How’s it going, Bill and Ted?

This isn’t an observing update, rather, a observation update. I read an article recently about observing styles, people who plan what to see, and others who just rock the ‘scope out, and view what and where they want.

I am very much of the former. I’ll sit with my atlases (need! more! atlases!) and my pad and pencil, and decide what I want to tackle. A few objects a night, generally. Although if there are guests, I tend to do the ‘introductory Grand Tour’, which is Albireo, M92, M13, the double cluster of NGCs 869/884, eta Lyrae, Mizar, the Ring/Dumbell nebulae as starters.

As for using the actual telescope, I’ve gotten better at alignment. Polar aligning is key, but luckily not hard. In fact, I can set up in daylight, and only be a few degrees off Polaris, only having to nudge the mount a little. My favoured alignment stars are Arcturus and Dubhe, with Vega and Albireo for calibration. Then we are set for the night, the mount can pretty much do the rest. I was…sceptical of GOTO mounts, but in the end, it saves me time, and saving time there means more at the eyepiece. For some objects, I have to plug the RA/dec in by hand, and the mount gets close, but some nudging by me is still needed. Depends on the accuracy of the catalogue I am using. Did I mention I need more atlases? Well, more catalogues as well please!

A brief aside, I’ve been more than happy with the service I got from Tring Astro, both during the buying and after, and now I buy all my bits from there. A filter is on its way to me, OIII, for nebulae.

And it turns out I much prefer visual observing. Which I am both surprised and not at. I had thought I’d get more and more into astrophotography, and while I like that, I am happy at not buying guidescopes, and CCDs. Well, not until I build my obsrevatory, anyhow. But visual observing is just…fantastic. It calms me, and I spend time on the same object, teasing out more detail, getting to know it, where it lives, and how it lives. And boy, do I love my doubles. (OK, so yes, my thesis was on double systems, but that never killed it for me 🙂

In fact, given I use Ablireo as a calibration star, that is generally the first object I settle on in an evening. It is a pretty thing, no doubt about it. The Webb Deep Sky Society double star atlas is a great thing, too.

Every night it has been clear, I have been out. I can’t wait for the winter when I don’t need to wait until midnight before it gets even close to being dark. And I can get to bed before 2am. A procession of teenagers (and older) have had the aforementioned Grand Tour, and Valerie has been out as well. The family are well aware I like doubles the best, but diffuse nebulae and clusters too. I had great fun with ‘The Blinking Nebula’ the other night, as well.

I might be getting a little obsessed, but nothing wrong with that. The planning has meant I don’t come home from work and go online, rather I pour over books and charts. And curse at cloud cover. The world is quiet here, and up there.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There is an open invitation, come round anytime. If it is clear, I’ll be out the back. If not, we can sit inside and have coffee 🙂

(Mostly) On my own

Our Kiwi relations have been and gone, and a procession of 20-year old boys sated with the skies, I found myself with fantastic seeing, and plenty of time. Even if it was a school night.

And turns out I have now gotten rather adept at alignment, both polar and star. And man, getting that right makes everything so much sweeter. I had already planned my evening’s viewing, and pretty much stuck to it. Yeah yeah, doubles…

Valerie observed for a bit too, but mostly it was me and Lyra. Then I decided to try and capture again. Of course, I spent quite a lot of time at the eyepiece, teasing out more and more detail. Alas, given it was indeed a weekday, having to get up for work the next…later the same day, it didn’t really get dark enough for me to get the dense(r) star field I wanted as a backdrop.

But it didn’t turn out that bad. Next time I will use C-A’s camera.

η and θ Lyrae

η and θ Lyrae

Flickr version, as ever.

η (and θ) Lyrae were both deserving targets. And not listed in my GOTO database, so I tried just putting in the RA/dec, and seeing how the mount coped. Wonderfully! Even with the close eyepiece, it was view as soon as she slew. I know people think it a cheat, but really, it is a boon. So much more time spent seeing, and not shifting, nudging and frustratingly not finding what you are looking for.

A little bit of planning helps, too. Then again, I just love looking through star atlases and catalogues. Quite a few are available free as PDFs, but you can’t beat paper ones.

I even set up this evening, but after zeta Lyrae, it started to cloud over. Ah well…

Grand Tour

Seeing: 5/10 (at midnight) to 6.5/10 (at 3am)
Time: 00:00 – 03:00

Well, what a palaver. It was cloudy until just before midnight, but I had the scope out cooling down anyhow. Then, when it did clear up, for some reason I was having alignment trouble. I’d align with two stars (Arcturus and Vega, if memory serves), add a few calibration ones in, but the mount threw all sorts of tantrums, and when asked to go somewhere, wouldn’t even go in the right direction, ending up nowhere near.

So I muttered, and tried again with different stars. Still the same. Then I even resorted to re-polar aligning, and and…forgotten how lovely Polaris is, a fine double that is oft overlooked. Two-star align again, calibration stars again, and this time it did swing to the right area, in fact, rather close to the targets. Well. Most of the targets. A few, again, it just went bonkers. Quite odd. But I did get a fantastic view of some fantastic objects after that.

Alas, by the time I had gotten things aligned to my satisfaction, Valerie was in bed, too tired to stay up. But insomniac daughter was awake, so she shared the sights with me. And what sights they were.

Sure, M13 is always impressive, and I doubt I’ll ever get bored of it. (Before daughter came out, I did my double star hunt, this time just inside Lyra, as there are some lovely colour-contrasting doubles thereabouts. Yes, I know. But I love doubles.)

Bringing daughter out at 2am, though, I thought we’d do a Grand Tour, starting with M92. It is also very impressive, and just makes the nudge to M13 all the more impressive. I had a go at finding M31 too, and lo, there she was, Andromeda. Huge, too. Too much for the short eyepiece.

My one concession to doubles with her (yes, I showed her Ablireo, obvs) was to put the wider lens in, and go for ε Lyrae. Yeah, she says, a double, nice. Then flick to the closer lens, so it resolves into two pairs of binary. Cool stuff!

Swinging around to see NGC 869 and NGC 884, the ‘double cluster’, perfectly resolvable in the improving conditions. Quite stunning, actually, set in a fantastic starfield. ‘Tis pity it is a Caldwell listed object. Boo-hiss to the Caldwell catalogue. Then we dived across to M57, the Dumbbell nebula. Even in my 8inch SCT, this is a fine sight, taking up most of the eyepiece. A diffuse blue, which no doubt will benefit from a filter when I have cash again.

Daughter, like me, was loving this. Sure, obvious sights, but damn, they never, ever fail, to impress. And more impressive that I am seeing this from my back garden.

It has reinforced that I haven’t a burning desire to really get into serious astrophotography. Much as all the pictures you see are awesome, and within my ability and location, but _prefer_ visual observing. The hunt, the nudge, the reveal. So much so, that when I build my observatory, I’ll start to think about a huge light bucket, and a large aperture refractor.

I have also printed out some observing log pages, and am going to teach myself how to sketch at the eyepiece.

Looking upwards always…calmed me, and it does still. Calmness, and wonder. And a wonder I love to share, and I love to see the reaction mine have when they see these things too. They do seem to appreciate it, which is great. How can you not? And we are all learning the techniques of viewing, the averted vision and teasing of detail out. The dark adapted eye, which even afforded me to see the summer-spanning Milky Way with the naked eye. From here. Yes. And while the world wheeled, I started to spot more deep sky objects with my eye. Or the corner of my eye…

And when I have…options to do this more, to chase if not my total dream, at least enable it a bit more, get a bit closer to it, what do I do? I am thinking on it. Life is out there, and for me, up there.

On the plus side, I think I have settled on the objects I’ll use for visitors. Well, summer visitors. Winter is a whole different set of fish. And hunters. I amn’t even missing the southern horizon (that much), there is so much to see. More than my lifetime. Maybe I will start on the Hershel 400…

No real sign of the nights drawing in…

…and a school night, too.

Even so…Valerie and I stood out in the balmy evening.

Seeing: 4.5 / 10 (My own personal rating here.)
Time: 22:25 – 23:45


1. ε Lyrae, the double-double. Resolvable into all its components.
2. Albireo, as I still love it. Upper a hot blue, lower a dusty red.
3. M57, the Ring Nebula. Man, this is awesome. A smokey blue ring, set in a speckled star field.

I mean, come on. The Ring Nebula. From Cambridge. This makes me very, very happy. I can study it for an age, it is a calming sight. Yes, I know it is an easy target, but it still has the wow-ness. And that is without a filter, too. Which I’ll buy at some point.

It is still a pity Saturn is behind the houses, I might have to take myself to another site to view her.

Another great session, though. I do like my doubles.