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.

(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…

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.


Just a quickie

It was supposed to be cloudy this evening, but at dusk it was rather clear, so I hoped against hope…and verily, at 21.45 it was still clear, if not altogether dark.

So I set up very quickly, got a spy at Jupiter, caressed the side of the moon, and then the clouds flew over, ruining my seeing. Ah well.I did get a very hurried and harried picture of the moon (full version):


Slapdash, not a picture, not a photograph

There was much hilarity as I tried to focus the camera on Jupiter, but it didn’t work (larger hilarity):


Jupiter, and four moons, honest

Even though the Jupiter picture is rubbish, I record it here anyhow. As not only is this an obsrving log, but a learning record, so I can (surely) see myself getting better at this caper.


Time outside: 21:45 – 22:45 (neighbour’s floodlight came on rather irritatingly, so I came in)

Alignment process: Planetary (Jupiter) to see how it went. It went fine.

Conditions: I was promised clear skies, and it was! Given it is the World Championship snooker, I was watching that, but Ronnie O’Sullivan finished a session early, so I got out before it was even really dark

What I observed:

Jupiter and three moons. Yes, I know, but all good.

The moon, and attempted photos. Medium sized below, full size(s) on my flickr stream. And a post about how that went later.

Castor, in the 12mm. Oh yes. My, yes. I love doubles.

95 Herculis, for a bit of colour in my doubles. And oh my yes (reprise).

Overall, way less faffing, much more observing, although cut a bit short. Speaking of short, it seems I stand outside gazing upwards in shorts, as that is what I change into when I get home from work, regardless of the season. So not only do the optics cool down, but so do I…

I’ll start recording magnitudes soon, now that I have found my feet again.

And, to end with, here is the moon, in my first steps to astrophotography. Camera connected directly to telescope, no guiding, no real setting up of shot, other than what I guessed in the kitchen. I used my daughter’s camera, as it has a ‘live view’ feature, whereas mine doesn’t.

Cresent moon

It looks so unreal in the lens