Blue skies

There’s been a rotten run of weather for astronomy. For the last four or five weeks we’ve hardly had any clear skies, and when we have, I’ve annoyingly been working.
Luckily, there was an opportunity to go to the observatory last Thursday. I’ve got a new digital inclinometer, after seeing one at the society’s meeting a few Mondays ago. I used this to align the scope, and found it was more accurate than before. I only managed a half hour of ‘greatest hits’ DSOs before the clouds rolled in.
Jupiter’s dipping below the horizon now, but Saturn is still in view, swimming like a fish at this low altitude, but as always, very pretty. The Wild Duck Cluster M11 is not far away. Very bright and instantly recognisable with its shape. I found what I thought was nebula in Ophiuchus, and was unable to identify it. I made a sketch and later found it was in fact M12, a globular cluster. I couldn’t see and individual stars, and its shape is certainly unlike M13. Quite low in the sky, so I wasn’t seeing it at its best.
Oddly, the globular cluster M9 seemed brighter. I must re-visit these.
Staying with globular clusters, M13 and M92 in Hercules were easily found. And with Cygnus still high, The Dumbbell Nebula (M27) and the Ring Nebula (M57) also easily found. The Dumbbell strangely always seems to surprise me with its brightness.
M103, (which may be an asterism, according to my 1991 Cambridge Messier book), is extremely pretty with its distinctive ‘V’ shape. I checked quickly of the bright galaxy M31 before the clouds rolled in at around 8.30.
A few thoughts. I’m not pre-planning enough. I should have a list made up of observable objects beforehand. This would save me re-visiting the same ‘greatest hits’. I also need to wait till Ursa Major is in the west, and high, to find those faint Messier galaxies. There may be chance to do some observing tonight. My Cambridge Deep Sky Album gives lots of observable NGC numbers. I’ll make a list. Many NGC objects are brighter than Messier objects, yet I seem obsessed with the M numbers.
Oh yes, I’ve found a spot for the society to view the transit of Mercury in November, outside a local café. Fingers crossed for clear skies!

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Tales from the observatory #563

I feel like I live in an observatory these days! The faff element with a go-to mount is substantial. I still haven’t mastered it. it’s going to somewhere near the objects I want to see. Ah well, I’ll keep trying.
celestronEven so, I’ve seen some very nice sights indeed. Last night I was checking out the star clouds of M23 and M25, both very pretty and both in Sagittarius, the constellation which has more Messier objects than any other. It’s a shame it’s half-hid behind trees at the observatory. One night I’ll go up on the hill with my Opticrom bins and do a sweep.
What else? Ah, I’ve ticked off the weird M40, which is a bit of a quirk in the catalogue. It’s a double star in Ursa Major, and was left in the list because Messier conceded it could actually be confused with a comet. Hmmm. Anyway, it’s on the list.
‘Bright galaxy’ (yea, right), M101, I’m beginning to suspect, doesn’t exist.
Two cluster shapes to mention and remember – the arrowhead of M103 in Cassiopeia and the shape of the constellation of Hercules in the middle of M25 in Sagittarius.
The 32mm eyepiece of the 8″ Celestron doesn’t put M81 and M82 in the same field of view, so what I said about ‘limiting magnitude’ in my last post was poppycock.
The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) is fainter than a faint thing, I can just make out the two central smudges. Ursa Major was quite low though, I’ll wait till it swings round before I re-visit this one.
Saturn and Jupiter looked fab through the Celestron, even though it was low, I could see the belts even through a 25mm eyepiece.
About three weeks ago, in the Elan Valley, (pic below), I could make out markings on Saturn’s disc. I think the hazier skies of Staffs/Shrops aren’t going to allow that. blog2

The current Messier list. A denotes archived observations from old observation notes, and the recent new observations have years. All found with maps and star-hopping unless stated. I’ve started adding some of the (sometimes flowery) names from Stellarium.
M1 Supernova Remnant in Taurus (Crab Nebula)
M2 Globular Cluster in Aquarius (A)
M3 Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici 2018
M5 Globular Cluster in Serpens
M8 Diffuse Nebula in Sagittarius
M10 Globular Cluster in Ophiuchus
M12 Globular Cluster in Ophiuchus
M13 Globular Cluster in Hercules (‘the ‘Great Cluster’)
M16 Open Cluster in Sagittarius
M20 Nebula in Sagitta (Triffid)
M22 Globular Cluster in Saggitarius 2018
M23 Open Cluster in Saggitarius 2018
M24 ‘Star Field’ in Sagittarius
M25 Open Cluster in Saggitarius 2018
M27 Dumbell Nebula in Vupecula
M31 Galaxy (Andromeda Galaxy)
M32 Galaxy (Andromeda ‘companion’)
M33 Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum
M34 Cluster in Perseus
M35 Open Cluster in Gemini
M36 Open Cluster Auriga (Pinwheel)
M37 OpenCluster Auriga (Salt and Pepper)
M38 Cluster Auriga (Starfish)
M39 Open Star field in Cygnus
M40 Double Star in Ursa Major
M41 Open Cluster in Canes Major
M42 Orion Nebula
M43 Nebula in Orion
M44 Beehive Cluster
M45 Pleiades Open Cluster
M 46 Open Cluster in Puppis 2019
M47 Open Cluster Puppis 2018
M 51 Galaxy in Canes Venatici (Whirlpool)
M52 Open Cluster in Cassiopeia
M54 Globular Cluster in Coma Berenices 2018
M56 Globular Cluster in Lyra
M57 Ring Nebula Lyra
M63 Galaxy in Coma Berenecis (Blackeye)
M64 Galaxy in Coma Berenicis
M65 Galaxy in Leo
M66 Galaxy in Leo
M67 Open Cluster Cancer
M76 Planetary nebula in Perseus (Little Dumbell)
M78 Planetary Nebula in Orion 2019
M81 Galaxy in Ursa Major (Bode’s)
M82 Galaxy in Ursa Major
M84 Galaxy in Virgo 2018 (go-to)
M85 Galaxy in Coma Berenices 2019
M86 Galaxy in Virgo 2018 (go-to)
M92 Globular Cluster Hercules
M95 Galaxy in Leo
M97 Planetary Nebula in Ursa Major (Owl Nebula) 2019
M96 Galaxy in Leo
M103 Cluster in Cassiopeia
M104 Galaxy in Virgo 2018
M106 Spiral Galaxy in Canes Venatici (A)
M108 Barred Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major
M109 Galaxy in Ursa Major

…in which I try a go-to mount

Crivvens! I’ve gone over to the dark side! The local society has a go-to mount and it’s now in the observatory with an 8″ Celestron Schmitt Cassegrain on it. And I’ve spent several hours already with it.
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The alignment process is actually quite easy once you know what you’re doing. I’ve spent a few hours faffing unnecessarily due to the scope being upside down when I did the North alignment the first night, and last night I got confused with the two star alignment process. But by the end of the evening, (I was there four hours with a friend from the society), I’d got it aligned pretty good. Dew on the glass and a 3/4 Moon stopped any real deep sky observing, but I do have a short list of objects…
M13 Globular Cluster in Hercules – very bright in 25mm eyepiece.
M92 Globular Cluster in Hercules – smaller but still really pretty.
Saturn, low in the south west but nice and sharp in the 25mm eyepiece. We tried a 9mm but the lower power was much more pleasing. Two weeks ago I saw banding on the disc in the Elan Valley, I could almost tell myself tonight I could see the same.. but …
M27 Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula – Much brighter than I expected, dumbbell shape easily seen.
M57 Ring Nebula in Lyra – again, nice and bright, green tint?
M56 Globular cluster in Lyra – very dim, quite large in 25mm but looked more nebulous than starry. Only really seen when the scope moved or using averted vision.
M81 Bode’s Galaxy in Ursa Major – Most interesting, saw Bodes at 7.9 mag (Messier Album Mallas/Kreimer) but couldn’t see M82 at 8.8. Proving the limiting magnitude for that part of the sky (Ursa Major was quite low, and it really wasn’t fair to go galaxy hunting on such a bright moonlit night).
M36 across the other part of the sky showed only the brightest stars of this fine open cluster. So after some average lunar photography (in which I found my Canon with T-ring and barlow will get good focus with the 8″ Celestron, hooray!), and a dewy glass, we shut the dome at 12.30. Very pleased though, to eventually aligned the mount, and once a small glitch with the cable connector being loose is rectified, it’ll be full steam ahead for some useful observing.
The morality of using a go-to, of course, is another subject for another time. I have lots of thoughts on that!

Back in the Valley

The wonderful Elan Valley.
An astronomer’s paradise. At the visitor’s centre they even give you a map showing you the best observing spots on the estate, astronomy is welcomed and encouraged. Trouble is, when you’re there and the Milky Way is overhead, you really feel a bit silly looking for deep sky stuff when our own galaxy is there. It’s just as much fun recognising the various dust lanes and star clusters that you can see with the naked eye. Jupiter and Saturn were both low, (Jupiter bottom right in this photo), but still offered up some sharp viewing. I took this with a 50mm lens, and it wasn’t even astronomically dark yet. This shows you the quality of the skies at Elan.

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I took with me a pair of Helios 15×70 which proved to be fantastic for wide-field viewing of the Sagittarius star-fields. I was pleased to see the Lagoon Nebula (M8) show up on my photo. I also took my 8″ Skywatcher reflector. With so much to see, I didn’t make notes on my few hours there, though it wasn’t a Messier marathon. I was an hour from the camp site and decided to try and get some more observations in back there, and was pleased when I saw the skies were wonderfully dark also, from where my caravan was in Shropshire. I spent quite a while star-hopping with my bins. Around 1am the Pleiades rose in the east, and there was Taurus later.  The week before, I’d sat in the same field and watched the Milky Way slowly move. The whole band of bright star clouds seemed to head westward, and I’d never felt the spin of the Earth so absolutely as when I realised my view along the plane of our galaxy was slowly changing as the Earth spun round.

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Summer 2019…

….is almost over when it comes to ‘free time’ away from town. I’m hoping to catch some clear skies in the magical Elan Valley next week. Last October was fantastic, with three clear nights on the trot. If I get one, I’ll consider myself lucky.
I’ll be taking these with me. A pair of Helios 15×70 bins that were donated to the local society. IMG_5353
I managed some observing at the beginning of last week. Saturn and Jupiter are kind of playing see-saw in the South, south/west at the moment. Saturn was particularly clear and crisp at the beginning of last week, and markings on the disc could be seen through my 8″ reflector. Jupiter was less impressive, in fact, I had a better view of it through a smaller reflector at Perton Library the week before.
With Sagittarius quite low, and not too many stars recognisable, I used the 10×50 Opticroms to check out some of the Messier objects. There’s rich pickings in that constellation. I had 20190819_205704a lovely view of M22, and over to the right, the ‘in a line’ objects of M21, M21 and M8. Another reason I moved to the bins, is because the slow motion knobs on the scope’s mount had somehow gone missing. Found them now, but a bit annoying.
M20, the Triffid Nebula, is in the Scutum Spiral Arm of our galaxy, I read recently. I need to find out more about the geography of the Milky Way. I was able to capture the Scutum Star Cloud on film, (well, on pixel), last October. Here is one of my photos.

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The Scutum Star Cloud October 1918

But I’m not sure if the Scutum Star Cloud is a name given to a dense cluster of stars, or just a generic name given to a brighter part of the Milky Way. Certainly, there’s such a thing as the ‘Scutum Arm’ of the Milky Way, where young stars are forming. And it’s thrilling to think I may have a chance to see it again next week.

In Lunar Mode

“we’re certainly in lunar mode” as a great modern antiquarian said. It was the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings last week,

(or about ten or so days ago), so much was going on. I saw Apollo 11 at the Imax in Telford, and it was glorious. I wanted to see it again, but work wouldn’t permit.

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Andrew Lound Lecture at Perton Library

After a rather good lecture at a local library, I headed out with a friend to try and catch the lunar eclipse. Between very cloudy spells I saw (and photographed it) through the little four inch reflector I wrote about a few posts back. It was quite an impressive eclipse, helped, actually, by the clouds, which made the lit part of the moon look like a regular phase, but lit from below, rather than the side, and with much softer terminator.
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