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.

Sudden outbreak of clarity

Tonight was clear. Unbelievably clear. It was…so superbly clear it put me at peace again. Alas, it was also unbelievably windy, which curtailed my fantastic session a bit.

All visual tonight, I didn’t fancy trying any imaging with all that wind. So I dipped in and around Cassiopeia, and the rich star fields were just great. η Cas was beautiful, both in the wide field set against all the stars, and in higher magnifications. So much so, I would be tempted to say set against the sparkling backdrop, it was more impressive than even Albireo. And I never thought I’d ever say that! To my eyes, the colours were a diamond white and russet red. That is another great thing about doubles, hardly anyone really agrees on the colours, and I’ve read reports on doubles I’ve seen and wondered what on earth the observers were talking about.

Sweeping through many clusters, too, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars in the eyepiece. Every single thing I looked at was startlingly amazing. Every thing. It was one of those nights. If not for the wind, I’d have done some images (including setting up the film camera, taking a long exposure of my ‘scope taking long exposures of something.)

Clusters in Perseus, Boötes, Ophiuchus, with even the Pleiades getting a look in, and I have to say, that took me by surprise. Quite the large fuzzy patch, and it confused me for a minute as to what it was. Andromeda was extra bright, though I can never get a decent view of it. Maybe I just need to view it for longer, and tease out more and more details from it as the night progresses.

I dragged my good lady out for quite a few of these, too. Always worth sharing. And there was also one more target I looked for, one which, to my ailing memory I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. In fact, I am sure I’ve never seen it before. The ice giants are awake, and while Neptune is hidden from me by my own house, Uranus is easily visible. And what another ace sight it was. A lovely extended blue-ish disc, silent and graceful. Wonderful to see it, truly. You can really tell the difference between planets and stars, even those outer planets that are far, far away.

A fine night’s observing, and a pity it didn’t last longer, but the picking up of the wind speed was noticable while looking through the eyepiece.

β and 17 Cyg

β and 17 Cyg

β and 17 Cyg on flickr taken a few weeks ago.

(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.

No darkness

It was after 11pm before it got anyway dark, so alignment stars were few and far between. Arcturus, obviously, Vega for calibration.

Targets: Arcturus, Mars, Mizar, Vega

Valerie joined me for a bit, though had to hunt for extra clothing to keep herself warm. And yes, I was in shorts, sandals and a teeshirt. Our targets differ, she likes lunar/planetary, whereas I, as you know, am all about the doubles and globulars.

Still, she enjoyed it, as did I. But work tomorrow…later on…so I best be off. But here, have an inverted picture of Arcturus, taken using daughter’s camera, as mine ran out of battery after a few shots of Mars. Long exposures, eh?



Just around midnight

It really doesn’t get very dark early this time of year, does it? Roll on the solstice.

Anyhow, quite a decent night’s viewing.

Alignment: Arcturus, Mizar

Calibration stars: Vega, Deneb

Targets: Mizar, Albireo, M92, M13

Time out: 22:45 – 00:00

Bonus: ISS pass!

1 (On flickr too.)

I tried a bit more long-exposure. Unguided, so keeping it to around three minutes. But it turns out I wasn’t quite polar aligned, so there was a bit of star smearing. That picture above was the best of the short exposures.

The moon is lovely right now, but in the venacular from where I come from, it would cut the eyes out of ye. So I probably need to pick up a moon filter at some point 🙂

A decent night’s observing, really.


Gosh, it got cold. Well, my hands did. Well, I didn’t notice until I came in after near three hours. Still, seeing was reasonable, and I did mostly visual stuff, aside from another abortive imaging session, due to not focussing properly.

Time out: 22:15 – 00:40

Alignment: Castor/Pollox/Vega (when not-quite dark) and added Albireo for calibration when it was dark

What I saw:


95 Herculis




I settled on those as my evening’s viewing, and recorded magnitudes/outlines over the course of the time. Except Mars, being on the other side of the sky. But as the seeing felt acceptable, I fancied a quick look. And yes, I could discern the polar caps, so it was worth it to swing by that way.

Here is what I salvaged from my short imaging stint:


Double trouble

All in all, a good session really.

Along comes a spider

Time outside: 22:30-00:00

Seeing: Not the best, but acceptable

Alignment: Castor/Pollux and Vega for calibration

Eldest male child was home, so I was showing him:

Jupiter (and one moon)


Then I tried to image M13, but with my camera, not my daughter’s, so all a bit grainy, but even so, getting slightly better at this:

Great globulars

One of the best

Best session yet!

Time outside: 22:00 – 23:30

Conditions – excellent

Yes, it was still light when I first got out, but Jupiter was still visible.

Once dark, and aligned properly (getting better at that, Castor/Pollux as they were bright, and Vega as my calibration star) I got motoring.

What awesomeness I saw this evening:

Jupiter and a lovely clustering of moons and fine banding. A quick image, if only to show the position of the moons. (Then I stopped even attempting imaging anything. As ever, it is on flickr)

Jupiter and moons

Jupiter and moons

Castor, yeah, my alignment star, but I love it

Albireo – colours were pronounced, vivid and top quality. My fave double, probably most peoples’. Tonight I saw it a fine orange/cool blue.

M13 – What can be said? That is one of the highlights. And in the closer eyepiece, filling it, certainly a top sight. At this point, I am away, loving every minute of it

Mars – it is there, and easily found, and rather ace. (You might have gathered I had an ace time tonight.)

Ring Nebula – crikey, visually? Hell yes. I could discern the halo, if nothing in the centre. But more wow. A delicate pale blue, a misty, smoky blue at that.

*AND* a shooting star, a good second, second-and-a-half of frail, just below Polaris, travelling towards the east.

That was enough, as I spent time on each of those, with a smile on my face. I didn’t get much imaging, I was too busy enjoying the grand spectacle. And those were grand spectacles indeed.

I showed Κασσάνδρα most of those, but she needs a bit more eyepiece practise to get the most of it. I even raised the height of the mount, and that eased my viewing pleasure as well.

I am going to start sketching next time, and ponder on imaging too. But, I have to work tomorrow (almost later today…) so I should stop now.