…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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

The elusive M26

M26 isn’t even in my Cambridge Deep Sky album, and I can kind of see why. A few days after the summer solstice, it’s not much to see at all, but, I did see it tonight, even under the not very dark skies of Pattingham. At one point I think I saw the fainter stars of a great cluster, but then it was gone again, and I was left with a diamond shape that was, I’m afraid, one of the most underwhelming Messier objects to date. I’ll re-visit under darker skies.
The star of the night was M11, the ‘Wild Duck’ cluster that was resolved splendidly with the 18mm Kelner eyepiece. Easily found in the 10×8 Opticroms before dark. One of the greatest deep-sky objects.
I also found NGC6664, a faint open cluster, also in Scutum (as is (M26). M11 is over the border in Aquila.
I found a cluster in Ophiuchus that I knew must be M10 or M12, I wrote ‘a diamond in a triangle surrounds it’, which – I just checked Stellarium – makes it M12.
So bright was the sky, I had trouble navigating. The Telrad finderscope doesn’t magnify, which if fine under a dark sky, but with only the brightest stars at viewable with the naked eye, it’s a test.
Through the bins M13 and M92 were easily found. Saturn and Jupiter looked lovely, but inaccessible due to the observatory having a dobsonian in there at the moment, it won’t get quite low enough. Most annoying having the two greatest telescopic planets in the sky, and a 16″ mirror scope at your disposal, and not being able to look at the planets through it.
I was there a couple of hours but don’t seem to have done much list-ticking, but it was most enjoyable, just me and the owls and the fish splashing in the water over the hedge. There’s talk of putting a ‘go-to’ in the dome, which will be great, but I like star-hopping. Am thinking I should get my 10″ dob back in use and take that up to the site. It’d only take two trips from the van. Hmmm.

Clouds clouds clouds

But there was a brief break tonight, so I hot-footed it over to the observatory. Before the clouds came over again I managed so nice views of the Moon, and I spent a while checking out the smaller craters in Mare Crisium. Then, battling with the clouds, I managed the Ring Nebula at 11pm, not yet fully dark, so good, and I split the ‘double double’ with the 9mm eyepiece. Albereo, then a cup of coffee as the clouds rolled over and Capella was really low twinkling away.
Jupiter rose about 11.30, but the big dob won’t go low enough to get it. I wish my 8″ was back in there to be honest. It’s infuriating seeing stuff in the sky you want to look at, and not being able to get the scope on it.
I did get a glimpse of a very cloudy Jupiter in the 4″ on returning to my van. One moon, and a disc with no markings. Then I drove home.
Not exactly ten galaxies tonight, was it?

Messier list 24/05/2019

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
M24 ‘Star Field’ in Sagittarius
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
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 (seen via go-to)
M85 Galaxy in Coma Berenices 2019
M86 Galaxy in Virgo 2018 (seen via 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