Comets, clouds and catalogues.

Date 10/1/15
Seeing 7/10
Time observing 1900 – 0000

It has been in the news recently, and probably all across your social media streams, if your social media streams are anything like mine. So there is a comet crossing the sky right now. For a good while, it was low in the south, a part of the sky I can’t observe, due to the house being in the way, and our back garden not being that long. Once I build Nova Uraniborg in place of the sheds at the very back, I will get more of a view of the south. As that section is also raised, so that will help.

comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy 8/1/15

Once Lovejoy did rise above the house, of course there were clouds. For days. Anxiety over whether I’d ever see the sky again…but on the 8th Jan they broke, after raining all day long. Time to track it down! Which is easy with a properly polar-aligned GOTO mount and the ability to set ra-dec directly. Easier if you use the ever-excellent-and-helpful Live Comet Data. Fire up the engines, and…yes! A lovely little fuzzy patch. Fantastic. Really, really fantastic. Don’t you just love the thrill you get of finding these things? Sure, other people have way better photographs than mine, and better scopes to see it with, but doesn’t matter, the photons from my equipment hit my eye, and that is, for me, the best feeling.

There is a great anticipation when you look in the finder scope, and you can see the comet, and you eagerly move to the main eyepiece. Great stuff.


Side-on spiral NGC891

I don’t know what made me try for NGC891, as you can see from the inverted photo above is rather indistinct. A tough target, photographically. And as for visually? Crikey. We are heading down past mag 10 here, and given my location and aperture, that is a challenge. Still, after maybe forty minutes of shunting and squinting, I got it. The training of my eyes continues. I’m thinking of this as limbering up for the Herschel 400, or even a Messier marathon.

Orion nebula

Orion nebula

The winter sky is great, and here is one of the standout pieces. When I tried (visually) for this on the same night as I took the Lovejoy picture above, it was barely visible, an indistinct cloud. But last night, it was fantastic in the eyepiece. The embedded stars were glittering jewels, the nebulosity distinct and a glorious inky blue. I did dash in to grab Κασσάνδρα, but she had already got her pyjamas on, and it was cold out there.

Like Albireo, this is another one of those sights I’ll never, ever get bored of observing.

Lastly, while I was mooching around in Cassiopeia, I stumbled over NGC147. Not sure I’ve ever observed that before. Its companion, NGC185 I certainly have, which makes it odd. Or maybe I just didn’t keep a note of it, but I usually do.

I also made some sketches of some doubles, though I didn’t have an atlas beside me at that point to verify if they were physical or merely optical. The mount can tell me its current coordinates, so I’ll look them up at some point too.

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…