It’s been a cloudy winter. And cold. I was aching to get out under the stars with my scope, on a clear night with no moon. Sunday, March 15 2020 turned out to be the night. I took the chance and brought the scope out onto the balcony. My daughter, being home with me, was sleeping in her bed, and so I couldn’t head out to darker skies.
I started in Cassiopeia and checked out NGC 663 again, the Lawonmower Cluster. For some time I gazed at it, gradually seeing more and more stars. The more I looked at it the more I realized I wanted to sketch it. Truly a beautiful open cluster. Next I went west onto the Double Cluster in Perseus. NGC 884 and NGC 869 (my favorite of the two). NGC 869 amazes me with its richness of faint stars. Also many colourful stars between the two, orange and blue stars. I would find myself coming back to the Double Cluster a number of times during the night, and comparing it with the Lawnmower Cluster. Next, I followed the chain of stars from NGC 869 to Stock 2, a less concentrated open cluster in Cassiopeia. I also paid visits to M103, NGC 659 (Ying Yang Cluster) and also the Fuzzy Butterfly Cluster, NGC 654. Also dropped by NGC 457, the Dragonfly Cluster (also Owl Cluster or E.T. Cluster ???)
Had a quick look at the Andromeda Galaxy and its companion, Le Gentil, M32. I didn’t spend much time on these as they were getting low in the west and couldn’t get good views. Tried but failed to really see M110, even though I was looking at precisely the right spot. Bortle 6 light pollution.
Did have a decent view of other galaxies though, M81 and M82. The Garland Galaxy, NGC 3077, was also easy to observe. I was getting cold, and after pondering these three distant island universes, I decided to pack it in.
I should also mention that earlier on in my session I observed brilliant Venus in the west. at 127X, I could quite clearly make out its gibbous phase. Finally, a gratifying night of (balcony) astronomy!
After we got home from watching Frozen 2 at the theatre, we saw the sky was clear so out came the scope. Fortunately, very few neighbours with their porch lights on. A very quick tour of the sky (given the cold) the Pleiades, then Double Cluster, M31, and then the Orion Nebula. My photo simply doesn’t do it justice to viewing at the eyepiece.
Bear in mind this is taken with a Samsung phone camera, looking through the 26mm ep on my 10″ Meade Lightbridge plus. In very bad light pollution, to top it all off.
Afterwards I hunted around in Taurus for the Crab Nebula but couldn’t find it, thanks to the light pollution of my urban sky.
Here is a gallery of Orion Nebula photos I’ve taken so far.
This weekend I decided to revisit Fabricland for some material to make a light shroud.
I settled for some black fabric called ‘Sleek Suede’ that cost me under 10 bucks. Strong, heavy and stretchy, this material immediately jumped out at me as the ideal stuff for the light shroud on a dobsonian telescope.
First I cut the material I had purchased to a 27″ by 38″ rectancle. Along one long edge (the side that would be sewn to the other to make the open tube shape of the light shroud) I pinned a hem with safety pins. Once this was done I got busy with the sewing. I used white thread for the contrast with the black fabric. (just kidding, I used white thread because that’s all I really have)
See the pictures in this gallery to get an idea of the light shroud I made for my scope.
Also pictured is the cover for my secondary mirror I made out of a cleaned, empty plastic jar of Resolve. Made some carefully drawn lines to saw down on the container and now it fits over the spider veins of the secondary mirror quite nicely, and screwing the cap back on secures the whole thing nicely.
We have a group of corydoras in our aquarium and lately they have started spawning. Typically, there is frenetic activity in the tank with one of the smaller males constantly following and bothering the big female. She’s about 2 inches long, maybe a bit more and fat – so full of eggs you can see them.
When they spawn, the female puts her eggs around the tank, a little bit all over.
I separated the eggs out and into a little aquarium with no other fish.
After a few days the eggs started hatching.
Notice that bulge around them, that is their yolk sacs. That is what they feed off of for the first 1 – 3 days. After that, they need to start being introduced to fish food.
A few weeks ago we noticed that our corydoras had spawned a bunch of eggs all over the aquarium. Over a few days all the eggs went away and we never saw any baby fish.
We had more or less forgotten that the fish had laid eggs. Yeserday, as she observed into the aquarium, Sophia let out a shout, “a baby!” she exclaimed. I had a look and sure enough, this little guy was swimming around in there looking for food.
This tiny baby corydora is just 1 cm long. We haven’t spotted any others, so we think it’s the sole survivor of all the eggs we saw a few weeks ago.
The crazy part is, that today, the big fat mamma corydora started spawning again. Here are a few.
I always look for opportunities to go out with my telescope around the new moon. The allure of the dark, clear skies was calling me last night, and having booked the following day off work, I resolved to head up to my dark-sky location for sundown and prepare for a night of stargazing.
One thing I was planning on doing for the first time last night, however, was to make my first attempt at doing drawings of my observations. I’ve prepared a sketchbook to make observations and take notes in.
I started with Jupiter.
In my initial drawing at 9:25 PM, the Great Red Spot wasn’t visible. Later in the night, approximately at 11:30, it was there! Note, I added the name of the jovian moons later when I was able to confirm their positions using Stellarium (https://stellarium.org/)
Later I did Saturn.
Again, using Stellarium, I was able to identify the moons. Titan is very bright. Here is a screenshot from Stellarium (you have to put in the date and time of the observation and the program shows you the moons positions)
Staying in Sagittarius, I moved on to M8, the Lagoon Nebula. It was my first time observing it. My drawing simply doesn’t do it justice. It is a breathtaking nebula and star-cluster.
My diagram below shows other targets I was hoping to observe. A tree got in the way of some, but I also had amazing views of the Trifid Nebula, M22 (beautiful globular cluster) NGC 6638, M28 and the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud.
Another drawing I did that I am fairly pleased with is of M27, The Dumbbell Nebula.
Again with notes of other objects I observed in ths part of the sky (Between Sagitta and Vulpecula)
My experience taught me that doing good sketches of these objects is rather time-consuming. I felt that there wasn’t enough time to do drawings that would do what I was seeing justice. I will be doing astro-sketching again in the future, but I think from now on I will select one object to do a drawing of per night out, I simply prefer to enjoy the observing.
As summer progresses, I am getting better and better views of the Andromeda galaxy. it is SPECTACULAR. It alone almost warrants buying a higher focal-length eyepiece. Temptation! Last night was also the first time I have observed M33, The Triangulum galaxy.
After what seems like weeks on end without any clear skies, last night the clouds finally scattered and I was able to bring the telescope out onto the balcony for a bit of limited observing. The moon is nearly full, and from within a class 6 Bortle zone, things are going to be that much more difficult. However, I feel at this point I have nearly perfected my technique for collimating my 10-inch dob, with the help of the laser collimator. I plugged in the primary-mirror fan, and waited for it to get darker.
I started the night of observing with NGC 2281, the Broken Heart Cluster. Here I tested out my 2-inch X2 barlow to double the magnification of my 26mm wide-view eyepiece. That closer look made it easier to get in closer to the central little knot of stars.
Next I wanted to see if I could spot my old favorites M81 and M82. After some quick searching (and again being reminded by how much I dislike the laser red-dot finder) I found them.
This screenshot only approximates the view through the telescope. But even with a near full-moon, from city skies, I could still make out some details in M81. In M82 also I could just make out some of the central structure of this starburst galaxy. Of course the view above is flipped upside down through the scope, so that through the 26mm eyepiece, the Cigar galaxy (M82) is on the left and M81 is on the right. A little ways west of these and I could just make out NGC 3077 (pictured here at the top of this screenshot from Stellarium).
And on to new discoveries. The next galaxy I wanted to spot is a bit further west and much farther out into space than the M81 group. From the Alhaud V and 26 Ursa-Majoris pair of stars, I headed north to HIP 46168 and HIP45836. Just a bit west of these is also HIP 45965, and there was the faint-fuzzy I was after, NGC 2841, The Tiger’s Eye Galaxy.
Stellarium truly is an excellent guide to the amateur astronomer who may be observing some of these objects for the first time. I can’t wait to get a chance in the next couple weeks, hopefully, when the moon will be waning and rising very late at night, so that I can head out to my dark sky site and make better observations of these.
My goodness. I almost forgot to mention, I also saw ISS through the scope this night! The ISS app on my phone alerted me that there would be a flyover in the next 5 minutes, So I was ready. When it appeared, I had an easy time spotting the bright slow moving space-station in the scope and following it for a bit. Of course, with it’s rapid motion, it was difficult to make out any structural detail. Would I have been able to even if it had been stationary?
So tonight I got the opportunity to take out my new scope again, to the same spot up in Masham where we went last time. Another night spent freezing my ass off, but well worth it. Once I got out there, I was amazed once again by the ease of carrying and setting up in the right spot. I was only out about a 100 yards or so in the field from the road, and 3 trips was all it took to get all my gear out there. The only two parts that are a bit more on the heavy side are the dobsonian mount and the bucket with the mirror. The secondary mirror assembly is light as a feather, as are the truss-tubes. As daylight faded, I installed the laser red-dot viewfinder (which I’m not really fond of) and had it aligned with the scope.
You can see I have the red dot centred on the top of a tree. I had already centred the top of the tree in the main eyepiece view. This made finding objects somewhat easier than on last Saturday, when I guess I hadn’t set up the red-dot finder properly. This time around I found my targets much more easily and quickly.
I started the evening off with Sirius. I wanted to test if the alignment of the red-dot finder was still good and I pointed it to the bright, white star. Before even approaching the eyepiece I could see brilliant light shining from it. Looking in, yes, there was Sirius. Now I wanted to put Stellarium to the test. With night mode on, I was able to look at the star charts on my phone without losing my light-adapted vision. From Canis Major I moved up into Orion and looked at M42- the Orion Nebula. Even though it wasn’t even quite dark out yet, the nebulosity was distinct and so was the Trapezium, the four stars that aren’t even a light-year apart. What did I look at next?
The Pleiades – what a sight! Followed by,
Mars! -dissapointing. Mars is now too distant to be really seen well, and sadly, I don’t have an eyepiece with the magnification to do it justice.
The Double-Cluster between Cassiopeia and Perseus. M103, NGC 436 and 457. Moving back West past Capella, M36 and M35. M67, the Golden Eye cluster in Cancer, and then the Beehive Cluster (Praesepe – Manger). The night was going great. The sky kept getting darker and more and more star-clusters began to appear. Looking east and I could see Arcturus rising. I kept looking at Leo and the Big Dipper, thinking about how I was going to star-hop to hunt for some galaxies. I started looking for Bodes Galaxy. I wanted to see it, as well as M82, the neighbouring Cigar Galaxy. Once again I ran into trouble with the finder-scope. No matter how much tried to line the red dot with where I thought Althiba V is, I couldn’t find the little triangle of stars that would guide me to VII and then M81. Couldn’t spot ’em.
Then I got a visit from the fox. He kept his distance from me but still sniffed at my backpack and telescope gear. Poor boy, I had no food with me to offer him, and he quickly left. A quick pause and I was back to it. I decided to leave my frustration with Bodes behind, and continued my stellar journey into Leo. Here I had better luck with the finder and lining up Chertan. Below Chertan is Theta Leo, Eta Leo, and HIP 55254, HIP 54688 and a line of fainter stars below that form a sort of kite shape. Just east of the kite’s tail is the Leo Triplet. And there it was. I was looking at three galaxies, M65, M66 and NGC 3628, the Hamburger Galaxy all between 35 to 45 million light-years away! Back to the Big Dipper, and this time it’s M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. Absolutely beautiful.
I was starting to feel cold, but I kept going. Stellarium showed me that an asteroid, Pallas, a boulder 440 kilometres across was in the neighbourhood. I was able to star-hop from Arcturus, in Bootes, to the asteroid, quite a contrast – an object 238 million km away compared to the others – 35 million light-years that I had seen earlier. Higher up in the sky another quick search and M3, the great globular star cluster a mere 34 thousand light-years away appeared. Just on the very edge of vision I could make out the faint 500,000 or so stars it’s comprised of. This object really made an impression on me. I’m stoked to see what M13 will look like later in the year.
I was really starting to feel cold. I decided on one last look at Orion and then I’d pack it up. By now, the Orion Nebula was so bright against the dark sky that I decided to try it – to take a picture through the eyepiece with my phone. To my amazement, with multiple tries (I deleted a good number of shots that were no good) I got the pic at the top of this article. It’s not a great photo of the Orion Nebula, but it’s mine. And I took it with a cellphone camera (mind you I have a Galaxy S9+ 😉 ) through the eyepiece of my 10″ dobsonian reflector!
It was a good night. I got home by 10:45 and still had time to put things away, and write this article. I can’t wait to go out again, when I will have received my Nikon t-ring adapter for my DSLR camera as well as the remote shutter release device I’m getting from ebay. But that will be another post.
These were some more pics of tonights dark-sky site.
I finally got a new telescope. I had been itching to buy one for a while now. About a year ago I got the idea that it would be great to reboot my old astronomy hobby. As a kid, I was the proud owner of a decent 70mm refractor on an equatorial mount and tripod. I had spent hundreds of hours probably, scanning the skies, even in minus 25 degree weather, looking at the moon, planets, star-clusters … I had always felt a bit of disappointment at not being able to see nebulae or galaxies. Nevertheless, seeing Jupiter and his moons, or Saturn and its rings provided views I will never forget. The scope even had lunar and solar eyepieces (I had no idea the risk I was taking by looking at the sun with that sketchy filter) – I can’t for the life of me remember the brand of the scope, but it was pretty good. I had gotten it at Christmas, a gift from my mother who was keenly aware of my interest in science and nature.
I don’t even know what it was that has recently re-awakened my interest in the night sky. I think it was always there, but recently, I began thinking about it more and more. I think I also became aware, about a year ago, about a shop in town where they sell all kinds of telescopes (Focus Scientific – https://focusscientific.com/) once I paid them a visit and saw all those telescopes, I knew what I had to do. Initially I had hoped to buy a big Newtonian on a Go-To equatorial mount such as the Celestron 8″ reflector on the Advanced VX mount, perhaps hook up my DSLR and do some astrophotography. However, I later decided to go with something a bit more affordable – for now, and settled for the Meade 10″ Lightbridge Plus Dobsonian. Astrophotography will have to wait a couple more years.
Setting up the scope took me about a half an hour. As luck would have it, the sky cleared, and I went out into the crisp March air for some views. Even though the moon was nearly full tonight, I still managed to see the Orion Nebula and The Pleiades. Of course, the moon stole the show.
I can’t wait for some clear dark skies, so that I can hunt for the Leo Triplet and the Whirlpool galaxy.
By the way, the moon photo was taken by carefully positioning the camera of my Samsung Galaxy S9+ against the eyepiece -the photo simply doesn’t do the live view justice, but it gives you an idea of the view.