby there was also a pretty good manifestation of the Lunar “V”.

Weekend Opportunism

Between a busy work week, family commitments and some so-so forecasts it wasn’t looking good for astronomy this weekend, but it turned out pretty well.

Friday Night:
Imaging-
Didn’t get out until about 10:30 but tried to make up for lost time by setting both the main scope going and trying out my 50mm lens on the Star Adventurer. I had high hopes for the 50mm lens- it’s another oldie (I’ve had it about 15 years), but online quite a few people are getting great results with them. Well- I’m not in that club (yet). The diaphragm only has five blades and although I stopped it down to f2.8 (it’ll open up to f1.8) all of my stars are pentagons and DSS is refusing to recognise them as stars- so no results from that. Fortunately, the main rig saved the day: I went for NGC6946 – The Fireworks Galaxy with my 200p. Throughout the session low clouds were interrupting the view, and around half the subs were lost, but the ones I did hang onto gave the result below. Over the summer I’ve picked up a second hand Canon 550d that has been home modified with a Peltier cooler and put into a metal case- it’s not pretty, but it seems to be effective. This is 13×4 minute subs and throughout this session it held the temperature down to around 7-8 degrees which I’m pleased with (a couple of degrees below ambient, my 600d usually runs about 10 degrees above ambient and is consequently much noisier). The target itself is quite a bit smaller than I’d anticipated- this is a crop of about 20% of the frame. Despite the small size- I think this is a lovely target- both for its colours and the asymmetry in the arms.

Observing-

Whilst the cameras were doing their stuff I had the Dob out on the following objects:

The Double-Double- I used Vega to get the finders lined up then dropped down to Epsilon Lyra to check out the seeing. It was a straightforward split, but I could see that the transparency was not great.

M13 & M92 – I often start with these and never get tired of them. In Binoviewers at about 260x they fill the field of view and appear 3 dimensional. For me these are the only types of objects that actually look better in the eyepiece than in a photo; I love the difference in their appearance- M13’s great with lots of features, but a bit of a mess with arms everywhere, whereas M92 is compact and very neat. Just wonderful.

The Veil – I was reading a thread on SGL recently which referenced a Sky and Telescope article on The Veil (https://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-blogs/explore-night-bob-king/explore-veil-nebula/) . Using this as a guide, and with an Oiii filter a 30mm eyepiece (55x) and a coat over my head I managed to explore just about the whole thing. I’m a bit prone to hopping from object to object whilst observing, so it was great to really take my time in the tranquillity of the small hours and drink it all in with nothing but the odd clunk of a shutter release and that American woman with the nice voice who commentates on APT saying “Dithering started…” softly in the background. Ahhh… a very nice dither contemplating the remnants of a supernova.

I was on the Veil for over half an hour and loved every minute of it, but decided with to move on with the Oiii filter and go check out M27. This is normally not a problem, but by this point the transparency had deteriorated so much I was unable to hop to it. Altair was the only nearby star that was naked eye visible and despite several attempts I just couldn’t find the stars in the finder to hop up to M27. Reluctant to retire I switched up to the North East to check out M31 as the skies looked better in that direction. Before I could get to it a bank of cloud blotted it out. Time for bed…

Saturday:

I managed to pop out briefly whilst doing other things on Saturday evening and set the imaging rig running on M13. This was a bit of an experiment: I’ve imaged M13 before, but with my guide camera on a smaller scope using the short exposure method. Whilst I was quite pleased with those outcomes (see https://roslistonastronomy.uk/catching-up-on-images) , I wanted to see how it would look with more integration time and a DSLR chip. This is 22x 4 min subs plus calibration frames and I am really pleased with it. As a bonus for the last half-hour it was running I sat outside with Sam observing the sky primarily with Mark 1 eyeballs. After a while we were both able to pick out the Milky Way running up through Cassiopeia and Cygnus despite the local light pollution. A real pleasure!

Local project?

How about this for a project?

Observe/sketch/image as many of the Local Group of galaxies as possible.

Meet the Shy Side of the Local Group

They are well placed at the moment. There is the obvious M31, M32, M110 and M33. There is also the rather less obvious NGC147 and NGC185 (C17 and C18). There are also others.

Here are images of M32 and M110 I have extracted (not too successfully!) from existing images of M31,

and here is a reprocessed image I obtained last year of NGC185. So far I have never managed NGC147.

Anyone up for a challenge?