Mercury – a challenge

Having got excited about seeing Mercury from the window-sill the other morning, I had a rummage through my notebooks to see if I had ever observed Mercury telescopically.

Amongst other observations, I turned up these – done when I was somewhat younger! (the first 16 years ago!). The sketches are laterally transposed.

So, has anyone managed to capture an image of Mercury’s phase? (Weather forecast isn’t too good for this apparition). Its greatest elongation is on December 15th.








up these

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…

Observing Log 1-2/11/2018, Bignor Hill, Sussex Downs, Andrew Thornett

Observing Log 1-2/11/2018.

Bignor Hill, Sussex Downs.

Andrew Thornett.


Back at Bignor Hill in the Sussex Downs, twenty minutes’ drive from Bognor Regis (see map) where my family and I were spending half term holiday week, this time on my own. After a great night’s observing on Sunday night, I have spent this holiday week hoping that there would be another clear night before we leave, and tonight was the last possible chance as we need to return to Lichfield tomorrow. Current Location 50º 47′ N 000º 41. Observing on Sunday was limited by a bright Moon and being accompanied by someone new to astronomy who needed to be at work the following day. Those limitations promised to be gone tonight.

I have bought along my Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 80mm telescope on Manfrotto video tripod and my Canon 10×30 image stabilised binoculars.

This is a very dark sky site and tonight it was particularly dark and clear as the Moon did not rise until just as this session came to an end.

I started at 22:00. Apart from getting out of the car and stepping immediately into a large puddle (typical for me) my first (well next reaction after an unprintable one following stepping into the puddle) was Wow! Wow! Wow!

A bright Milky Way ran across the sky and through Cygnus and Cassiopeia. Hundreds (if not thousands) of stars were visible. The only other time I have seen a sky like this was in Ladram Bay near Sidmouth in Devon. Owls were making noise in the background – that reminded me of observing nights in Rosliston Forestry Centre – but the sky here was many times better. I am hoping that this night will last and not cloud or mist over. Fingers crossed!

Pinwheel Galaxy, Triangulum Galaxy, M 33, NGC 598, UGC 1117, PGC 5818, MCG 5-4-69, CGCG 502-110,2MASS 01335090+3039357. I do not remember EVER having been able to so easily pick out M33 with binoculars as I could tonight, and I am using only a pair of 10×30’s at that…. although they are Canon and image stabilised with great contrast and pristine optics which does make it easier….

This was after seeing M31 as a bold bright white oval in the same binoculars, although it is worth noting I could not easily pick out the North American Nebula. I always put my difficulty seeing the North America Nebula back home down to poor Lichfield Skies/light pollution but after tonight where I can see that it is still difficult to pick out the North American Nebula even in dark clear skies I wonder…. perhaps it is a difficult object to see anywhere!

I turned my telescope to M 33….

M 33 was not round as it has appeared to me in the past in Lichfield, when I can only just pick it out due to light pollution. It was jagged in outline consistent with the presence of spiral arms. Although it would be claiming too much to say that I could see spiral arms tonight clearly, nevertheless I could see the suggestion of them. The central nucleus was brighter than the surrounding area and had an elongated nature to it consistent with a bar. I could observe tonight two definite brighter areas in the galaxy. Both were north of the nucleus (above it relative to the horizon). One was roughly vertically above it and the other to the left of the nucleus and above it. This latter brighter area was the brighter of the two. Using the map of M 33 on Sky Safari Pro 6, with confidence I identified the brighter knot above and left of the nucleus as NGC 604. I think (but as less confident) that the area above the nucleus was NGC 595.

[Added 2/11/2018 = Identification of NGC 595 and NGC 604 above confirmed as correct from further research – see https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=map+m33+galaxy+clusters&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj63Yv4obneAhUPV8AKHRO8CFkQsAR6BAgAEAE&biw=2048&bih=996

North American Nebula. Oh boy, what a difficult object to see! I have now picked this out and identified it with absolute certainty using 80mm scope and 11mm focal length setting on my Baader 8-24mm zoom eyepiece. Bear in mind that I do not have any filters with me tonight and this object is supposed to be far better seen with UHC filter. My identification is 100% certain tonight as I have double and triple checked the stars I used for the star hop and can see the outline of one side of the nebula…. the skies are still incredible, and the nebula can only be described as VERY faint and this is worsened by similar looking star fields in the surrounding dense part of the Milky Way. The Milky Way is still spectacular to the naked eye. Why do astronomy magazines list this as an easy object? It isn’t even easily seen in pristine skies! Perhaps all is different when using a filter – wish I had bought one with me.

Veil Nebula, Western Veil Nebula, Lacework Nebula, Cygnus Loop, NGC 6960, C 34, LBN 191, Without a nebula filter I could not say with certainty that I could observe any part of the Veil Nebula although there were possible hints of its existence in both the Witches’ Broom and Eastern loop……

M 39, NGC 7092, Worth saying I picked up this lovely object whilst looking for the North American nebula. Been years since I last observed this. Why have I waited so long?

M 29, NGC 6913, Fun little grouping easily picked out.

Milky Way now even more impressive than before. Stars visible down to about 15 degrees above horizon in all directions before atmospheric extinction.

Ring Nebula, M 57, NGC 6720, ARO 9, PK 063+13.1, PN G063.1+13.9, VV 214, Can’t leave Cygnus without observing the Ring Nebula. Looking much like it does under our skies in Lichfield, bright grey ring.

By now my telescope was distinctly dewing up – I have not bought any dew heaters with me…more accurately I have bought dew bands but not bought a battery…a mistake! But then I did not expect an observing experience like this.

Pleiades, Seven Sisters, Subaru Cluster, M 45, Mel 22, With the binoculars, the splendour of the Pleiades is evident.

Hyades, C 41, Mel 25, Aldebaran’s dominance over the Hyades, of which it isn’t even a member…

Cr 69, Collinder 69 which looks like it is something significant to the naked eye but I found it disappointing once the binoculars were directed towards it.

Orion Nebula, M 42, NGC 1976, LBN 974. M42 appeared as a very bright dense compact white area in the binoculars.

Barnard’s Loop, Sh 2-276, Can’t see this!

M 78, NGC 2068, Also can’t see this with the binoculars

M 37, NGC 2099, Having difficulty seeing even these clusters in Auriga – and realised even my binoculars had fogged up! I took a break in the car to warm my equipment – and me – up. Aw! My feet hurt as they warmed up!

I bought with me two sky tours that I wanted to give a try tonight. The first one came from Astronomy Now November 2018 and was a tour around the environs of the Pleiades and Hyades. The second was from BBC Sky at Night magazine November 2018 and was a tour along Orion’s Sword.

NGC 1980, LBN 977, The tour of Orion’s Sword started with this small bright open cluster. Nothing very exciting. Easily identified just south of M42.

Orion Nebula, M 42, NGC 1976, LBN 974, Next, I looked at M42 itself.

M 43, NGC 1982, I followed my observation of M 42 with M 43. This is de Mairon’s Nebula and is adjacent to the fish mouth on M 42 with a dark lane between. Again, easy to see tonight.

NGC 1977, I would not say this nebula is bright, but it was visible by direct vision tonight around the three stars above M 43. It is a diffuse reflection nebula.

NGC 1975, This was again visible as brighter patch of nebulosity surrounding two pairs of stars roughly to the north of the line of stars surrounded by NGC 1977. Not much detail seen but visible.

NGC 1981, Another bright open cluster easily seen to north of previous entries for the sword above.

Pleiades, Seven Sisters, Subaru Cluster, M 45, Mel 22, I started the second tour at the Pleiades, which looked like diamonds on black velvet!

NGC 1514, ARO 21, PK 165-15.1, PN G165.5-15.2, VV 17, Not seen although largely due to difficulty getting my mount to point at the proper location!

Hyades, C 41, Mel 25, Seen again as before.

NGC 1647, Large, scattered and not very exciting in my opinion after looking at it tonight!

M 35, NGC 2168, One of Damian’s favourites. Easily seen tonight. Gorgeous!

NGC 2158, The football to M35’s footballer. Easily seen tonight. Sometimes at home can be difficult to pick out but not in this dark clear sky.

Crab Nebula, Taurus A, M 1, NGC 1952, LBN 833, Easily found by star hopping not as much detail as when previously seen in Lichfield. I think this was due to my telescope dewing up again. Therefore, I swapped to my binoculars for the next few observations.

I started with the main clusters in Auriga.

M 37, NGC 2099, Bright in binoculars.

Pinwheel Cluster, M 36, NGC 1960, Also bright in binoculars

Starfish Cluster, M 38, NGC 1912, Also easily seen in binoculars.

NGC 1893 Again easily picked out with the binoculars.

I moved back to Andromeda to see the showcase galaxy there.

Andromeda Galaxy, M 31, NGC 224, UGC 454, PGC 2557, MCG 7-2-16, CGCG 535-17,2MASS 00424433+4116074, I spent some time looking at M31 with the binoculars – crossed nearly half field of view from end to end in binoculars.

M 110, NGC 205, UGC 426, PGC 2429, MCG 7-2-14, CGCG 535-14, IRAS 00376+4124,2MASS 00402207+4141070, Faint but just seen in the binoculars 

I wondered whether I would be able to observe M 101 in these skies.

M 101, NGC 5457, UGC 8981, PGC 50063, MCG 9-23-28, CGCG 272-21, Arp 26, VV 344, Not seen although I searched several times. This was a surprise as I expected it to be easy to observe. However, I was now at the end of my observing session. The sky in the direction of M 101 was different from other directions in that it was milky possibly due to light pollution from a neighbouring town – is Bognor Regis in that direction? M 101 was also quite low down and I think the binoculars were fogging up by now as well.

Consequently, I opted to call an end to the session, finishing at 01:00.

In summary I had an incredible evening of observing tonight in wonderful clear dark skies. I have discovered that dark skies really make a difference to what I can observe – and that difference in far more than the difference made by a bigger scope. I can see why Nick gets so excited about his trips to Scotland now!


Current planetary nebulae.

Swadlincote 29/10/18 C6r reduced to 120mm.13mm Nagler.

Very well worth finding , mostly brightly coloured blue to blue green.

These are very obvious in the field of view , being non stellar. You can take the brightest up to x200. Indeed the “Esquimaux Nebula” in Gemini will show its hood and central white dwarf star. I had M27 filling the field at x200. Its surprising to see the different sizes and brightness of these most beautiful nebulae .

I recall a night when Andy arrived and we hit many on this list and my details of more obscure planetaries. They blink either with direct or averted vision. Some respond very well to UHC filters.

Personally I like the names and what has happened to give us a view of these temporary features, Nick.

Pegasus stars !

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

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

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

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

Observing Log 28/10/2018 Andrew & Kevin, Bignor Hill, Sussex Downs

Observing Log

Bignor Hill, Sussex Downs, near Bognor Regis, 50º 47′ N 000º 41′ W,

28/10/2018, 21:00-22:45.

Andrew Thornett and Kevin Stone.


Equipment: Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 80mm OTA on Manfrotto photo tripod and video head with counter-balance arm added and choice of series of counter-balance weights, 8x50mm finder scope, Baader Hyperion 8-24mm zoom eyepiece, Tele Vue 8-24mm eyepiece attached to Tele Vue 2x Barlow lens (giving equivalent of 4-12mm zoom -reason for separate zoom eyepiece on Barlow lens is for convenience during swapping eyepieces), Sky Safari 6 Pro software on iPad.


The family and me are on holiday in Bognor Regis visiting old friends from when Ean Ean and I lived in Chichester. Tonight, I took one such old friend out for his first ever observing session with a telescope.


Bright Moon just over half full, Milky Way visible overhead, dark sky observing location which would have been brilliant for DSOs had it not been for substantial light pollution from the moon……but perhaps at the end of the week if clear……..who knows?


Andromeda Galaxy,M 31,NGC 224,UGC 454,PGC 2557,MCG 7-2-16,CGCG 535-17,2MASS 00424433+4116074,Current Location  50º 47′ N 000º 41′ W,50.783090627813934,-0.6827541544616841,0,0,0,Big bold and beautiful. We also saw M32 in orbit. A chance to discuss galaxy formation and the latest idea that M32 is the centre of a much larger cannibalised galaxy by M31.

I could also just see M108 but that was a but too much for Kevin to be able to pick out of the sky – too faint for him.


Albireo,$b1 Cyg,6 Cyg,HR 7417,HD 183912,SAO 87301,BD +27 3410,HIP 95947,STFA 43,Current Location  50º 47′ N 000º 41′ W,50.783090627813934,-0.6827541544616841,0,0,0,Introduced Kevin to double star observing with this particular pairing and discussed colour and star temperature and its implication for star development and age.


Double Double Star in Lyra,$e1 Lyr,4 Lyr,HR 7051,HD 173582,SAO 67310,BD +39 3509,HIP 91919,STF 2382,Current Location  50º 47′ N 000º 41′ W,50.783090627813934,-0.6827541544616841,0,0,0,Who couldn’t discuss double stars without looking at the Double Double?


Mars,4,Current Location  50º 47′ N 000º 41′ W,50.783090627813934,-0.6827541544616841,0,0,0,Dark central continent evident even at the low magnifications available to us tonight. Sky and Telescope magazine’s online Mars Profiler tool demonstrated that this was Syrtis Major.


Ring Nebula,M 57,NGC 6720,ARO 9,PK 063+13.1,PN G063.1+13.9,VV 214,Current Location  50º 47′ N 000º 41′ W,50.783090627813934,-0.6827541544616841,0,0,0,First time Kevin had seen the objects tonight and this included the Ring Nebula, giving him another wow moment. Smoky ring in Equinox 80.


Pleiades, Seven Sisters, Subaru Cluster,M 45,Mel 22,Current Location  50º 47′ N 000º 41′ W,50.783090627813934,-0.6827541544616841,0,0,0,Bright in binoculars and telescope at low power. Kevin was able to compare the view through the telescope, naked eye and binoculars. We discussed star formation and open clusters and our own Sun.


Moon,301, 50.783090627813934,-0.6827541544616841,0,0,0,We finished with a stunner – the Moon! The craters with high walls, central peaks, and often overlying smaller craters led to discussions about the formation of the Moon, ageing its structures and day and night on the Moon.


Kevin’s conclusions: On the way home, Kevin told me that there were no negative parts of the session. Most exciting had been the double star colours as he had not expected much difference between them. This surprised me together with his next statement that viewing the Andomeda Galaxy was the last interesting aspect of the session. His reasoning behind that was that galaxies are fuzzy and in distinct. He had found my brief discussion of the astrophysics illuminating and helpful. I will include more double and coloured stars in my outreach sessions from now on!



Imaging Sadr and Observing the Veil

Good night on Tuesday- managed to get a good imaging session in as well as some observing. The picture is of Sadr/Gamma Cygni from 20x 300 seconds plus bias, darks and flats.

Had the dobs out whilst this was going on, first star hopping with Sam to the Hercules cluster and the Double cluster then alone after his bedtime. From the observing log:

West and East Veil- superb. Sinuous strands, beautiful. Spent a long time sweeping back and forth.
N America nebula- found Mexico but rest was a struggle.
Andromeda group. M31 dark lanes were visible in the 35mm eyepiece, first time from home.
Pleiades- first sight this year.
M33 pinwheel- v v faint. 20 minutes to find. Not worth it!!!
Kemble’s cascade & ngc1502