Recent observations (that I can remember)

While it’s all still in my head, a quick write-up of tonight’s observatory antics.
Riiiight. M42 & 43, obviously. But also M78 through the 16″. A faint emission nebula, two stars ‘inside’. Great stuff.
All through the 16″ mirror, the great open clusters of M35, M37 and M38. Steve, who turned up with his go-to, showed me the globular cluster M3 and I was all why haven’t I been looking at this more!. Through the 16″ it was stunningly bright. Superb! Found by ‘star hopping’ from Arcturus in Bootees. Over to the right, a smaller globular, M53, but still a very worthwhile sight.
I found M3 in the dob also, by the way. So I get to say I properly found that.
M1 (supernova remnant) in Taurus found, and it was surprisingly bright in the 16″.
I looked at M40 below Sirius, (the ‘Little Beehive’) with the go-to.
Leo was almost lost in the eastern Wolverhampton haze, but I still found the two elliptical galaxies, M65 and M66. Later, as it moved into darker skies toward the west, I tried to find more but the dew beat me.
The double cluster was stunning through the 16″.
I should write up the other stuff I’ve seen lately. I did an evening amongst Taurus’s open clusters at the observatory site with my 8″ reflector in mid Feb, and it was great fun. Chalk up NGC , 1647, NGC 1746, and the fantastic ‘Poor Man’s Double Cluster’, NGC 1817 and 1817. It really does look like a malnourished version of Perseus’ showpiece.
The same evening I perambulated Canis Major, and more delightful NGC open clusters (2362, 2354), and the lovely Messier open clusters M46 and M47. Both distinctly different.
The most detailed star map I’ve found on Cassiopeia is in the ‘on-line download’ section of the Sky at Night magazine, as part of their deep-sky tour series. I’ve printed and laminated their map of the western area, and I spend a couple of hours with the 16″ enjoying the open and often sparse clusters in the imagined triangle between the double cluster and the first two stars of the ‘W’.
Here’s the tick-list.
Trumpler 1
NGC 654
NGC 663
NGC 659
All clusters, and some of them a lot more ‘wow’ than M103, which makes me wonder what was going on with the M numbers, (in the same way the double cluster has no M number but the Pleiades do!).
But you can’t argue with the M numbers. Especially if you’ve just bought a £28 book.
Phew! I still need to write up the binocular and 4″ mirror observations I made in the Elan Valley in October. Hmm.

Time to update…

The site’s domain is up in a few days, so it looks like I’ve either got to start putting stuff up here, or let it go. So I’m going to make a concentrated effort to update. I’ve done some smashing observations lately, through my own 8″ and the society’s 16″. But first, I’ll put up the current map-found and observed Messier list, (below). There’s still a good many to find.
In fact, I’ve been to a new astronomy show today, in Kettering, and it was a smasher. Quite crowded, due I suppose to it being free, and only on for one day. I’ll put some photos up later. But check this out . . .

MessierMy lovely new Cambridge Press Messier Objects book. I bought a Cambridge Press Messier Objects book in the early 90’s, (there’s a picture on here somewhere), and it’s one of my favourite astro books ever. So this new volume, well, I just couldn’t resist. I’ve had my nose in it a few hours, and it’s encouraged me to re-double my hunt, and become much more methodical.
And as for the blog, in the next few days I hope to put up some recent observations of open clusters in Taurus, Canis Major and Cassiopeia, and my Elan Valley dark sky photos from .. gulp! .. October last year. I also need to put up some news of the observatory.
But first, the current Messier list.

M1 Supernova Remnant in Taurus (Crab Nebula) (A)
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 Cluster Auriga
M37 Cluster Auriga
M38 Cluster Auriga
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 (A)
M57 Ring Nebula Lyra
M63 Galaxy in Coma Berenecis (Blackeye) (A)
M64 Galaxy in Coma Berenicis (A)
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
M86 Galaxy in Virgo 2018
M92 Globular Cluster Hercules
M95 Galaxy in Leo
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 (A)
M109 Galaxy in Ursa Major (A)

I need guidance!

I really need to start taking my photography seriously now. The observatory is up and running, and there’s nothing to stop me from getting some guided mounts. Hell, I even know a guy that’s got some. I’ll see him tomorrow and try and arrange a meet up for a beer and a chat.
I’ve got some very unimpressive photos of M42 and the Andromeda Galaxy, (below) and they’re as good as I’ll ever get unless I get the camera on a guided mount.
It’s 2019 – the game’s afoot! I see spiral arms in my future!
And star trails will be no more!


Comet 46P/Wirtanen

A short piece I did for my local society’s newsletter.

46P/Wirtanen is a small short-period comet with a current orbital period of 5.4 years. It was discovered on January 17, 1948, by the American astronomer Carl Wirtanen, and expectations were high for the comet’s 2018 visit.

Many astronomers hoped for naked eye brightness reminiscent of 1997’s Hale Bopp, (which I remember seeing easily over the Albert Memorial from Queens Square, Wolverhampton. Hard to believe that was over twenty years ago!). Unfortunately, comet 46P/Wirtanen appeared fainter than hoped. At its closest approach, on the16th December 2018, it was only visible in binoculars from semi-rural sites. But even so, it gave amateur astronomers a fantastic, rare chance to study a comet.

With the new society observatory still being finely tuned, (and hopefully open to members to visit in January 2019), we’ve temporarily installed my 8” Skywatcher Reflector in the dome, and it was through this that I tracked the comet in the early hours on Monday 17th December. I took some very basic shots, with my Canon 750 DSLR attached directly to the scope with a T-mount.

The photos show the comet moving N N/W over a period of one hour twenty minutes. The comet was approx 11,580,000km away when I took these shots (only one second exposure time).

When you spend an evening observing, very few telescopic objects change in real time. Jupiter’s moons can change, and very often you see one disappear, or reappear from behind the disc. I’ve also seen lunar shadows creep across flat areas near mountainous regions near the terminator of the moon, and there’s oculations and eclipses, but even so, it’s rare to see something move in real time, astronomically.So it was a real treat to map, watch and image the comet’s path among the stars of Taurus on that Monday morning.
The comet will also be in the skies through January 2019.

Comet Wirtanen 16/17th Dec - 1
Comet Wirtanen 16/17th Dec – 1
Comet Wirtanen 16/17th Dec - 2
Comet Wirtanen 16/17th Dec – 2
Comet Wirtanen 16/17th Dec - 3
Comet Wirtanen 16/17th Dec – 3



Tales from the observatory

I’m going to try and finish my Elan Valley notes today. Until then, I’m putting up a few photos from the observatory in Shropshire. My telescope is in there now as a temporary measure, (the large dog needed cleaning and collimating, and needs the mount modified. A work in progress!). Picture one shows my 8″ scope in the dome,
Picture two is a half-second shot of M42, (showing some nice colours, I’m pleased, though clouds came over before I could better focus).
Thirdly, the open cluster M38 in Auriga, and another smaller cluster NGC 1907. I’m really pleased that my DSLR can pick up these Messier objects. I’ll look forward to clearer skies and getting my own shots of all the clusters in  Auriga and Gemini. I’d have managed it last night but I was thwarted by clouds.
(Note to self – Leaping Minnow asterism points to smiley face, and M38 is by the face’s right eye.)
Picture four shows detail of the waning moon taken Monday 26th.





Neptune update…

It’s  been three weeks now since my observing visit to the amazing Elan Valley, and I still haven’t written up my observations. It actually seems like such a gargantuan task that I’ve been putting off doing it – and yet I usually enjoy it!
Anyway, whilst browsing my photos I was pleased to see, in the corner of one shot, (I was actually taking a photo of Mars), I’ve captured Neptune again, with a 3.5 second exposure. The image isn’t good quality, I think perhaps due to the planet being right at the edge of the lens. But I can see it, and it’s clearly moved since my last picture.
At 7.85 mag, it’s the dimest major planet, and of course, the furthest, so it’s fun to be able to track its path through the outer reaches of our solar system.

Nep 1b

Neptune 18/10/18



Neptune in Aquarius

I’ve spent the last two nights over at the society’s new observatory. It’s not yet ready to be officially opened, but it’s getting there. Last night it was quite clear, and although there are issues with the scope, (which are hopefully solvable), it was good to see the sky clearing around 00.30 and the winter constellations rising. There’s a good chance it’ll be clear again tonight, so I may be writing up a binocular report soon.
Anyway, I was at the observatory with another society member, and we were looking for Neptune. The Moon was right by it, and only a few days away from full, so the planet was lost to the Moon’s glare. But I do have some pictures taken with my DSLR from earlier in the week. I’ve been watching Neptune for the past three or four weeks. It’s heading ‘eastwards’.
Here’s the star field view, which I find by star-hopping from the two rightmost stars in the square of Pegasus. Find those, then go down the same distance down, then go a bit further down . . . (not very scientific, I know, but it works for me..) and here’s the view…


That’s with a 2.5 second exposure, f3.5 6400 ASA. A bit grainy, but it picks Neptune up…


Zoomed in, and compared with a screen capture from Stellarium, the faint dot is confirmed as the remote planet…


Cropped image from DSLR 50mm lens 18/102018 2.5 seconds f3.5 6400 ASA


Stellarium screencap for 18/10/2018

Neptune is mag 7.9 through November. I’m hoping to get more photos to show its movement. I did the same with Jupiter earlier in the year, but now I have a better lens to do it with, (a 50mm Canon EF, it says on the side). As I said, it was lost to the glare of the Moon last night, and in the city it’d almost certainly be lost to the streetlight haze. The photos above I took from the A41, about seven miles from the city. I haven’t bothered putting the small 4″ on Neptune. Uranus displays only a small disc through a much larger telescope, so I doubt I’d see a disc through the little Skywatcher. The society’s 16″ mirror, on the other hand, might well present us with a disc, as soon as the mirror is cleaned!

One last shot of the Moon and Mars on the 18/10.2018. A very pretty sight indeed!