Saturn and Sagittarius

Saturn is in Sagittarius now, and a wonderful sight it is. It’s a great time for planets, with Mars, Saturn and Jupiter in the sky towards the south/southwest. I’m hoping to get an image of Mars later tonight. But first, a few things from an observing session earlier this week.
Sagittarius has more Messier objects than any other, fifteen according to my Universe From Your backyard book. I took my new 52mm Canon lens out to Boscabel House and managed to capture a few Sagittarius deep-sky objects with an 8 second exposure. It’s a fantastic constellation to do a binocular sweep on, and I also saw M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. Naughtily, I didn’t make notes, so, clear skies permitting, I’ll re-visit them tonight. I also used the 4″ Heritage on M8, M20 and M11 and had fine views of all of them. I’m pretty sure I haven’t studied M8 before, and certainly not in recent years.


Before leaving Sagittarius, here’s a more natural-looking picture of Saturn from almost a month ago, from the same spot.

Despite not having astronomical darkness, I also tried some long exposure shots of the area around Deneb, in Cygnus. On this quite badly-coloured shot, I can make out the North American Nebula.

And lastly, M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. How sad to think that under a truly dark sky, this isn’t far away from what you’d see with the naked eye. This took an eight second exposure.


Planets and open clusters

We’ve had a great run of clear skies. The night doesn’t get truly dark till after midnight, so I’ve not been arranging observing sessions for the club. I did take my Skywatcher out for a rare ‘roadside session’ the other night, because I particularly wanted to image Saturn. I took a minute film and did the usual Pipp/Autostakkert/Registrax thing, though I’m still not convinced I’m using the things right. But I got an identifiable shot, that is better than what I’ve got before of this planet. I think it’s a little over-sharpened.

The planets are putting on a fine display at the moment. Venus the brightest in the West, dipping below the horizon about 11.40. Jupiter is quite high, with Saturn to the left, lower, dimmer, and Mars to the left of Saturn, rising around idnight, very bright and red (though I didn’t capture the ruddiness in my shot from Pattingham below).


The photo of Saturn above was taken on the 23rd June, as was this photo of Jupiter.

Last night I was out again, and once again hooray for the table-top dob. That little 4″ reflector is really so much fun. Through my 9mm eyepiece I can easily see the cloud-bands of Jupiter, and the rings of Saturn. And last night I took in a lovey view of M39, an open cluster in Cygnus. The sky was full of summer haze even in the countryside, but still I managed some deep-sky work. Hercules was overhead, and the great cluster of M13 was surprisingly bright. Back in the early 90’s, I used a 4.5″ mirror a lot, and I’ve forgotten just how useful a small mirror can be.
The Wolverhampton Society has been really busy lately, I’m really pleased. Last month we had a trip to the Spaceguard Center in Knigton, and there’s an observatory project in the pipeline that’s very exciting indeed. I’ll post more about that later, but in the meantime here’s us at the Spaceguard Center, and here’s the observatory, on its way to Wolverhampton.






Summer Solstice Observations

There’s a lot been happening lately with the Astronomical Society. I’ll write that up in a separate entry. It’s quite exciting.
Last night I was able to go to Perton Library Astronomy Group. They’ve got an outside area where telescopes can be set up. It finishes at 9pm, so it didn’t get dark, but we were still able to get some good views of the Sun, Moon, and Venus.

The Moon in particular was fun to map out. I’d got my old Phillips Moon Map with me. Later, back home, I was able to get a photo of one valley that we were particularly interested in. More on that later. Here’s the Southern Highlands around 10.30pm…

There’s always something quite serene about a daytime moon. It’s far less dramatic than the night-time Moon.

Venus is showing about 60% lumination (is that the right word?) now. I’m finding I need glasses to fine-focus on the camera these days, and I forgot them last night, so I suspect I’d have gotten a better shot if I’d got them with me in Perton. But at least the gibbous Moon-like disc of our nearest neighbour can be made out.

Back home, I set the 8″ scope up to get some images of Jupiter, which is relatively high at 11pm now. While I was waiting for it to appear from behind a tree, I saw Vega over the city, and as an experiment, tried to find the Ring Nebula. I was surprised to see it, and was even able to make out the familiar doughnut structure of the gas ‘bubble’. I wondered what difference a light polluting filter would make?
The sky is so bad in Wolverhampton, that I could hardly see Albireo in Cygnus with the naked eye. What a shame. Nevertheless, with a high ISO and a half-second exposure I was able to image the stunning double, and the colours are apparent in the photograph, so I’m pleased.

From Wikki…
Beta Cygni is about 415 light-years (127 pc) away from the Sun. When viewed with the naked eye, Albireo appears to be a single star. However, in a telescope it resolves into a double star consisting of β Cygni A (amber, apparent magnitude 3.1), and β Cygni B (blue-green, apparent magnitude 5.1).[32] Separated by 35 seconds of arc,[17] the two components provide one of the best contrasting double stars in the sky due to their different colors.

And lastly, Jupiter. The seeing was not very good last night, and the planet being above a block of flats too, made it a rather poor object for photography, and I’m still using the software like an idiot, but the red spot (looking disappointingly grey) was facing the Earth. This was 11pm last night. A minute if film steadied in Pipp, stacked with  Autostakkert, and tweaked clumsily in Registrax. I’ve got a copy of Photoshop now, so I really should be capturing in RAW and doing proper tweaking.


Earthshine, Venus and Jupiter

Had a good astro-evening last night. Visited Perton Library Astronomy group, then headed out to Boscabel House ‘observing site’ (such as it is!) and got a shot of the Moon and Venus, which I’m pleased with. 1600 ASA, 1sec, f2.8.


Through the Heritage 100p, with my 9mm eyepiece, I was very pleased with the views of Jupiter too. The cloud bands were easily seen, and once again I was surprised by the capabilities of this £99 telescope. This next picture, however, was taken on the 9th May, with the 8″ mirror on the Skywatcher.


And lastly, the crescent Moon through the 100p. I’ve got more to write up later when I’ve got time, about M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici….


A tour of the Serpent-bearer

Had a nice hour over by Boscabel House with the Opticrom 10x50s. With Jupiter in Libra, I did a tour of Libra, Serpens and Ophiuchus. I found M5 easily, a very bright globular cluster. Far less easy to find were M10 and M12 in Ophiuchus. Very, very faint indeed, and I wouldn’t have seen them had I not known where to look. I’d certainly not have found them by chance, whilst scanning the sky. Special mention goes to the fantastically named, very, very red star, Yed Prior, which means ‘the hand’, according to Wikki.
Galaxies M81 & M82 found easily, as were globular clusters M13 and M92. Loving the Opticroms!

Current Messier list, (which I’d put in a small font size if I knew how!)

  • M1 Supernova Remnant in Taurus (Crab Nebula) (A)
  • M2 Globular Cluster in Aquarius (A)
  • M3 Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici 19/04/18
  • M5 Globular Cluster in Serpens
  • M8 Diffuse Nebula in Sagittarius (A)
  • M10 Globular Cluster in Ophiuchus
  • M12 Globular Cluster in Ophiuchus
  • M13 Globular Cluster in Hercules (‘the ‘Great Cluster’)
  • M16 Open Cluster in Sagittarius (A)
  • M20 Nebula in Sagitta (Triffid) (A)
  • M24 ‘Star Field’ in Sagittarius (A)
  • M27 Dumbell Nebula in Vupecula
  • M31 Galaxy (Andromeda Galaxy)
  • M32 Galaxy (Andromeda ‘companion’)
  • M33 Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum
  • M34 Cluster in Perseus (A)
  • 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
  • M47 Open Cluster Puppis 2018
  • M 51 Galaxy in Canes Venatici (Whirlpool)
  • M52 Open Cluster in Cassiopeia
  • M54 Globular Cluster in Coma Berenices 19/04/18
  • 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)
  • 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)


More Bobbington Observations

Wolverhampton Astronomy Society met at Bobbington again last week, I’ll put up the observation report soon, but in the meantime here’s four pictures related to the session. It was a good ‘un!

Edit – here’s the text

The first weekend of May gave us the best run of clear skies for months, so we arranged an observation session for Tuesday 8th May at our new observation site in Bobbington. This time we moved to a slightly different area of the site, which gave us a better all-round view of the night sky. The usual ‘It’s on!’ text message was sent out at 5:00 pm, giving details of the session, and when I arrived at the site at 9:30 pm, I was pleased to see people were already there assembling scopes and chatting.
Jupiter was rising in the south-east, and from the area of hard-standing where we were setting up, most of the sky was accessible. It was a pleasant, clear, moonless, slightly balmy evening. The sky was still relatively bright at 10:00 pm. Would this impair our search for celestial objects, I wondered.
There were five scopes in use this evening. Two 200p Skywatcher reflectors on EQ mounts, a Skywatcher ED 80 reflector with go-to, a Skywatcher SkyMax-102 AZ Gti, and a Celestron AstroMaster 130. What a fine array of scopes! (Picture 1).
Throughout the session we swapped views in different scopes, and found some scopes gave better aspects than others on different objects. And as is the case with astronomy, it’s not always ‘bigger is better’, (as I drove home later I thought back on how we’d found the faintest object through the smallest telescope!).
Venus in the west and Jupiter in the south-east were easily visible as darkness fell. I’d brought my 8” Skywatcher rather than the society’s Tom Collier Dobsonian because I wanted to try and capture some images of Jupiter, and the Tom Collier won’t allow for the camera attachment.
It was a moonless night, and after aligning our finder scopes and visiting the naked eye open clusters of Cancer (The Beehive) and Coma Berenices, (Melotte 111), it was suggested we looked for nebulae and galaxies. A couple of scopes turned towards Leo, which was perfectly placed, high in the south. We found the galaxies M65 and M66. These were quite a test for our instruments, being 9.3 and 8.4 magnitude respectively, and I made a quick sketch (Picture 2). They are both spiral galaxies, and M65 in particular displays the familiar elongated shape. I found that even through the eight-inch mirror, it was sometimes tricky to see both without using averted vision and ‘relaxed eye’ techniques.
Undeterred by the not quite dark sky, we headed ‘next door’ to Virgo and the area of the sky poetically referred to as the ‘Realm of the Galaxies’. With the help of the SkyMax’s go-to mount, this small but powerful Maksutov-Cassegrain scope found two elliptical galaxies, M84 and M86. With magnitudes of 9.7 and 9.3, these would be the faintest objects we’d see this evening. Again, they were a real test for our eyes. The May sky never gets truly dark before midnight, so to find 9.7 mag galaxies was quite an achievement for the Skymax. We’re looking forward to seeing how it performs under inky-black winter skies.
The galaxy hunt was far from over. The ED 80 was looking at the Sombrero Galaxy in Virgo, an edge-on spiral galaxy some 37 million light-years away. Using averted vision, we could see the elongated shape and brighter nucleus. Its Messier number is M104.
Easier galactic targets were M81 and M82, in Ursa Major, right overhead. M81 – called Bodes Galaxy – being the brighter of the two.
The Celestron AstroMaster (a recent purchase by one of our members), was doing some good planetary work. Jupiter was rising, and through the AstroMaster we were rewarded with some splendid views of all four Galilean moons, in an almost straight line. The disc was beginning to show cloud bands as the planet rose.
The summer constellations of Cygnus and Lyra were rising above the trees in the east, and the Skywatcher reflector found the intriguing ring nebula, looking like a bright, gaseous planet. It seemed much brighter than the 9.3 magnitude given in my Cambridge Deep Sky Atlas.
We also looked at the Great Cluster in Hercules, (M13), and its smaller brother, M92 was also added to the observation list this evening. The great cluster showed mottling in the even in the smallest telescopes, and the 8 inch mirrors revealed stars on the outer edge.
Perseus is quite low now, and situated over the sky glow of Wolverhampton. Because of this, the double cluster was a little underwhelming. Yet it was only a few months ago were given a stunning view of it through the Tom Collier 10″ Dobsonian at our other observation site in Trysull.
The double double in Lyra was split successfully by the SkyMax, and the Celestron AstroMaster took in a fine view of Zubenelgenubi, an optical double in Libra, to the right of Jupiter, just above it. (Picture 3).
With Lyra climbing higher, we took the opportunity to view Albireo, the famous double star at the head of the ‘Swan’. The colours were obvious. The bright gold star contrasting with the smaller blue companion.
I’d waited a few hours before I took some film of Jupiter, (I was waiting for it to get as high as possible), and I was pleased with the result. I put around a minute and twenty seconds of footage through various free astronomy programs to get the final image (picture 4).
We started packing up around midnight, and everyone agreed it had been a productive session again. We’d seen many galaxies, double stars, open and globular clusters and a couple of planets. Perhaps next time we visit Bobbington we’ll be able to see Saturn, which is rising about 2:00 am now. That’s one of the great things about the night sky, it’s constantly changing, and there’s always something new to see.
Once again, thank you to everyone that turned up, and thanks to those that put a couple of quid in the top hat again, to help show our appreciation to Rebecca and the owners of the campsite who are kind enough to let us use their land and amenities.

If you’re interested in attending an observation session, please give a committee member your mobile number and you’ll be put on the text notification list, and will be informed of every upcoming session.

References – The Cambridge Deep Sky Album – Newton & Teece, Cambridge University Press