Monday, 22 June 2020

NLC Display 22-06-2020

Beautiful NLC display during the night and stayed out to watch and photograph it.
First of the season and was a special one. 

Thursday, 14 May 2020

13th/14th May 2020 - Report

Nearing the end of an arctic cold snap and a clear night was inbound before the weather got warmer again and conditions were looking good for some good observing. Temps just above 1 degree and humidity in the 70s and wind almost no existent.
The seeing started off rather poor with even mag 3 stars were twinkling like mad just after twilight but I knew to give it a chance and by 23:15 it really improved and by midnight it became good to excellent at times and by the time I finished at 2am the sky was a sight to behold with even Vega, being very steady and velvety milky way all through Cygnus and fading out into Cassiopeia, along with the great rift in Vega being very apparent. The air was still and calm, it was a night stand still, look up and just take in the moment and the feeling all around you.
Observing a mix in Draco was the objective and it got dark enough to start by 23:20 and used M51 as my test target and then moved to Hercules to M92 as my firt proper target for the session and everything was looking great for the night.

Location = Home - front garden

Equipment = Skywatcher 14" GOTO

Seeing = 2/3 ending up at 4/5 as the night went on
Trans = 2/3 spending more time in 3 as the night went on

M92 - Hercules = The sky was still not at its darkest and seeing was shaky but the view in the eyepiece was outstanding! Prolonged moments of good seeing gave excellent resolution to the cluster, pin point stars well into the heart of the core and gorgeous strands and webs of stars and clumps going all out to the edge of the FOV. I spent over 10 minutes on this.

Mu Draconis - Alrakis = Brilliant white pair, very close together. The 10mm Delos just splits them and visually they appear the same in size, brightness and colour.

17/16/ Struve 2078 Draconis = What a lovely triple system. 17/16 easily splits in the 9x50 finder scope - an easy binocular double - but it is in the scope where the splendor of this system delights. With the 10mm Delos Struve 2078 can be seen kissing 17, appearing smaller in size. All three components are a pristine white. Well worth looking at this.

NGC 6543 - Cat's Eye = An outstanding sight! Very crisp, bright and direct sight showed the tiny but pin sharp central star, peering its way into the back of your eye. AV transforms the view with a beautiful bright disk and changing eyepiece to the 4.7mm ES took this to another level, revealing areas with shape and structure to the nebula with select areas looking a bit beady in texture. Easily one of the best views.

Epsilon Draconis = A delightful double. The primary star a vibrant orange and the 4.7mm splits the pair really well with a small bluish companion. The view in the 10mm Delos barely splits the pair, giving the appearance the companion is kissing the disk of the primary. A fine sight.

NGC 6503 - Draco = Uniformly dim but well defined shape, appearing edge on and slightly irregular. Prolonged observing with AV started to show fainter structure extending out from the disk. One to go back to.

Eta Draconis = This is a very deceiving double. You see nothing but the primary star at first until you realise the double is really small, a tiny pin hole of brilliance with in the glare of its iron orange parent. A thrilling sight and highly recommend.

NGC 5981/82/85 - Draco = Not the best view I have had but with the proper dark nights gone for summer, so within that reason the view was decent. All three were easily seen but the edge on 5985 casts eye pupil like slither of a galaxy is the attention grabber here.

NGC 4236 - Draco = Very difficult to see, took me quite a while to find, I probably went over and past it several times when AV spotted something sure enough it was so faint it was really hard to spot. One to retry on a darker night.

NGC 6210 - Hercules = What a fantastic PN! Brilliant and vibrant aqua blue/green hue to the central nebula, AV helping to show faint, delicate structure surrounding the nebula. What a corker.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

2nd May 2020 - Moon Mosaic

I am not sure if it is madness being finally brought on from weeks of isolation or just a separate moment of madness itself but I got a craving to image the moon... I know, it's crazy!

Weather was bizarre to say the least. The day time was lovely although lost of broken cloud around. Sat24 kept showing cloud developing and push towards me from the south but apart from some moments of being clouded over it actually cleared and quite well too.

I was just going to image using one of the modded webcams I have so I picked out a backup laptop, loaded on all the software I needed and then got the pillar and EQ6 Pro out. I decided on the old basic refactor since all I was going to do was the moon.

Well sparing all the boring details of imaging below is the final results. Clearly miles away from being any good and in my usual fashion I miss a few bits.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

26th/27th April 2020 - Report

Today was one of those days that do not happen very often. A low pressure system moved in and became dominant with winds varying between N, NW to W and significant cloud had developed but looking at the weather data got me perked up as the conditions were surprisingly stable with the promise of a clear night and low humidity. Days like these can be very exciting as they can lead to excellent - some times almost perfect - observing conditions. 
By mid to late afternoon is became apparent that clear sky was going to develop so naturally I put the word out and started to ponder about what to look at. 
I got the 14" all set up for 20:30 and the sky was mostly free of clouds and by 21:30 I could already tell the seeing was really good. Wind died down to nothing and the temperature was much milder than I was expecting. By 22:00 I got the scope collimated and by 22:20 did my two star align for my tracking and the views of Arcturus and Regulus were superbly crisp. 
I had no plan for tonight. I just had my atlas out and decided to start in Corvus and just work my way up, expecting transparency to be good to excellent I wanted to observe a lot of familiar friends but also some new. I stuck to that plan very well, only near the end did my concentration start to wander and I ended up going to random things by the end - not all I made notes on - but it was past 02:00 by that time. 
I started observing about 22:40 and even though it wouldn't be at its darkest for another 30 minutes or so it was really obvious the transparency was very good. 
The entire session was excellent, almost every view giving me spine tingling views and several so good I likely audibly gasped. 
It was a busy night for wild life too, every hedge, bush, tree and the fields themselves were bustling with noise and activity. Many strange noises from the hedge row beside me, cows grazing away. I almost jumped out of my own skin at one point as I was just locked onto the eyepiece and standing still for 10 minutes or more when a fox came to with in a few feet of me which then noticed me and ran off at such speed that the sound of that scared the life out of me, I was unaware of it being near me at all until that happened. I also had the pleasure of an owl landing in the tree at my back garden. I couldn't see it but I could tell it was a big owl as it made a good bit of noise landing and rustling about. 
I finished up some time after 02:00 and felt very happy and satisfied. It dawned on me as I got the scope back into the house that I didn't feel tired and probably should have just stayed out another hour until it started to get bright but too late now. 
It was a special night, one of those you only get two or three times a year.
With the weather looking like it will be dominated by wetter low pressure systems it is quite likely that will be the last observing of the season as the nights will become too bright in a few weeks for DSOs, if that is so then what a way to end the season.
No doubt I will switch over to double star observing in the summer but for now I am all geared up for NLC season an look forward to that with great anticipation. 

Location = Home, front garden

Equipment = Skywatcher 14" GOTO 

Seeing = 4
Trans   = 3/4

M104 - Virgo = Oh my goodness! A jaw dropping view... Using AV this was just like looking at a black and white photo. The central dust lane appeared as this gorgeous dark black line - as if someone too a black marker and drew through it - and on either side the intense glow of the core and softly reaching out was the bulging ethereal glow of the remaining disk on either side. This is the kind of observation that makes your go numb with awe and burned into your memory. Truly unforgettable and once the best observations I have ever had of this, I absorbed in this view for at least 20 minutes. 

NGC 4361 - Corvus = Excellent view! The central star pin sharp and bright diamond white, with an apparent ring shaped gap between the star and the nebula. The nebula itself was strong with easy to define shape with some regions being quite rich.  A thrill to see this PN so well. 

NGC 4038/39 - Corvus - Antennae = Considering how low to the horizon this galaxy was for me the view was really good. It did take the 10mm Delos to resolve it cleanly and AV showed the lovely irregular shape of this interacting couple. No details could be made out but to be expected when less than 10 degrees from the horizon. 

3C 273 - Virgo = Not much to look at of course, unless you know what you are looking at this looks nothing more than a mag 12/13 star of a brilliant white but of course knowing what you are looking at is what makes this such an impressive observation. I was in the area and had been a good number of years since I last observed it, in fact I do believe my last observation was in Stevie's 12" Lightbridge at Bragan in 2011/12 

M61 - Virgo = Oh my! What a view! I seldom look at this but despite that easily the best view I've had. Bright, lovely spiral arms, core is really bright with the barred shape extending out to the arms. It was all here and so wonderful. 

M49 - Virgo = Really well seen. Bright with the disk being large and diffuse. 

M60/NGC 4647 - Virgo = A really impressive sight. Bright and diffuse but it was NGC 4647 that made this view as special as it was, with the disk easily seen and littered with granular like details.

M59 - Virgo =  As good as view as one can expect from an elliptical. 

M58 - Virgo = Quite a good view with a small but bright core, nice bar structure. It took AV to give a hint of any arms. 

M87 - Virgo = Very good 

M84/86 - Virgo = Very good. 

M99 - Virgo = Really good view with a large core. AV hinting at one large arching arm. 

M98 - Virgo = A lovely view. Delicate oval disk filling the FOV with a dim but dense core. Easily my best view of this galaxy. 

M85/NGC 4394 - Virgo = Both galaxies were really well seen. Not much details to pick out form 4394. 

M64 - Coma Berenices = Possibly the best observation I have ever had of this galaxy. I was aghast with surprise when I looked in the eyepiece. Normally this galaxy is nothing more than a big smudge and if you are lucky you can pick out a dark patch but wow, never have I seen so much detail. The black eye feature was plainly obvious, warping itself around the densely bright core. The disk is usually the challenge for this object as it is mostly dark dusty nebula but the full shape and size of the disk was apparent and some patches of the darker regions could be made out with AV. Outstanding. 

NGC 4631 - Canes Venatici = A beautiful crisp view, bright with all the details here. Had I been fighting sleep and fatigue - which I luckily wasn't - I may have heard the whale songs, ha ha. This makes me very happy. 

M63 - Canes Venatici = This was a really good view. Another galaxy that usually is a disappointing view but all was here to see, large disk in the FOV, details were about average but that is quite something for this object. 

M106 - Canes Venatici = Another excellent, beautiful view here too with rich oval shape to the disk and AV lightly showing arching arms. 

M51 - Canes Venatici = Just like the past few nights, photographic with astounding levels of detail. It gives you chills when you see a galaxy to this level of crisp detail and clarity. 

M108 - Ursa Major = This was really nice! Filling the FOV and peppered with detail along the slender, rich, disk. 

M101 - Ursa Major = I thought I would end the night on a whimsical chance as there was nothing to loose. Changed eye piece to the 17mm Delos and then hand slewed to this and got my eye to the eye piece and expected the usual affair of a ghostly appearance but slightly better with the nicer conditions but holy milky cow! I couldn't believe the view. It was a moment of disbelief and am quite sure I shout out with OMG or something similar but I had to take a little walk to calm the mind and went back to try and settle in for the view that was presented to me. The entire FOV was filled with stunning spiral arms with elegant details to be picked out along each of the arms, all the way to the core, was knotted with cluster features, dark gaps and breaks, along with brighter regions. I literally cannot recall seeing a better view of this. It's a once in a decade observation. Wow! What a thrill. 

Sunday, 26 April 2020

19th/20th April 2020 - Report

Another excellent day with cloudless sky and a more temperate night. Conditions seemed to be on par or slightly better than the previous night. Observations for tonight will be carrying on with the galaxy hunt and wrote up an extensive observing list to get through, most I have never observed before, so didn't know what to expect. 

Location = Home, front garden 

Equipment = Skywatcher 14" GOTO 

Seeing = 3 
Trans   = 3 

M51 = Starting the night where I left of, using this target as my test object and even though it still wasn't fully dark the view was stupendous with details as strong as strong as my previous observation. 

NGC 3184 - Ursa Major = Known as the "Little Pinwheel", the foreground star distracts your attention at first but using AV reveals the disk and patience and breathing further shows the small and faint core. A pleasing view. 

NGC 3198 - Ursa Major = Beautiful sight. Strong and well defined shape with brighter central regions. While taking in the view AV started to reveal what looked like another, quite faint, galaxy in the same FOV and looking up afterwards shows me that I may have observed UGC 5558, repeat observations needed to confirm. 

NGC 3319 - Ursa Major = AV showed a smudge but I was unable to fix on a shape or any features. 

NGC 3294 - Leo Minor = Easily seen, strong semi oval shape. Lacking in features but a good view all the same. 

NGC 3432 - Leo Minor = Delicious view! A crisp edge on disk and the scattered foreground stars really add to the delightful view and the whole view had me salivating, really excellent. 

NGC 3430 - Leo Minor = Exquisite view! Two other galaxies shared the FOV adding to the, already, beautiful view - NGC 3424 and NGC 3413 - the closest of the two being a lovely edge on and the second being a small edge on with a more oval shape. The target object was nicely defined with good, but faint, structure. This is an easy one to recommend. 

NGC 3486 - Leo Minor = A bright core with not much else to see. 

NGC 3504 - Leo Minor = This was surprisingly lovely. Showing a strong bright core with bar structure and AV showing a halo of a dusty disk. I also had the pleasure of another galaxy sharing the view, it was compact and well seen. I believe it was NGC 3512

NGC 3675 - Ursa Major = Nice oval shaped disk, easy seen with a compact bright core. 

NGC 3877 - Ursa Major = This is a very pretty edge on and very well seen. 

NGC 3726 - Ursa Major = Easy seen, not much detail to pick on but still a nice observation. 

NGC 3583 - Ursa Major = This was much easier to see than I was expecting with a bright core and faint disk. Not bad at all this one. 

NGC 3344 - Leo Minor = Not as good as I was hoping for, just a smudgy disk, but the foreground stars help sweeten the view. 

NGC 2841 - Ursa Major = This was a rather nice view. Very bright core with a thinning out disk. Pleasing view. 

13th/14th April 2020 - Report

In the midst of some fantastic spring weather and finally started to get clear nights. The night was nippy cold with light winds with temps touching on freezing by midnight.
Humidity seemed to be nice and low as I never had any dew build up or ice on the scope tube or equipment for the entire session.
With it being spring time the allure and excitement for galaxies is there so everything observed in this session is a galaxy and focused in galaxy rich regions of the spring sky, starting with Hydra, Sextans, Leo, Coma Berenices etc

Location = Home, front garden

Equipment = Skywatcher 14" GOTO

Seeing = 3
Trans   = 3

NGC 2775 - Hydra = Large bright core with faint surrounding disk. Not details to pick out but as good as expected for face on.

NGC 3115 - Sextans = Lovely bright core, which extends outwards from either sides, blending into the edge on disk. Really lovely view.

NGC 2903 - Leo = Subtle core with diffuse irregular disk. No spiral structure could be seen. Still a good observation.

NGC 3344 - Leo = At first glance it is very easy to mistake the dense, bright, core as a one of the two foregroud stars. Large disk but using AV and some breathing gives a delicate hint of spiral arms.

NGC 4725 - Coma B = My first time observing this galaxy and I had only expected to see the target object itself. The view was really good, strong core, good shape but the real surprise and steal of the show was seeing the interacting Arp 159 see the same FOV and its shape was apparent and really created a special moment. This will be one I will come back to and highly recommend.

NGC 4559 - Coma B = Excellent view. Not much detail but the elongated shape to the disk was easy to see and three bright foreground stars were very distracting to the eye but also quite pleasing, adding to the view.

NGC 4565 - Coma B - Needle = Outstanding, near photographic, view of one of the best edge on galaxies in the night sky. Stunning core with dark dust bands running right along the centre of the disk, with the edge on disk slendering out beautifully and filling the FOV of the 17mm Delos perfectly.

NGC 4314 - Coma B = The disk was bright but no detail was coming through.

Hickson 61 - Coma B = Fist time observation of this galaxy group and what a surprise! Easily my object of the night. I had expected this to be more challenging than, say, Stephen's Quintet, due to sky position but no, it is a much easier group to observe. Outstanding clarity of all group members, all fitting ideally in the 17mm Delos FOV but moving to the 10mm really brings out more detail and is a perfect fill in the FOV. The unique shapes of each galaxy was easy to observe.

NGC 4656/31 - Canes Venatici =  I cannot look at the spring sky of galaxies with out visiting my favourite pair. The view was very good. Well defined structure, details were about average - based on previous good observations - and the satellite galaxy of 31 was easily seen too. Lovely.

M51 - Canes Venatici = Did someone put a photo in the sky!? What a sensational view and glad I decided to end the night with a common object. By the time of the observation M51 was directly zenith so couldn't look at it at a better time. It was all there, incredible view, spiral arms, knotted features, dense and detailed core region, dusty regions. Exquisite is the single word that comes to mind to try and describe this.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

The Legend of the 'B'

To be or not to be... Let's not go there.

Well, it has been a fair few number of years since I've done one of these. Looking through some of my past observing diaries and also talking to a couple of friends about things has made me want to try and get back into this and keep a record of my more notable observing sessions.

To get to the topic. Ever since I started observing with a telescope - back in 2001 - I've always known about Sirius B and I quickly learned, from books and a few online resources at the time, that this double star is extremely challenging. Not only because of its very close proximity to its parent star (Sirius A) during points of its orbital period but mainly because of the sheer brightness of Sirius itself. For a double star it has a fairly likable separation and other stars of similar angular separations are not that challenging to split at medium magnifications. Even when B is at its most distant points in its orbit the star gets lots in the brightness of A and this is where the challenge lays in being able to visually observe this tantalisingly challenging double.
As a bit of a double star fan boy I have always wondered about the possibility of observing it and of course through out the years I have tried to, if only just for the humorous novelty of it or to see if you could get lucky.
As of a few years ago I knew that Sirius B would be reaching its most distant point in its orbit around A and would be at its best chance to obverse for the next five years, or there about, so I had been thinking about it now and again, to try and think how I could best observe it.
Thanks to a brilliant article a good friend sent to me from a magazine - possibly Sky at Night - it was about Sirius B, with very helpful diagrams and a fantastic bit of advice, which was, to use Iota Orionis as a ruler of distance from primary star to double, as to be able to judge where in Sirius As glare to look for B.

I have tried to look for it using this trick about three times since December but to no avail. I was using a 12" Orion UK Dob - with a figure of eight spider - and I was coming to the conclusion that what ever the scopes spider was doing to prevent defraction spikes on stars the stars do become blurry as more magnification was applied so I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere with that.

So we forward to yesterday - the 4th of January 2020 - and I knew the weather was going to be nice for the day with a good chance of clear, or at least partly, clear skies. This came to be true and by mid afternoon my thoughts were turning to Sirius again and knew I had to set up for another attempt, this time a bit more of a serious stab at it.
I decided on giving the refactor scope a go. It's as basic as they get for a refactor, just  Bresser Messier 127L. I was considering the 10" Orion on the EQ6 but didn't want to be fussing with collimation in the freezing cold and the good possibility of another failed attempt but also because the moon was too bright to do any other good observing so Sirius was the only target of interest.
Evening came, it got dark, I got set up and after a very smooth and quick three star alignment my GOTO and tracking was excellent.

The equipment used was, as already said, the Bresser Messier 127L refactor, EQ6 Pro on the tripod.
17mm & 10mm Delos and 4.7mm Explore Scientific eyepieces as well as a 2x Tal barlow, along with my full selection of colour filters - yellow, green, blue and orange. Location was just the good old front garden.

The session went as follows, 
I went straight onto Sirius to have an idea of how conditions were. Seeing was not great, the usual disco light show to expect at my latitude. 
I then slewed to Iota Orionis to get that double into view and made my eyepiece selection base on how I was seeing the this double and I settled on the 4.7mm ES. This gave me a very comfortable 255x magnification. After spending a good few minutes taking in this view and getting a good visual memory of what I need to look for I slewed back to Sirius and just took in the view. The magnification was as such that the Fresnel rings created were the most dominant feature.  
A few minutes in and I think something is there. I am starting to see the appearance of what I thought was the companion, then for a few moments it flickers in to view - due to a moment of improved seeing no doubt.
Trying to suppress excitement I decide to change eye piece. I changed to the 10mm Delos, the image is much sharper but the loss of magnification is too great so I put on the 2x Barlow and am at 250x now and the image is better than in the Explore Scientific, by a noticeable amount.
Just a few moments of reaching focus I could spot it again and came through a bit clearer.
I went back inside to confer with images and the helpful graphic in the magazine and at this point I was certain I was seeing Sirius B.
The thrill and excitement of this was surging in me but I thought it wise to check again and this time I kept my eye on the eye piece for about 10-15 minutes. The seeing was fluctuating widely at times and it would vanish and then come back.

I next turned to the idea of trying colour filters, in the hope it would cut out some of Sirius A's glare. 
I started with green, this wasn't bad, it cut out the glare a lot but made seeing 'B' more challenging, so I changed to yellow and this didn't do much for me at all. I then put on the blue and it was useless but made Sirius look striking. 
I left the orange to last because I was thinking this would be the worst to try, well I couldn't have been more wrong! 
When I got my eye to the eyepiece it was one of those moments where you just gasp in amazement. There is was, as plain and easy to see! I was in disbelief for a while as it looked too good but after checking and rechecking I had to allow myself to just believe it and let the feeling of pure joy take over and just soak in the beautiful sight. 
I looked at this for about 10 minutes when my thought turned to wishing I could get an image to share and prove that I have seen it but not having any useful equipment I kind of gave up but then I just thought to myself "just try your bloody phone, there is nothing to loose", so I did get the phone and after some fussing around with getting the camera lens to line up with the eyepiece it bloody well appeared on the phone screen and so much better than I ever thought it would!  
I took many photos and some came out stable enough so, below is the photo that I was able to take of exactly what I was seeing. Phone used is a Samsung Galaxy S8 and the image is raw with no processing of any kind, just cropped to centre the stars. 

It's not the most thrilling astronomical image you'll see online but it's the best I could do and represents really well what I was observing.
Now that I know my orange filter really helps cut down the glare of Sirius A I am going to retry this using my 10" on the EQ6 Pro and get a second observation. I may even pull out my old laptop and black and white web cam to try and image it.

I started observing at 19:50 and when I was done it was past 22:10. It only felt like I was out there for 30 minutes and hardly spent any time observing this rewarding moment but I was clearly enjoying myself so much time just flew by. 

After all was over I went back online to cross check with images and I came across this excellent drawing, of the view through a refactor back in 2010. 

This perfectly illustrates the view I had at the eyepiece with the refraction rings being that pronounced when unfiltered and the dramatic reduction when using a filter. 
All credit and copy right of this image belongs to "Harry Roberts" and was taken from Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. 

The weather for the foreseeable two weeks is looking abysmal so I am really hoping for a clear night before the month is over to get another try but with another five years to be able to see this at its easiest I am sure I will get more time to know this double star better.