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.


Summertime, and the viewing is…difficult

Time outside : 22:45 – 00:00

The seeing was not so good. At one point, Jupiter got lost in the murk, and overall it was a battle. Added to my usual suspects (Castor for alignment, Jupiter for wow) I got a bit of Mars, ish. I got a bit of Dubhe, though I really need to extend the tripod for that. Back, cricked.

And my alignment seemed to go out of whack very quickly, so I was left with cluster hunting by star hops and hope. But I did track down the Great Hercules Cluster (M13), though a thin smear of cloud didn’t help the bad atmospherics as it was. Takes up about an inch in the eyepiece, best with a bit of averted vision. No point in imaging it, not under those conditions.

Summer. Great for cluster lovers (like me), but damn, you have to stay up later, and it never really gets that dark. Ah well. But you can observe in shorts and teeshirt.

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


GOTO considered harmfuls

It weren’t like that when I were a lad…but supposedly it makes things easier. These new auto-slewing mounts, with keypads programmed with a bazillion and one objects. All your deep sky objects, all your doubles, all your clusters, all your planets, all your everything, even no doubt things beyond the limit of the scope you are using.

No matter, I have one, and thought I’d try it. I can follow instructions, I am not a total technophobe, I always made sure the clock on my VCR was correct. And I know my way (ish) around the sky, this whole ‘two star alignment’, sure I can find the stars they want. So power it up and away we go. Well, not quite. First off, polar align it. Luckily, I know where Polaris is, and that is close enough to give me within a degree of the actual pole. I also know my latitude, again I can push the scope into position of that. Drag the mount down on to the patio, lined up, and let’s try and do the star alignment.

(Bear in mind this is the first time I did this, the second time went swimmingly. But I had read the instructions a bit closer before then. At this point, I had them in my hand, had read them and was now trying it.)

Turn on. Press a few ENTERs to get along a bit, ok. Right. Time. Check. Date. Check…wait, it said it was going to ask me my lat/long, or I could select my city. Nope. Ah well, battle on, it must know best. Right so. Choose a star to slew the scope to. Wait…I don’t recognise that one…hmm..southern hemisphere? That is a bit odd. Scroll throw..dammit, the direction buttons aren’t the scroll-through-menu buttons, the scope now moved, try again. Nope, not recognising any of these stars. Why is it offering me bits in the southern hemisphere? Eh? Read more. Dammit, where are those menu options. This makes NO SENSE. Read again. LESS SENSE.

(A slight break: the only intuitive interface is the nipple, everything else is learned. Anyone who says their interface is intuitive is lying. What they mean is they have gotten used to it by experience, and can’t remember what it was like to stumble through. Back to the post…)

One more read. More presses and clicks. Nothing. Nothing at all. So I gave up, did everything manually again.

The next (clear) night, I decided to try again. I read a few words I missed last time. When setting up, sure why not click back a few times at a certain point, *then* you can enter you lat/long, as that makes sense, that is a good way to get to it. Anyhow. Hoo-rah. Job done. Now go for the star alignment, hoping for the best…yup, stars I recognise, and can slew to. Excellent.

Of course, I still never really made much use of it (there is a star tour mode, the Messier/NGC/more catalogues) as I was tootling around in Gemini. But still, seems like it might be useful, if even just to save me from pushing the scope around when I want to hunt elsewhere.

But damn it isn’t a good interface. I still keep pushing the slew arrow the odd time in menu selections. Granted, the menu scroll selection buttons feel a bit different, I get I just have to get used to it. Then it will be intuitive.

Or I am just getting old, out of touch and tech is leaving me behind.

Double trouble

Time outside: 21:45 – 23:10

Alignment process: 2-star (and seemingly successful, post about alignment woes still in the pipeline)

Conditions: After cloudy all day, even up to 21:00, I wasn’t anticipating any observing. But while in the kitchen making…well, I forgot about making the coffee as I looked outside, and it was clear. Quick! To the astroshed! Get those optics outside and start cooling down!

What I observed:

1. Jupiter. Have to, really. My sketch (yes, really) shows two easily visible bands, and four moons, two either side

2. 38-Geminorum – twins in the Twins. A fine pairing, even if just to test the resolving power of the telescope.

3. zeta Geminorum – not really straying too far around the sky here, but this is a Cepheid, so I’ll keep an eye on it.

4. Castor/Pollox, just as they were close


I also tried my old camera for some pictures, but as it doesn’t have a ‘live view’, too ancient for that, nothing focused. So rather than steal my daughter’s camera, I decided I’d stick with visual observing and not waste any more time faffing. Speaking of daughter, she was out for a bit too, ooh-ing over Jupiter, and being impressed with doubles.


All in all, not a bad time. I have no great desire to go swinging from one side of the sky to the other, I am happy to hunt around in the same area, getting to know the inhabitants.

Tools of the trade

For as long as I can remember, the eight inch Schmidt-Cassegrain has been the stalwart of amateur astronomy. A good all-rounder, decent aperture, and not needing a behemoth mount like the similar and larger Newtonians. Those mounts are beasts. Seriously. So that is the most sensible choice within budget. Yes, it is more expensive than a similarly sized Newtonian (by, err, about a grand!) but I think it the better choice.

So down I tottled to Tring Astro for a nice chat and parting of cash. Fine fellows down there, I do recommend them.


She is, as yet, unnamed.

And that is what I returned with. The Celestron VX8. A lovely thing. Of course, the standard lense that comes with it is fine, but I needed another one. And, as you all know I do love my photography, I needed a T-adapter and T-ring. Which I didn’t buy there and then, but a few days later, again from Tring Astro, this time via mail-order. Or online, whatever The Kids call it these days. And it arrived in a day. Go them! Seriously, go see them if you want kit.


Bits and bobs

T-ring and 12mm lens

With the T-adaptor and ring, I can start on my astrophotography journey, too.(I might also write up about how I made these images using open source satellite data, given I have lectured about it, and having such a post in this weblog would make sense.)

When I first got set up, it happened to be clear, so I did some tests of the optics, using Jupiter mostly. Gosh and crikey. It never fails to amaze me when I gaze into the heavens. And it was good. The following night was a bit more frustrating, as I tried to set up the GOTO mount functions, and it drove me mad. That will be the next post.