Random thoughts and observations

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Archive 1 (Start  to  22/03/00) Archive 2 (27/03/00 to 9/06/00)



Thanks to Phil Chambers in the Nexstar Egroup I've been able to identify a couple of the photographs I took with my Olympus 2020Z digital camera a few weeks ago.  The camera was mounted piggyback on the Nexstar but unfortunately not aligned correctly. In desperation I posted a message in the group to see if anyone could identify the stars and Phil came through with the information after doing various checks using The Sky software. Phil determined that the camera was about 8 degrees out of alignment with the telescope tube. Armed with this information I worked out that a group of stars on one image was the open cluster Collinder 399 in the constellation Vulpecula. You can look at the 33k picture and read more details here.


Last night was the first in weeks with no cloud and a reasonably dark sky. After finding M57 so easily on the 8 June I decided to give it another shot at higher magnification. Centering it in the FOV I switched to the 15mm LV with the Celestron Barlow. Even though it was still dim the ring seemed to fill at least a quarter of the FOV at 166x.  This time the shape reminded me of an orange with the ring being its very thick peel. The central  section was really dark in contrast to the "peel". I know the central star is about mag 14 but that didn't stop me looking for it. Needless to say I didn't catch even a glimpse of it. 

During the next few hours I took a look at a few more Globular and Open Clusters. M12 and M14 in Ophiuchus were the first on my list. With the constellation low in the South both these Globular Clusters were very dim,  in fact I almost missed both of them as they were so faint. Panning backwards and forwards helped a great deal to distinguish them from the background sky glow. Then it was back to Lyra and M56. This was tiny but reasonably bright, probably because Lyra is just about overhead now from my location. At this point my Nexstar "died", stone dead and I had to switch off and start again. My list of things to look at in Cygnus included 5 Open Clusters and M27 (the Dumbbell Nebula).  Well, I got tired before getting to M27 but I caught M39, M29, NGC 6871 and finally NGC6910 before calling it a day and going indoors to watch Aliens on the television. Sketches for all these objects have now been added to the sketches page.

I've decided to re-organize this site again as some of the pages, particularly this one and sketches, are getting too unwieldy. I'll be breaking "scratchings" into current and archive pages and the "sketches" into a number of sub-pages based on the type of object.  Watch this space!


Not much astronomy in the past week as I've been in Amsterdam. Today I've completed the first part of the site facelift and re-organized this page (as you've probably seen already).


I'm not too happy with the re-organization of the sketches pages I made recently so I've decided to change the design again.  Instead of listing the sketches by date drawn all on a page I'll be doing what most others seem to do and list them by number and link from the number to the appropriate sketch.

The sky glow was pretty bright last night so my view of the sky was very poor. The sketches I made of  NGC 6633 and 6229 illustrate this clearly. In particular I almost missed NGC 6229 as it was so faint but I finally managed to catch it with averted vision, just.  This poor viewing also probably accounts for my utter failure to find NGC 6885, 6940, 6830, 6823, 6791 and 6811.  All these small Open Clusters should be visible but I probably just caught the brightest members of the cluster and thought I'd missed them.  After the viewing I checked in Cartes du Ciel and some of the patterns did look familiar so maybe that's the answer. 


Another re-organization has been completed on the sketches page.  Instead of links to other pages I've implemented a small Javascript routine to load the images when a named link is selected.  I've tested it with versions 4 and 5 of Netscape and IE but if anyone has problems please let me know.


Sketches of the Open Clusters NGC 6866 and Stephenson 1 have been added and M16 should be included in the next few days. Interestingly a couple of the stars in NGC 6866 I drew don't appear in the databases I use with Cartes du Ciel. The Tycho catalogue goes down to Mag 11.5 so I can only assume these stars are a little dimmer than that. Of course the sketch may just be wrong!

The last three weeks have been very frustrating.  Fine clear days but cloudy nights. Last night it was both clear and dark by about 10:30 pm so I rushed out to get some observing completed.  I'd previously prepared a list of objects that should have been visible in the part of sky I can see from my back garden and after a quick 2 star alignment started going through the list. The first three were not to be found and guessing the alignment was a little off did another alignment using Vega and Deneb and this time managed to get it a little better. As well as the two objects I mentioned I also had my first view of M16, just, as it was very low in the sky and almost obscured by a tree.  The Globular Cluster M7 was even lower and so dim against the sky glow to be almost invisible.

I've been wearing tinted glasses for the past few years but it was only recently that I realized how much they affect my night vision. As far as I can tell I loose something like half a magnitude. This isn't too bad when doing an alignment because the stars are bright enough to see clearly.  It really becomes noticeable when viewing through the eyepiece and trying to do the sketches. I've now started to view without my glasses which means I'm continually taking them off and putting them on as I go from eyepiece to sketch.

Fame at last!  Alistair Thomson has used a few of my sketches on his website aimed at users of small aperture telescopes. Pay him a visit  at http://oliver-wiles.50megs.com



Way back in February I wrote about my first efforts at piggyback photography with my old Russian 35mm camera and the Nexstar. Later I bought the Olympus 2020z digital camera and relegated the old camera to a cupboard. Recently it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to see whether I could re-photograph the slides I took back then to a digital format using the Olympus.  I'd done something similar using a slide copier with the 35mm camera but I could find no mention of a similar slide copier for digital cameras; everyone seemed to be interested in transparency adaptors for normal flatbed scanners. A posting to the Newsgroup rec.photo.digital produced details of the Olympus Europe web site and references to the FFS-35 copier. To cut a long story short I managed to get one a couple of weeks ago and last week the CLA-1 adapter which allows it to connect to my 2020z. A copy I made of a Pleiades slide is below and shows that whilst not perfect the copier does indeed produce acceptable results.



I've been a busy little beaver in the past week and logged a bunch of objects from a fairly dark site in Dorset. It used to be even darker but the local council seem to have installed a defective street light about half a mile away. Instead of shining on to the ground it casts its light at right angles, illuminating the whole countryside around. Fortunately it didn't stop me from seeing the Milky Way for only the second time ever and the smudge of M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy) with the naked eyed for the first time.  M31 is too big to get into the FOV of any of my eyepieces but I took a look anyway and clearly saw the bright core.  The bonus was M32 down and to the left a bit in the same FOV.

I've read that M71 is one of the loosest Globular Clusters and for some time was mistaken for a tight Open Cluster. My new sketch shows that whilst the center remains un-resolved even the 5 inch Nexstar can pick out some of the brighter outlying stars.

As far as I'm aware NGC 7209 doesn't have a common name in the same vein as M44 is called "The Beehive Cluster". This is a shame as I think the configuration of stars is very suggestive of a certain Scandinavian animal. I know it's not snappy but I'd like to propose that from now on it should be called "The three legged Rheindeer with the big antlers cluster".  Just because Stephen J. O'Meara is well known it doesn't mean he can have the monopoly on seeing strange shapes in the sky.

My viewing companion for most nights was my nephew Oliver with his 4.5 inch Newtonian reflector. I've been told to mention his site at www.pokemonparty.com/members/oj


The last few months have been disasterous for viewing. Since September London seems to have been under an almost permanent cover of cloud. There have been a few clear nights but last night was really the first opportunity I've had to view. The plan was to try more astrophotography with the Olympus 2020z and get a shot of Jupiter which is well placed at the moment between the houses and trees that surround me.  I took some eyepiece projection shots with the camera lens pressed against the eyepiece (a Celestron 26mm coupled to a 2x Barlow). A few came out but they are fuzzy and dim, even so a few coloured bands on the planet are visible.


After a year with the Nexstar 5 I just couldn't resist the lure of a larger scope.  I did consider the Nexstar 8 but the Meade LX-90 looked too good to pass up.  A couple of weeks ago I finally took delivery of one of the first batch of the scope to reach the U.K. When I stepped into the Astronomy-World shop in Farnborough to pick up my order and I saw their LX-90 on shop display I almost did a double-take.  I hadn't until then realized how different an 8 inch would be compared to a 5 inch.  The LX-90 is BIG and heavier but still just on the right side of being portable.  The steel tripod is really solid and in comparison to the aluminium Nexstar tripod appears much more stable and less prone to the effects of knocking it accidentally with a knee or foot.  Optically I can't really make a comparison yet as I've only managed to get out with it twice since I brought it home.  However, last week I did see M81 and M82, dim but clear. I should be adding these sketches to the site soon.

Both times I used it a couple of  things struck me.  First is the noise, or lack of.  In maximum slew mode (speed 9) it's much noisier than a Nexstar performing a similar action.  Noise is also evident down to speed 6 but it's more on the scale of the noise the Nexstar produces.  It's only when you get down to below 6 that you appreciate how quiet the scope is in normal operation.  Slewing at these slow speeds is both very quiet and smooth - in fact you can hardly hear any noise at all at these speeds.

Secondly, I was very impressed with the accuracy of the GOTO and tracking.  Even in this learning phase using the telescope I managed to get every object within the FOV of the 26mm Plossl eyepiece.  What's more it stayed in the FOV for as long as I wanted it remain there with no appreciable drift at all.  To give you an example I left the scope  tracking M35 for over 90 minutes and when I came back and checked it seemed to be in exactly the same position. 

So where does this leave my Nexstar 5? In the box waiting for me to sell it, is the answer. 

To reflect the change of telescope I've decided to give this site a more general name and move away from the specific telescope reference in the title. The content will remain effectively the same except any further sketching, writing and general messing about will be with the new LX-90.


I wrote in December last year that viewing in London had been a disaster.  The situation has been just the same since my notes written in February; cloud, cloud and yet more cloud.  I reckon I've used the LX-90 only twice since then and both times for very short periods.

On the few chances I get to go outside I view whilst perched on a set of kitchen steps. These aren't adjustable so in many situations they are at the wrong height for comfortable viewing. A search of the Internet led to a few sites with plans for constructing astronomical viewing couches/seats/stools but even though they looked relatively easy to make I know that with my lack of skills I didn't have any hope of making them. stoolI then came across details of an adjustable wooden stool available at Argus but that looked to be the wrong height as well, that is until a visit to see LX-90 owner Peter Vasey.  I saw that he had a wooden adjustable seat and it did indeed appear to be suitable after all.  This weekend I bought what I believe is the exact same stool from a FOCUS Do It All warehouse for 14.99 ( a bit more expensive than Argus). 

Here's a picture of it.  The height is adjustable from a maximum of 27 inches down to a low of 19 inches. Since taking the picture I've painted the bare wood with a dark preservative and nailed small rubber bungs to the feet to give it a little more grip on the ground.


A tubular shield can be useful both for delaying the build-up of dew and also providing some degree of protection from stray light entering the OTA.  I've seen many comments from North American telescope owners about using flexible camping mats to make these tubes but always assumed such things were impossible to come by in the U.K.  That is until I checked out a Millets store in Staines last week.  They do indeed have devices called a "Hike Mat" for 4.99  The mat is made from low density polyethylene and measures 1800 x 500 x 8mm.  One side is silver and the other black.  To make the tube I cut the length to the circumference of the LX-90 and added half and inch or so to accommodate an overlap.  On the overlap I stuck long strips of Velcro for attaching the two ends together. When not in use just pull the Velcro apart and the shield stores flat.  Here's a picture of my LX-90 with the shield in place.



A couple of people have asked me what the originals of my sketches look like. Click on the links below to see two examples from yesterdays session.

M71    .    NGC 6826