Thursday, December 28, 2006

Things are looking promising right now, just got the scope setup outside, should be dark enough to get the alignment done in ten minutes or so. Vega is always the first star to appear closely followed by Capella, Polaris isn't bright enough to be seen through the polarscope as yet.

Just checked on Heavens Above and I have 2 passes of the ISS today, first at 17.05 next at 18.40.

Well, the ISS showed right on time, got a very nice view as it crossed the sky, not the brightest of passes but still very impressive.

Next I set to aligning the scope, as I wasn't planning on taking any photos I was happy with a very rough alignment, with the new (xmas present) 40mm EP it takes quite a while to drift.

First target was the Pleiades, the 40mm EP is perfect for this, got the entire cluster in the same FOV, as I was adjusting focus a satellite whizzed by and appeared to increase in brightness as it crossed the FOV.

Next target was Taurus, I'm not sure if it's just me but the Hyades seems almost quite boring as there are practically no background stars in this area of the sky. As I aligned the scope on Aldebarran amazingly another satellite skimmed across the FOV!

As I stood back to look at the whole sky with the naked eye I spotted another ISS like object moving North at a steady pace. Of course it's because it's so close to sunset that I can see these satellites, later on they are not so easy to see (if at all).

Unfortunately that looks like it for now as the moon is merrily lighting up my southern sky and nicely highlighting all the high cloud that is making the seeing conditions not so good. Did get a nice view of Albireo with the 40mm (25x) and 25mm (40x) EP's.

Left the scope set up waiting for Orion, wanted to see M42 through the new EP. Got to 19.50 and Orion was beginning to show his shoulders guessed, clouds started to roll in!

More later

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Well, we've been pretty much fogged out here the last few days, so much that Heathrow airport have cancelled half their flights. The last chance I had to use the scope was last Saturday evening, objective was to test out the recalibrated Polar scope.

Got the scope aligned fairly quickly and then started with some piggy backed shots, this time I wanted some shots of Cygnus....

Quite pleased with this 10 minute exposure (longest yet), this shows the rear section of Cygnus with Deneb showing nicely, this is a very rich section of the sky as the Milky Way runs through here. The image below has some lines drawn to show the outline of the constellation, Deneb is top right and is in fact the tail star of the swan.

Next I thought I'd have another go at Lyra as it was higher in the sky than last time and therefore out of the glow of light pollution....

Another 10 minute exposure at ISO:400, 35mm equiv 90mm focal length.

Then I tried some prime focus shots and also using the camera attached to the Barlow lens. The Barlow lens seems to have a blurring effect though.

Also I ran into some camera shake again, I've tried everything to eliminate shake. I purchased a 2 metre extension lead for the remote shutter release, this was then isolated by being clipped to a photo stand next to the scope with plenty of slack between the scope and the stand.

I tried shooting with the mirror lock up function also, all to no avail. I've come to the conclusion that there's either a fault with the drive or my patio (made of concrete slabs) has a bounce in it so that as I walk away the scope is picking up vibrations.

Next opportunity I get I will downsize the camera by removing the battery grip and using the camera in its standard configuration.

Just looked outside and...more fog.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Last night we had a good few hours of clear skies here after a dodgy start with lots of broken cloud. So I had a go at taking some piggy back images, this is basically taking photos with the cameras own lens rather than through the scope but with the camera attached to the OTA. This way you can get wide field images and long tracked exposures, this one is of Lyra....

Canon EOS350D 35mm Equiv focal length 90mm, 200 seconds at f5.6 ISO:400.

Next is the Pleiades....

Same camera setup but 268 second exposure

The next shot was taken in the direction of Cassiopea but due to the dim view through the camera viewfinder it could be anywhere! Lots of stars, though some of the really tiny stars might be just noise!

Same setup with 411 second exposure

This has to be the downside to this aspect of imaging I think, due to the low magnification and the digital SLR's small frame size (compared to a 35mm SLR, it is 60% of that) you can only make out the very brightest of stars in the finder. Also due to the fact that the lens is autofocus even operating in manual mode is tricky because the lens does not have an infinity setting like the old lenses had. I guess part of the solution is to try and get some older non autofocus EOS lenses.

Finally a wide shot showing a part of Taurus including the Hyades....

Same setup with 259 second exposure.

We've had cloud and rain and lots of wind here all day, watched a recording of the shuttle launch from last night, interestingly it seems that whenever the shuttle is docked with the ISS there are no sightings from my location! Must be an amazing sight to see the whole lot going over.

more later

Friday, December 08, 2006

Cloud Dodging...

Well it looked like it was clearing up later on so I decided to take the scope out to hopefully get a first look at Saturn with the Skywatcher. As I was setting up the scope Saturn was in view as I'd predicted through a clearing in the clouds.

By the time I was all set to go, you guessed it, Saturn disappered behind the clouds, I missed it by seconds!

So I swung the scope around and had a nice view of the Pleiades and Hyades, and after waiting for what seemed like ages I gave up with Saturn and decided the moon was looking I dashed inside to get the camera the clouds were starting to cover the moon also!

Managed to get a few shots in, here is the best....

More later
No clear skies at all since the last post, I'm desperate to get out so I can test the tracking on the scope.

I decided to sell the Meade, put it on eBay and got £155 for it, it would have been nice to have kept it as a travel scope but I just don't have the room to keep it handy. I'd rather someone else get some use out of it.

It was great to read in the news this week about American plans to return to the moon by 2020, it's a shame that as a race we can't just all get along and not waste so much money on killing each other! We'd have surely made more progress in space by now had we not been waging wars both phoney (as in the Cold War) and the many real conflicts.

The irony though I suppose is that it was the cold war that sparked the Space Race and prompted the US to invest so heavily in order that they could prove they were better than the Soviets!

Anyway I digress, this is not a political blog! The OU course has started but I've not had much time to spend on it lately, I have 2 weeks holiday to take over Christmas so I'm hoping to get on with that then. There seems to be a good spread of people taking the course in terms of experience and knowledge of Astronomy.

More later.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Managed to spend some time outside last night from about 8.00pm on, had a great session taking photos but suffered from wind again, the scope did I mean!

Tried taking some of the Pleiades but the stars kept coming out looking like dumbells......

This I think is due to the scope rocking in the wind, there was only a slight breeze but it seems that is enough to sway the OTA from side to side, I can't think of another reason for this, but if you know better then please let me know!

By the time that I'd failed to get a decent long exposure of the Pleiades I noticed that Orion had risen. Here's another shot of M42, a bit more detail than my first effort so I'm quite pleased with the result.....

Canon EOS350D 35mm equiv focal length = 1.6 metres, 160 seconds ISO400.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Managed to "grab" a nice photo of the crescent moon at twilight today, I say "grab" because it took a good ten minutes to set everything up, worth it though I think....

Attended the Rosliston Astro group meeting last night, we had a presentation by a chap by the name of Mike Gill who has attended the last 14 total eclipses of the sun, including 1 at Antarctica and one in the middle of the Pacific ocean near Pitcairn Island. Quite an impressive feat, I think that most of the guys in the audience had 2 unspoken questions though, a) If you're married how do you justify the time etc in preparing for these expeditions? and b) How on earth can you afford it?

His trips seem to have been full of long haul flights to places like Australia before embarking on very one off excursions to the middle of nowhere. If it sounds like I'm jealous, off course I am! To most people though this kind of thing is quite simply unobtainable financially so it seems this exclusive club is exclusively for the rich!

Anyway, he did point us in the direction of a certain Glenn H Schneider, who's website is now in my links, quite an individual and a fascinating web site.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Went outside tonight at 5.40pm to see if we had clear skies, patchy clouds were around so I decided to have some supper and try again later. Just as I turned my head I saw a very bright object moving to my NNW quite high in the sky almost as soon as I saw it it disappeared and I thought it must have been the ISS. I had checked earlier to see if we had any predicted sightings with a negative answer.

I double checked on Heavens Above, no sightings for tonight were predicted. I then thought it might have been an Iridium flare, again nothing for my time/location.

So no idea what this was, it was very bright, much brighter than anything I've seen before and was a blue/white colour. It didn't look like a meteor and the slow way that it disappeared makes me think it was man made and was entering the earths shadow.

Anyhow, managed to get the scope out for an hour and tried some more photos to prove out the calibration of the mount. So tried for some 3 minute exposures, it seems my problem now though is that I need to get an extension cable for the remote release on the camera. It seems the action of letting go and picking up the controller is giving me camera shake in a big way. This is only a problem when using the "bulb" setting for say a 3 minute exposure. A shorter 30 second shot without letting go of the controller seems ok. But I'm desperately trying to get some long accurately tracked images so that I can pull out more background stars!

Found some extension leads on eBay today so will look at getting one.

Anyway here's a picture of the Hyades open cluster in Taurus....

Tomorrow night is the Rosliston Astronomy group meeting (I think), wonder if we'll get a clear sky again?


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Well, today I realised why my polar alignment was always out, I couldn't track anything for more than 30 seconds without getting some form of star trails.

Turned out that the factory alignment of the polar scope with the rotation axis of the mount was out.

So I spent a good half hour with the polarscope centred on the chimney pots of a house about half a mile away and a tiny allen key. Basically the task involved centreing the polarscope then rotating the mount 180 degrees around the R.A. axis. It's when you rotate it that you see the error, if the polarscope was correctly aligned then the centre reticule would stay on target as the mount rotates. Once you see the error you have 3 adjusting screws to set the reticule to what it should be.

In my case it was way out, bit of a fiddly job but the manual supplied by RV Optics had a whole page on how to do this.

Can't wait now to get some longer exposure photos!

The next challenge will be to set up the setting circles so that I can have a manual goto mount!

Just found this site, looks promising......

Saturday, November 18, 2006

At last a photo of M42....

Quite pleased for a first attempt.

Canon EOS350D prime focus with Skywatcher 200mm Newtonian 15 seconds at ISO:800

Another attempt.....

No more meteors and I suspect there won't be any until 4.00am, so I need to get some sleep.

Did get my first view of Saturn this season though so worth staying up, the rings are closing up so I need to get the Skywatcher out soon to see what I can see.

Bedtime now zzzzzzzzz

Friday, November 17, 2006

Already seen 2 meteors coming from the low Eastern horizon....
Managed to get outside again for some more clear skies, had another look at Beta Lyra through the MM2 now that I've confirmed what I'm looking at, very nice alternative to Albireo! Lyra is a brilliant little constellation through a small scope or Bin's because all but 2 of its stars are doubles.

Just had my first view of Orion since last Winter, Orion was one of the very few constellations that I could see as a child due to light pollution so is always a welcome sight.

A quick look through the MM2 showed some nebulosity in M42, can't wait to get the Skywatcher on the case, but my back is still playing up!

Also had a peek at another old friend, Aldebaran (the eye of the bull if I remember correctly) and the Hyades open cluster.

Am hoping to stay up to see some of the Leonids meteor shower later as it is still clear at the minute and tomorrow is Saturday so no work!

It's all Greek to me!

This was once a popular saying in the UK when presented with (to us) meaningless letters etc. I suppose that with other European languages we at least share (some) of the characters, Greek of course is not generally regarded as one of these languages.

Unless you were lucky enough to have received a "classical" education (neither did I) then the custom for identifying the stars of the constellations using the Greek alphabet can be quite a challenge. I've tried to get to know the symbols but I do struggle with most. So I'm adding here the Greek alphabet in order with the generally accepted translations. If there are any Greek speakers viewing this then please let me know if I've made any mistakes....

Just to recap on where this custom comes from, the custom was/is to name a constellations stars alphabetically from the brightest down. So Vega, the brightest star in Lyra is known as Alpha Lyra, Sheliak the second brightest is known as Beta Lyra and so on. I've noticed there seems to be some confusion as to how to spell the constellation here, I have seen some quotes using what I assume to be the multiple form i.e. Lyrae and some with simply Lyr. I'll try to get to the bottom of that.

Anyway, here's the Greek Alphabet, feel free to copy this, print it or whatever you want just so long as it's useful.

I've had a heck of a job formatting this table with html and the blogger editor, so will try to get this fixed over the weekend.

Greek Alphabet


Thursday, November 16, 2006

First clear night for ages! Got outside at 6.30 to see what I could see, I've had a bad back all week so the Skywatcher had to miss out.

First I sat in a deck chair with the Monocular waiting for my eyes to adapt to the dark. Then I tried (again) to see M81 and M82, nothing at all! Out came the MM2 but still nothing, so decided to test the scope on Mizar, the MM2 easily splits the double but not the double double of this famous quartet.

Mizar (the second star in the handle of the big dipper) and its companion are 4 seconds of Arc apart and is a good test for any newcomer with Bin's or small scope.

Next I took a look at Lyra, Vega shining brightly and viewed each of Lyras components, the double double is merely a double with the MM2. Tried to see M57 but not a hope through the spotting scope.

Got a tad confused over Beta Lyra, which through the scope was a double with a blue/white coloured star, lovely to look at. But my book just described it as an "eclipsing variable", not a double so I thought I was looking at the wrong star. According to web sources an eclipsing variable double means the stars are so close that we only know the star is a double by observing changes in luminosity over time. So I'm none the wiser at the minute as to what I was looking at!

A quick look at Albireo was due, as always an excellent sight, looked for M56 half way between Albireo and Beta Lyra, think I found it but not impressive through the MM2 due to its lack of aperture.

Brochi's cluster was nice to see, it just fills the view at the MM2s lowest mag (15x).

Then a quick look to see if I could still find M31, easy once you know where to look! Still just a fuzzy blob though, at least I now know that it stills looks like a fuzzy blob even through a 14" Dobsonian thanks to the astronomy groups last meeting.

The Pleiades look as stunning as ever even through the small aperture.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Not been a good week for skies at all....raining outside so far this evening.

Spent some time skimming through the OU course material last night, looks pretty much like the content of some of my books on the subject but they expect you to demonstrate that you have understood the material in an academic way. More on that to come!

Anyway a small item in the news today was that the Cassini probe has photographed the only Hurricane seen so far on another planet, Saturn. I'll bet the guys at the JPL must have had the hairs on their necks standing up when they saw the images for the first time.... The hurricane is at the south pole of Saturn and appears to be stationary, its width is two thirds the diameter of the Earth!

Anyway I need to do some work now...


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Right now the skies are cloudy, but thanks to the internet I'm watching the transit of the Sun by Mercury on a feed from, strange to see one of our neighbours crossing in front of the Sun.

Of course transits of Venus are much rarer, apperently in 2004 when the last transit of Venus occurred there was no one alive at that time who would have witnessed a previous transit! The next one though is only 4 years from now, they occur in pairs 8 years apart with then a gap in excess of 120 years.

Anyway, I hadn't mentioned before that I'd enrolled for an Open University short science course in.... you guessed it Astronomy. Back in 1989 I started studying for a degree with the OU in Computer Science, this was all about a change of career from being a clerk in the Civil Service to working as a Computer Programmer. I'd spent the previous 3 years studying at the local college all in Computer Science.

Anyway, I got a job as a trainee Analyst/Programmer after my first year's course with the OU. I carried on studying for a further 3 years but pressures in my new career combined with the fact that I was now a practitioner in this subject led to my giving up with half the points needed for a BSc Honours degree.

Back in September I decided to resume my studies to complete my degree, and the OU now offer many more courses than back in 1989. So I've decided to ease my way back into it by doing some short courses in a subject that interests me.

The course material arrived today, I will keep you posted of progress.

I guess an observer on one of Jupiters moons would need a pretty huge scope to see the Earth transit the Sun!


Friday, November 03, 2006

Had another clear blue sky all day, nipped outside at just after 5.00pm to wait for a predicted ISS pass due to start at 5.13pm, sure enough there it was, not as bright as Tuesday night but still very impressive. Followed it for much of the way with the monocular, probably just wishful thinking but I'm sure I could just see some detail.

It was a very long track, next time I'll try to time how long it remains visible, seemed to last several minutes for most of which it was heading away from my location.

By this time the dreaded clouds were starting to make an appearance, before they completely ruined the view I tried again to find M81 and M82 using the monocular, failed again. Now these should be easy according my books, I think the problem is that my northern aspect is pretty well light polluted. I guess I'd have to hit them right on the nose with the Skywatcher in order to see anything, but scoping around with an equatorially mounted newt is not at all easy.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Another clear night tonight, but by the time I got outside at around 7.00pm the waxing gibbous moon was lighting up the atmosphere almost like a fluorescent light.

I'd decided that I needed to find M81 and M82 NE of Ursa Major, these are described in one of my books as the two brightest galaxies in the sky, can I find them? No! Anyway the moon wasn't helping at all tonight so I did the logical thing and took another photo of it.

It's turned very cold all of a sudden, been very mild for the time of year until this week.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The sky was teasing at dusk, clear blue skies all day and just as it was getting dark, clouds appeared from nowhere! I kept an eye open though and just after 7.00pm it looked like it would be worth setting up the scope.

The polar alignment was getting a bit easier but it's still not perfect, time will tell.

Anyway took a couple of tracked pics of the Pleaides but not that impressive yet..

So then I tried to locate the Double Cluster in Perseus, not an easy task with the scope, actually it's probably easier with the Monocular. After a few minutes I had what looked like a likely suspect.

The problem I have at the minute is that the camera adaptor for the scope actually uses part of the 1.25" EP holder. In order to attach the camera you have to unscrew the EP holder from its base plate and screw the base plate to the T Adaptor for your camera model. This means that swapping from an EP to the camera is not very slick.

So I end up scoping for targets through the camera viewfinder which is quite dim and very difficult to focus unless you have a bright star like Vega to focus on.

I need to find out if I can buy an additional base plate, of course I will probably have to buy a complete EP holder, that way I can switch from EP to camera relatively quickly.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Got home from work early today so had time to set up the Skywatcher just before it got dark. I wanted to get some more photos of the moon, 3 shots this time, 1/500th, 1/250th and 1/125th of a second exposure. This time the middle was the best I think.....

While framing this shot I saw a satellite "drop" by the dark part of the moon, always gives me a spooky feeling when I see things moving like that!

Compare this with a similar prime focus shot through the ETX80...the frame dimensions are identical...that means the images appear here as they would if viewed on a film strip.

After taking the photos decided to take a look at the moon with my lowest power eye piece, amazing detail - I will have to try to start finding my way around. Only problem is that even with 2 filters it still dazzles.

Just after that I got a view of what could only have been the ISS this was approx 17:45 and it was way brighter since last time I saw it (because of the work done recently by the Shuttle mission).

Just confirmed with Heavens Above that the pass was at 17:46 from West to East crossing overhead, will definitely need to get some more photos to compare with earlier in the year.

Just after this the clouds rolled in, maybe should have named the blog "cloud watching".


Friday, October 27, 2006

A chance purchase on eBay earlier this week obtained a copy of the Webb Society Star Atlas, got a copy for a tenner plus postage. This comes as a collection of some 40 odd pages that are held in clear plastic sleeves in a ring binder. These can be bought from the Society directly by visiting their site.

Because the pages are loose I took 4 to be colour copied and had two pairs of charts laminated back to back. I now have a couple of very rugged star charts of my most common areas of exploration, I'll get some more done soon. That way I can keep the originals nice and clean (and dry).

Anyway, tonight I went along to my local Astronomy Group for the second time.

An apparently rare occurence (clear skies) allowed us to spend some time outside using some scopes that members had brought along. I got to see the double cluster in Perseus through a 14" Dobsonian, amazing view. We also caught a glimpse of Comet Swan and M31.

The meetings are I think well worth attending it's so good to chat with people who share your interests, they start with an overview of the coming months night sky. After the observing we spent an hour watching a DVD about the search for Supernovae.

Just about to have some food then I'll try to get outside to see what I can see.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

First clear couple of hours for what seems like ages, so out went the Skywatcher. And my first target was M57, really struggled with the finderscope and in the end decided to crouch behind the scope and look along the whole OTA, of course the problem then was locking the drive cams without the tube moving!

Anyway, first look through the EP and Bingo! Looked very odd through the EP wasn't quite sure what it was at all except that I knew something odd lurked in the neighbourhood.

Quickly nipped inside to grab the DSLR and hooked it up at prime focus, took a couple of tracked pics at 20 seconds exposure. Errrm, quite chuffed with the result

Canon 350d at prime focus of Skywatcher 200mm Newtonian 20 seconds ISO 400.

M57 is in the bottom right of this photo and looks like a smoke ring to me!


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

First evening since the last entry that we've had a clear night, problem was that it got dark by 7.00pm but I wasn't able to begin to set up the scope until well after 8.00pm!

Took an age to align the scope and then it wasn't perfect :o(

Managed to get in some views of the Pliaedes but at my lowest power EP can't fit the whole view in.

Having trouble wth he keybard at theminu so ll updat later

Friday, October 13, 2006

What started as a promising evening turned out cloudy again.

Initially, as twilight was falling it looked very promising, then it looked like this mornings fog was returning, then it cleared again.

So deciding that one must make the effort even though after a tough week at work I just felt like doing nothing...I carted out the Skywatcher.

After failing miserably to polar align the scope I decided to scan the sky to see what I could see. But to be honest that sort of observing is rarely productive in my experience.

In the end I noticed that the Pleaides were rising so I decided to set up the camera to try my first photos of the Seven Sisters through the new scope. I got in a couple of shots but by the time I had decided on a shutter speed and orientation of the camera frame, guess what?

The Pliaedes had disappeared behind a huge bank of cloud that had crept up from the south! Mission aborted for now!


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Late yesterday afternoon the sky was as clear and blue as it has been for a long time, as the sun went down though some high cirrus clouds started to drift in. Next the waning full moon made an apearance. All in all not ideal conditions for setting up the scope.

So I decided to take the camera out to see what I could get n terms of static photos.

First up was Lyra...

Next was Cygnus....

Then Cassiopeia....

Finally, I've always wanted to try one of those photos where the stars trail around Polaris...

This final picture was a 30 minute exposure, and it took nearly another 30 mins for the camera to process it. After all that there was a lot of noise, the image above was after post processing in Photoshop to reduce noise and adjusting levels.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

First clear night for weeks and I had to go out to a social event with work! Got home around 10.30 and managed to drag the skywatcher outside, by this time though the moon was beginning to spoil most of my visible sky.

Only one thing for it then, take my first look at the moon through the new scope, awesome is the word, and that's through the lowest power eyepiece. Next task then was to see how much of the frame is filled with the camera?

Canon EOS350D, ISO:100, 1/500s, 35mm equiv focal length 1600mm.

I'm quite pleased with the result! I've cropped some blank sky to the left as the moon had drifted between shots and was thus to the right of the frame, but the vertical proportions are as is. I took a dozen shots and bracketed all the way between 1/60s to 1/500s.

Off to bed now as work in the morning :o(


Saturday, September 30, 2006

I was just reading about supernovae etc and it struck me, when we see stars explode and we all think "wow look at that", we may be witnessing the extinction of a civilization.

Depressing or what?

Friday, September 29, 2006

No clear skies at all since last week.

Tonight I went along to my local Astronomy group meeting for the first time, it was nice to spend a few hours in the company of people who share this interest. I'd definitely recommend doing this for anyone interested, there seemed to be a real mix of levels of experience which means there's always someone to give you advice without you necessarily feeling like a complete novice.

With the absence of a clear sky we spent an hour watching some documentaries of Astronomical interest before heading for home.


Friday, September 22, 2006

After a rainy afternoon I was quite pleased to see some clear skies tonight.

Took the Skywatcher outside around 10.00pm but high clouds again spoilt the view. I did manage to get a glimpse of the double cluster, the increase in aperture from 80mm (on the Meade) to 200mm made this an amazing sight through the scope!

Just as I spotted the Pleiades a meteor flashed by them! The seven sisters were quite low in the sky but the Skywatcher easily showed lots of detail though I couldn't the complete cluster using the 25mm EP. I am thinking about buying a lower power EP, say 40mm, for this kind of observing.

When the Pleiades are higher in the sky I will try to get some long exposure photos, I have high hopes for that.

That's all I had time for last night what with the clouds etc.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

No chance for any clear skies since Friday. Ian, I tried to reply to your comment, without success. The photo of Vega was taken using a Canon 350D SLR attached to my newly aquired Skywatcher 200mm Newtonian reflector on its HEQ5 motorised mount. The equivalent 35mm focal length would be 1600mm and the aperture of the scope works out at f5. The photo was a 2 minute exposure using the HEQ5 mounts motor drive to track the sky.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Well, as it got dark the high cirrus clouds rolled in yet again. I had moved the Skywatcher outside before it got dark so was disappointed again. Then a clear patch revealed Polaris so I decided to have a go at aligning the HEQ5 mount.

I had been quite apprehensive about this, the instructions that came with the scope were very good but I was still struggling to get my head around some of it. I resorted to running Stellerium and choosing the "Equatorial mount" view, all became clear as to how it should work!

So tonight I bravely got on my knees to peer through the Polarscope and managed to align the mount. I will post some tips on this at some point, assuming that I succeeded...anyway, due to the poor seeing I decided to try out the camera mount with the mounts' tracking ability.

After a few attempts I managed to get this image of Vega....

This 2 minute exposure would appear to prove that the scope was aligned sufficiently for this exposure length :o)
Well, it looks very promising at the minute, not a cloud in the sky! Problem is that it's at least a couple of hours until darkness.

More later, hopefully.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Well, last night was a total wash out on account of thunderstorms circling the neighbourhood.

Tonight has not been much better with lots of cloud crossing from the South West to the North East.

The new scope may have to wait a few weeks before I get some decent viewing.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Last night was another lunar washout, I spent some time looking through the Skywatcher but the sky just wasn't dark enough to do much so I threw the towel in and watched one of my favourite movies "Contact". The film is based upon the book of the same name by the late Carl Sagan.

Today I've just got back from a visit to the Jodrell Bank Observatory, it's roughly a 50 mile drive each way from where I live. The planetarium has been demolished as well as most of the visitors centre. They are apparently starting work on an all new planetarium and exhibition etc.

Here's a nice pic showing the star attraction....

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's looking like a clear night tonight and am I glad, just been to fetch my new Skywatcher 200mm Newt on the HEQ5 mount Smile

Drove up to Sheffield to Rother Valley Optics, impressive little shop with some serious gear, the uy runnig the place obviously knows his stuff.

Got home and started the assembly process.

It looks like I'm in for a steep learning curve with these Equatorial mount thingies, all looks greek to me so far!

Initial testing of the optics on distant terrestial objects looks good.

First tips I need is how to transport the whole thing outside without getting a hernia Surprised

So far the best way seems to be to remove the OTA, then remove the balance weights that seems to make the tripod moveable. My only worry is that replacing the OTA seems a tad fraught, I'm worried about dropping it before I manage to tighten the locking screws.

Well, not a bad first night, in spite of the high cloud and the full moon.

The 200mm Newt certainly picks up faint stars and I almost blinded myself by looking at the moon without filters on the EP!

I didn't get around to aligning the mount but concentrated on finding how it all works manually to start with, then used the motor drives to fine tune things. The motors are so quiet that at first I didn't realise they were working!

My only complaint so far with the scope is that it seems one of the tube rings must have a rough edge on it, and while adjusting the OTA for balance etc. I have acquired some nasty scratches on the tube Sad

Other than that I'm quite chuffed with my choice Smile

Thursday, September 07, 2006

There was a partial Lunar eclipse this evening, but, the moon was out of view for me until the excitement was over.

By then I was in my reclining chairhoping for some eyeball astronomy but the full moon was by then washing out most of the sky.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to get my new scope and obviously have a play with it, but it looks like it will mainly be the moon will be my first target!


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bought the September issue of the Sky at Night magazine this morning, so after reading that Neptune and Uranus are on view this month I decided to see what I could see.

So just as twighlight fell I was outside to take a look.

Got my first view in a while of Jupiter as it sank in the west, due to the low altitude I didn't see much other than the main moons.

The moon was bright to my south, which is where I was looking for the aforementioned planets, thanks to the moon and scattered cloud tonight's mission was not accomplished, my southern horizon is not good at the best of times. But I have a few weeks yet to see them, these will be a first for me, never saw them as a child like I did with Jupiter and Saturn, they are like old friends to me now!

Anyway, did get to see Lyra and Cygnus again along with Cassiopeia and of course Ursa Major. Albireo was a nice sight as always and the monocular gave a nice view of the doubles in Lyra but not of course the double double.

Earlier in the week I decided to upgrade the Meade ETX80 with something a tad more serious. This time I am refusing to be seduced by GOTO features and concentrate on aperture and a serious mount. After some advice I've decided to go for a Skywatcher 200mm Newt on a heavyduty motorised mount. At a price of £539 this looks like a bargain after I paid £300 for the Meade.

I was almost in the car on a 65 mile trip to the shop to buy this yesterday when I decided to check availability, that turned out to be a good call, the mount is out of stock until the end of the week. So hopefully this time next week I'll be the proud owner of a new scope. I will try to sell the Meade on eBay as I don't have the space to keep it as well as the new kit.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

For the first time in ages I managed to make sure that I acclimatised my eyes properly, and on such a clear night it was well worth the effort.

I dragged out of the garage an obsolete reclining office chair and a footstool and leant back with my feet up for a good hour using the Mark I Eyeball aided occasionally by my Opticron Monocular.

Probably my most rewarding night's observing in a long time. Lyra and Cygnus were very clear and I could just make out the Milky Way running through that part of the sky, no mean feat where I live!

Looking through the monocular in these areas was breathtaking, countless numbers of stars!

I also had my eye on Cassiopiae and Perseus, the double cluster was a nice sight again.

For the first time I was able to spot the Andromeda galaxy with the naked eye!

Then, the Mrs turned on the bathroom light!

I was only today telling someone at work that you don't need to buy lots of kit to enjoy the night sky!


Monday, August 28, 2006

Clear skies tonight :o)

Due to my restricted viewing at my location I've decided that I need to concentrate my observing on getting to know my particular piece of the sky better. Number one on my list has to be Cassiopiae and the multitude of clusters etc around it.

Interestingly it's an immediately identifiable constellation, but, when viewed through an eyepiece of any magnification I can't make head nor tale of it, I must need to use a ultra low powered instrument methinks.

The Monocular has now been tripod mounted due to some eBay purchases of Manfrotto clamps. I got a great view of Brochis cluster (coat hanger) tonight with this low powered intrument. Also some nice sweeping views through Cygnus and Lyra.

Incidentally tonight was probably my first proper view of Lyra as a constellation, last autumn/winter it was lower in the sky and thus obscured by light pollution.

Anyway, whilst getting my eyes skyworthy I noticed what seemed to be the ISS cruising from North to South across my zenith. Yet 5 minutes later, I saw another candidate for the ISS cruising in the opposite direction! The second satellite must have gone behind some high cloud because it dimmed considerably before suddenly brightening again.

The highlight of tonight though....I watched a meteor pass overhead from NW to SE through Cygnus and it was a sight! There was a definite smoke trail and it brightened a few times although I saw no debris falling away. It seemed to last forever but probably only lasted 15 seconds or so.

Anyway, a good start to the new observing season for us lackies who can't be bothered to stay up all night through the summer.


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Well, took a look outside at 22.30 BST and the sky was clear so I took the Meade out to take a look around only to see, more cloud :o(

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Well, nice clear night but not perfect seeing conditions...

Nice view of my favourite , Albireo.

Generally scanned the area around Cygnus with the Meade, lots of background stars in this area. If I lived in a dark sky area I'm sure this would be breathtaking to the naked eye. But for me, just tantalising glimpses of the Milky Way.

As I turned the scope around to the NE I saw a meteor flash by Cassiopeia, so I decided to look for some of the clusters to be found there.

Amazingly as I looked through the scope I saw a satellite moving quickly across the sky and decided to follow it through the scope. As I followed it I chanced upon the double cluster of NGC869 & 884.

I suppose my attraction to astronomy has always been a sense of a spooky feeling and the hairs on my neck moving when I realise just how far away things are, these clusters are 7,000 light years away. Of course that means that these stars might not actually exist now, because we are actually staring into the past. We see these stars as they looked 7,000 years ago, that's quite a long time in human history (if not most of it).

Anyway, not a bad night's viewing for my first of the "season".

Looks like a decent night for some observing at last. Just had the best view of the ISS so far, the track lasted for over 6 minutes and was very bright!

Will try to get out again soon with the scope to see what I can see.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Just got my first view of the ISS for quite some time, followed it though the BGA Monoscope no detail visible, but I was able to watch it until it was quite faint before finally disapearig into the Earth's shadow

Quite a short track this time, from the south west as predicted by Heavens Above and disappeared south of Cygnus.

Quite cloudy though with clear patches to the south, we have had our first rain in weeks over the last few days.

Getting back into this after a dry spell!
Well, it's been ages since I last had a view of the night sky. Sitting here now at 9.00pm and it's dark outside and just caught a glimpse of some stars.

Another few weeks and I'll be getting back into some star gazing I reckon.

More later


Friday, May 26, 2006

Just managed to spend 20 minutes outside while it's getting dark, Jupiter is still to the south with the Gallilean moons strung out in a line with one to the SW and the rest in a nice line to the NE. Cloud belts only just visible due to lotsof high cloud.

Albireo shoul be visible to my east but obscured by cloud.

The plough is directly overhead and that's about it for now, will try later.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Well, today I received my new Opticron 10x42 monocular so was desperate to try it out on a night sky. Jupiter is just visible in the southern sky right now so went out to see what my new purchase made of it, as it was still very much twilight the moons were not visible but could clearly see Jupiter as a disc. Just as I got a focus it started to rain, we have had rain every day for what seems like 2 weeks now!

You may well ask why a monocular rather than bin's? Well, basically I don't have full use of my right eye, a defect from birth. So bin's are a waste for me, the Opticron BGA 10x42 is so far looking like a worthwhile addition to my armoury but I think a tripod mount will be required. I had hoped that I could get away without that.

I bought this item with a view to using it for low power viewing of subjects like M42 and general star clusters. The Opticron's optics are first rate so the small aperture easily out performs some scopes with larger apertures but with cheaper optics in a similar price range justified by goto computers built in.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Very frustrating at the moment, but, I'm so busy with other stuff that the lack of observing opportunities is a blessing in disguise!

I'd forgotten that Astronomy is a difficult hobby in the spring/summer months if you have to get up for work in the mornings. So have had very little chance to see much, however, Jupiter is sitting right in view of my front door due south after 9.00pm BST. Just had a quick peek with the Opticron, 3 moons to the south west and 1 to the north east very close to the planets body. Haven't had time to look up which is which.

Rest of the sky is currently cloudy so not looking promising tonight.

So, rather than snatching an hour after work in December if it's a clear sky, I'm faced with trying to plan a late night vigil just to see if the sky is clear!


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Well, this astronomy thing is full of opposites, right now at 22.20hrs BST the sky is just darkening and Jupiter is nicely visible, if a tad blurred by its low angle in the sky.

It's also quite warm compared to a similar observing situation back in December, but of course I have to get up for work in the morning. It seems that those who make the most of the warm weather for observing must be either unemployed or retired :o(

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Just had my first clear view of the night sky in ages, stepped out of my front door and directly in front of me to my south is Jupiter. The opticron quickly showed the 4 main moons and could just make out 2 cloud belts.

Hopefully more later, but work in the morning.....

Saturday, April 08, 2006

No clear skies since the last post, not doing very well at all lately.

I have though just bought a boxed set of DVDs of the TV mini series "From the Earth to the Moon", only just been released in the UK on DVD, I missed this on TV so spent a good 12 hours glued to the TV over the past 2 weeks.

I was very impressed in how they reproduced the mood and the look & feel of the late 1960's/early 1970's. Having said that I was a tad disappointed with some of the episodes, having read Neil Armstrong's bio I was expecting a tad more factual stuff but I guess they just wouldn't have had the time.

Overall though it was worth the money.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Just looked outside and the sky is clear, so ran outside with the Opticron to get a nice view of the waxing crescent moon, a couple of craters stood out most impressively along the terminator.

The Pleiades are fairly low to my north west and not as impressive as on earlier observations when to the south. Orion is way around to the west and Arcturus is very bright to the East.

Overall seeing conditions are not very impressive though, will try again later.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

First clear night in weeks, OK not exactly clear, but I did get a nice glimpse of Saturn which is now high in the south. Orion and Sirius have moved quite a way westward since my last sighting.

Cassiopea was low to the north and the Plough was on its side to the north east.

The crescent moon looked impressive with quite a bit of earthshine lighting the shadow.

That looks like it for now, will check later to see if the cloud has cleared.
Still no clear skies since the last post, it's been a windy day and I'm now looking at some blue sky. Plenty of cumulus clouds crossing to the south, I wonder if it can stay clear until it get's dark which is a good couple of hours away now that we are in Daylight Saving Time.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Well, another week has gone by with no observing opportunities. I thought I was in for some clear skies mid week, caught a glimpse of Sirius through the haze of some high clouds but the sky was overcast within minutes!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Stop the press, I just looked out of the window and saw the moon! And........., it is hidden by intermittent cloud.

That's been it since the last post!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Well, not a single star since last Monday, it's been overcast and we've had plenty of rain which occasionally turns to sleet or snow.

Somewhere I have photos of a visit to Jodrell Bank, if I can find them I'll post some.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

First time since Tuesday of last week that we haven't had a clear sky here.

I have too much to do at the moment to make the most of the clear nights, but it makes you think that you should make the most of every clear night when they're available.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Had another chance to photograph the ISS this evening, got a longer exposure this time (thus a longer track). I must try to get back to some proper astronomy now!

Of course this shot might have been better if the moon wasn't in the way, or would it?

The ISS is passing from right to left.

Immediately to the right of the moon is Mars. Farther to the right of the moon you can see the Pleiades and just below and to the right of the moon is Taurus.

The ISS disappears (in this photo) between Castor and Pollux in Gemini.

The hexagonal shape of the moon is caused by the iris leaves on the lens because I'd stopped it down to f11 to try to avoid over exposure of the sky in general.

Canon EOS 350D ISO:800 33 seconds at f/11.0

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Another successful track of the ISS at 18:26 tonight, watched the whole of its' track across the sky as it skimmed by the moon, probably the brightest I've seen it so far at a magnitude of -0.6.

Tried to view another Iridium flare without success though, must read up some more on these to ensure I'm looking in the right direction.

Clouds are rolling in again now but will try to get outside later if i can.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Clear blue skies all day today after what was apparently the coldest March night in the UK since the 1960's.

I had planned to attempt my first sighting of an Iridium flare, all set for 19:03, but the clouds had rolled in, so back inside. I had also made a note of the ISS pass, and by sheer luck I thought to nip out to see if it was still cloudy without a thought for the time. Bingo, there she was high overhead and dispappeared after passing through Gemini!

More later, hopefully!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Another clear sky!

I had an ISS track forecast for 18:47 tonight from the WSW. So, set up the camera early but noticed the thin crescent moon that I'd missed last night was on show with a nice amount of earth shine lighting the shadow. So took a few heavily bracketted shots of this first.

Then back to the ISS, sure enough it showed right on time, the following images are variations of my second attempt to capture it on "film". This shot was made with a Canon EOS350D using a 35mm SLR equivalent focal length of 28mm, exposure was 24 seconds at f8.0, speed 800 ISO.

Only had chance for one shot, problem is that the stars etc are so faint through the viewfinder, so didn't start the exposure as soon as I could and I wasn't sure if the ISS was out of view. Next time I will try to get more shots in. The photo above is "as is" from the camera.

This version is after adjust levels in photoshop, interesting that you can now see the atmosphere in daylight. The ISS is the long streak crossing Orion. Below is the forecast plot for this pass from heavens-above, I'd say the prediction couldn't have been better!

The predicted track of the ISS is shown by the solid line running right to left with a red arrow near its' beginning. Below is an inverted version of the final image as a comparison to the chart.

This is a cropped version of the same shot, must try to get some observing done while I have the chance.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Another clear evening, although after a long day at work I wasn't feeling up to much tonight.

However, I'd used Heavens Above to predict an ISS siting from my front door at 18:32 GMT. So set up the camera with a wide angle lens and a bulb shutter setting.

Sure enough, the ISS showed on time and was visible for much longer than yesterday, way past Orion and into the distance before it disappeared. Quite spooky really.

So, rushed back in and loaded the image to the PC, I could just make out the track, problem is I think that it was too light, Orion was barely visible at this time. Therefore contrast etc. meant the track wouldn't show. The problem with getting long exposures correct is a trade off of time versus light, to avoid overexposure you compensate normally by stopping down the aperture, doing that in this case means the track is very faint. Never mind, I will try again, especially as I have got the hang of watching for it coming.

BTW in order to use the Heavens Above predictor correctly you need to enter your location, which is quite easy as a list of towns is in the database.

Also had a quick look at Orion, Saturn and started to see some of the clusters low in the southern sky but these will take a lot of work I think.

Found out tonight that Arcturus in Bootes is the 4th brightest star in the Northern sky, it certainly was bright last night.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

18:50 - At last, a clear sky!

19:15 - Already spotted the Southern Albireo, and....

19:32 - Just had my first attempt at looking for the ISS based on the predictions from Heavens Above. Right on the money, came out of the southwest and went into the earth's shadow just after it went by Orion, brill. Next time I will get my camera ready and try to get a long exposure to capture its track.

20:00 - Saturn is on view (also saw a satellite skim by as I was looking through the scope)and Orion looks brill, Sirius is quite high in the sky already.

22:20 - Arcturus is beaming brightly through the pollution to my East, wondered what it was so checked all my resources. Very bright indeed, getting a bit cold out there now.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Well I've had zero observing opportunities in the past week. Instead of observations I shall try to keep the blog going this week by adding some material about the hardware I use, in order to show potential uptakers of this hobby that you don't need to spend a fortune to enjoy some of the wonders of the nightsky!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Well, only had a couple of very brief observing sessions since last Wednesday. It's been looking promising all afternoon today, but just as twilight is upon us there's a strong bank of clouds approaching from the South!

Anyway, just finished reading the Neil Armstrong biography "First Man", what a book! There's a fair bit of tedious detail at times but the chapters regarding the Apollo program are excellent. The descent to the Lunar surface was riveting stuff, I never appreciated before just how "seat of the pants" it was for them, they really were going into the unknown!

After Neil quit NASA I thought the book again lost its way a tad, a bit like Neil's life maybe? Just how do you top what he accomplished, he knew that he'd never get to fly in space again I guess.

What a life he led though, he earned his pilot's licence 2 weeks after his 16th birthday! His lessons were funded by his part time jobs, which also went some way towards his college fees. Self made man doesn't even begin to describe him in my opinion. I guess it's obvious that he was and always will be my hero, I don't imagine that Neil will ever see this blog, but if he did....I'd be speechless!

A photo in the book shows a 20 year Neil aboard a US Navy carrier off North Korea where he flew 70 plus combat missions!

Anyway, here's a photo I found on the Apollo Archive site, I think it kind of sums up what the book called "amiable strangers" when describing the Apollo 11 crew!

For the younger generations who may be wondering who is who, left to right Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

It seems that Buzz wasn't keen on Neil being chosen to be the first man to step on the moon.

Better get outside now and see what I can see! Errm, not very much as it turns out, Capella high overhead now, Mars is near the Pleiades (never can spell that right). That's about all at the minute.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

06.45 GMT clear sky for first time in a week, Venus shining very bright but by the time I got outside with the scope, clouded over!

20.45 GMT clear again to the south, got the scope out and took a quick look at Saturn, still near the Beehive cluster also known as Praesaepe or M44 in Messiers catalogue. M44 is a 4th magnitude open cluster 550 light years away from us and is 30 light years wide.

Orion Neb quite clear and lower in the sky is Sirius, but Sirius is much higher now (at this hour) than previous obs.

Decided to switch location to the south of the house to see if I can see any of the open clusters in this region of the sky after spotting one of them (without id).

Five minutes later and the cloud had moved in but not before I spotted a new (to me) coloured double. A check with my maps suggests the main star is Puppis 7, which is 1350 light years away!

Looks like that's it for tonight.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Planetarium Software
Some 10 years ago I purchased a copy of Redshift 2, this was a stunning piece of software at the time, although I felt it was not exactly intuitive to use.

2 PCs later and I thought I'd see what was on the web in the way of downloads, well the first I discovered was Cartes du Ciel. This is a very thorough piece of software and will let you print charts based on your date/time/location so that you can take up to the minute charts outside with you. A link for this is in the links section.

Last night I noticed a post on the SPA forum which mentioned a package called Stellarium, so off I popped and got a free copy. As far as looks and ease of use this package will blow you away. It looks simply stunning, I hear that Starry Night is better, but this is freeware! But, you cannot print charts!

So, I'd recommend Cartes du Ciel if you want to print charts but if you want what amounts to a simulator of the night sky then Stellarium is the best. Why not use both, I will!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Some recent Astrophotos
This half moon was taken December 2005, this shot was through the Meade ETX80AT.

This "red" moon was taken September 2005, using the EOS350D and it's 80-200mm zoom lens.

This shot of a "spooky" moon with a cloud floating across was taken August 2005 with the EOS350D and it's 80-200mm zoom telephot lens.

This is a photograph of M45 the Pleaides cluster taken in November 2005, using a Canon EOS350D through a Meade ETX80AT, equivalent focal length = 600mm.

Why this blog?
Well, being born in the early 60's means that I witnessed the Apollo landings on the moon, this sparked a lifelong interest in Astronomy. This interest has waxed and waned over the years but never completely disappeared. My parents bought me 2 telescopes and a pair of binoculars as xmas presents between age 10 and 14.

Along the way I have visited the Jodrell Bank Observatory (twice) and experienced the wonders of the planetarium show first hand.

I have only experienced a truly dark sky on one occasion during a holiday with friends in North Wales, amazing is the only word to use.

Spent a fair amount of time observing when comet Hale Boppe appeared on the scene in 1998 (I think). But money was always being spent on other things rather than on new Astro kit.

Anyway, last year (2005) I started to find lots of info on the web and the flame was rekindled, this time I bought some new equipment and started some serious backyard astronomy (by my previous standards).

Managed to fit in lots of observing plus taking some astro photos from October onwards.

Finally decided to put a blog together this week and well, here it is, this will most likely be a mix of observational notes primarily for my own benefit and any tips, hints or websites that I find along the way that I feel might benefit anyone who may drop by.

Wednesday 8th Feb 2006 saw my part of the UK experiencing clear skies for the first time in weeks!

6.30am, awoke to a clear sky and the tempting sight of Jupiter and Venus both fairly high in the southern sky. By 6.45am had dashed out with the Opticron for a quick 5 minutes observing prior to leaving for work. Venus was stunning as a crescent shape while Jupiter gave a nice view of the Gallilean moons and I could just make out the 2 most prominent cloud belts.

5.45pm, back from work and straight outside with the scope for some more viewing. Orion is fairly high in the southern sky now even at this early hour. Capella is almost overhead whilst Sirius effortlessly shines through the band of light pollution that plagues my southern horizon.

Nice view of Saturn in the same field of view as the Beehive cluster, the rings are easily visible with the Opticron, more details of that to follow.

Watched a very bright satellite cross the sky from South to North but to the East of my location. Last time I saw one like this it was confirmed as the International Space Station but that time it moved from West to East. I need to investigate this further to find out if the track varies as much as that. The "Heavens Above" site contains info on the ISS and other satellite tracking data.

My favourite object for the scope is Albireo, the tail (in fact I think it's the head) star of Cygnus, a wonderful sight (a multi coloured double) in even a small scope. However, Cygnus has almost moved on now and Deneb (the topmost star) is low to the North.