Friday, 23 September 2016

The Astronomy Shed

Tal1 110mm reflector - Tasco 40mm refractor

If you want to make the most of your telescope, my advise would to be build yourself an observatory.

Back in April of 2011 I was fortunate enough to be given what to many would be firewood, but to me it was  the makings of a garden observatory.

Originally the "firewood"  had been a 7x5 foot garden shed, but due to age plus neglect the corners and part of the base had become moldy and rotten.

Taking shape

Luckily I was able to salvage a fair amount of the wooden side panels, though the roof was completely past it.

In all I had enough decent wood to make a 6x5 foot shed structure.

The footings of the new shed comprised of driftwood that we found on nearby Newgale beach.

The roof was another matter....
It had to be as light as possible, as I wanted it to slide out of the way when observing the night sky.

Looking better

After a bit of head scratching I decided to fit a tarpaulin over the roof framework that I had constructed.

The total cost of the astronomy shed was a bag of nails and a dozen or so bolts.

Even the tarpaulin was free, as we had found it abandoned in a music festival some two years previously.

Over the last five years this little observatory served me well.

I made countless observations of Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and a variety of open clusters, globulars and double stars were all captured and recorded from this little shed.

The observatory never leaked, and the roof stood up to the battering of five blustery winters.

I did have to change the roof cover once, but that was due to the Sun's UV light weakening the tarpaulin...  it became brittle and one windy day it fell apart .

Every year I would give it a coat of timber care paint, and make sure all panels and hinges were safe and secure.  Here are a few more photos:

White Tal1: ready for the night sky
A new coat of paint

White Tal1 "Excellent little scope"

As my telescope was in an observatory, set up time was reduced to a minimum.

Telescope alignment was already done, and the eyepieces were already in place.

It took me just over a minute to go outside, loosen the four roof ties and slide the roof back and start observing.

Many a time in those five years the gaps in the clouds only allowed a quick five minute viewing window, just long enough to take an observation from the comfort of the astronomy shed.

If my telescope had been indoors, it would not have been worthwhile taking it outside to attempt that five minute observation.

Red Tal

I calculated the observatory in total cost me approximately £30 to build.

If memory serves, this "red" Tal1 reflector telescope also cost £30 from a local boot fayre....

So in total I was fully kitted out for observing the night sky, from the comfort of a dedicated observatory,..........  all for the cost of £60....!

Astronomy does not have to be expensive.

Clear Skies


Monday, 5 September 2016

The moving month of August.

Our new house ... Third in from the right.. Preseli Hills in the background... just joking!

Recently we moved house, and due to the chaos that ensued I have been unable to sit at the computer and write up any blog posts.

Today is the first day that I have sat at the desktop for maybe three weeks.

In that three weeks Helen and I have moved all our worldly possessions some 30 miles north of the county. It took several van loads to finally shift all of our shackles.

We are now settling down in our new home...  When people say moving house is stressful, I know what they mean.!

First job... where to site an observatory....  haha !

Even though house moving had been much on our mind, in that time we did manage a few good August evenings of observing.

The nights that stand out where the evenings spent at the wonderful Fforest Gather 2016, near Cilgerran.

Thanks to the kind invite of owners James, Sian and their son Jackson, Helen and I were able to host several observing sessions.

Out of the six possible evenings that were booked, three were clear enough to do some observing.

The first evening revealed a beautiful near full Moon, a fairly clear Saturn and a slightly murky looking Mars.

The big old Moon was the one that stood out, and a line of eager curious astronomers quickly formed.

Several children and adults, (big HELLO to George, Joanne and Linda), could be heard saying "wow" as they looked on at the Moon.

The second night's viewing wasn't that good, but at least a few people managed to see big bright Vega and a quick peek at Arcturus....

Even though the evening was mostly cloud filled it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, and many questions were asked about all things astronomical.

The last evening was by far the best for observing, Saturn and Mars stood out well, though Saturn was the main attraction.

Waiting for the star light
For over an hour there was a continuous line to catch a glimpse of the ringed planet.

The children especially loved looking at this most beautiful of night time gems.

Between 9.00pm and 11.30pm the telescope was in constant use, mainly trained on Saturn.

So many people turned up on that last evening, we should have brought another telescope..!

Next time for sure..

Thank You James, Sian and Jackson and all the Fforest elves for making Helen and I feel so welcome...

You have some beautiful clear skies and night views at Fforest farm....

An astronomer's paradise....


Time to gather pencil and paper.

For the next few weeks I'm hoping to draw some sketches of Saturn before it dips too far into the west.

With luck I might even draw a few of Mars...  

After that it will be galaxy and nebulae season for the big scope.

I've never really tried my hand at sketching Deep Space objects....
It should be interesting to see the results as viewed through "Oscar" the big Dobsonian.

Clear September Skies 

Mark & Helen

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Perseids... No sleep tonight..!

"The ether never blazed with  futile  fires. " Manilius 

Tonight and early tomorrow morning the darkened skies will blaze with the fires of the Perseids. .. well I hope it will.

The forecast doesn't looks to promising,  but that has never stopped this optimistic astronomer from ever setting out the deckchairs.

This year's shower is apparently going to deliver more meteors than last year.. I can't wait.... !
Again.... the best time to observe will be from midnight tonight until early morning. Or in my case from midnight until I fall asleep in the deckchair....!

I hope wherever you are, that you have clear skies and the opportunity to catch some of those falling stars...

Note to self: remember to make chai tea this afternoon..

Clear Perseids skies


Sunday, 31 July 2016

Perseids.. just around the corner..

It's that time of year again.....the Perseids are back..! 

Every August the deck chairs are dragged out of the shed, and the chai tea is prepared.

Then, for the next few weeks the Perseid meteor shower will be much on my mind.

This annual celestial fireworks display is probably one of my favourite naked eye astronomical events.

The peak of this year's event will be on the evening of the 11th into the early hours of the 12th.

Which for me means pulling an all night observing session through until early day break.

With any luck the skies will be clear, and I will be completely knackered from my all night vigil...!

The Perseid shower is one of the best meteor showers to observe. Many people are on holiday at this time of year, so  staying up all night is less of a problem.

Plus the weather is usually warmer, meaning we can all sit outside for longer periods of time.

Though you will usually still need some warm clothing at hand for observations between midnight and Sun up the next day..

Here's one of my Perseid observations from last year's log book:

"Over the first hour I spotted 13 meteors, mostly short trails and about magnitude 3 in brightness.

Most of those motes of dust were headed towards the direction of Cassiopiea and Auriga.
Some would say that 10 meteors an hour wasn't that many, but in that hour I was able to wander off into daydreams, or is it "night dreams"!

Those gaps between the shooting stars allowed me time to dream of past eclipses, of splitting double stars, flying over the Moon and surfing the Milky Way....

I didn't really mind if I spotted a meteor or not, to just sit and ponder the Perseids has always been as fascinating to me as actually seeing a Perseid.

As if on cue at 2.00am a first magnitude meteor streaked across the square of Pegasus, the brightest of the night, and its trail fit exactly between one side of the square and the other.

Within the next ten minutes I spotted another 10 meteors, mostly heading northwards towards Cassiopea". 

August 13th 2015 

Capturing the Perseids

28mm -  f3,5 - 1600ISO - 45 seconds

Above is the one and only Perseid picture I have ever captured.

This image was taken with a digital SLR camera, with around 45 seconds of exposure.

The trouble I find with digital SLR cameras is that the shutter staying open for long periods of time is dependant on the condition of the battery. I don't trust the battery to perform for the long exposures that I require.

Plus, leaving a camera out all evening might allow night dew to find its way into the camera body.

The last thing an electronic digital camera wants is water ingress across its circuits!

Zenit 12xp "Battered" 35mm SLR
This year to avoid that possible headache I'm going to set up my old battered mechanical "no battery required" Russian Zenit 35mm film camera.

If need be I can leave the Zenit shutter open all evening without a problem.

Those Russian cameras are built like tanks.

Leaving a £500 digital camera out overnight on a tripod is not something I would happily try.

But leaving a £1  Zenit "tank" outside overnight is not a problem....!

With any luck over the coming month, I will capture several "long exposure" meteor trails.

Also I have never tried capturing meteors with good old fashioned 35mm film...

I'm looking forward to the results.

Final thoughts:

Even though it will be fun to capture the Perseids, I don't aim to be spending that much time fussing and fiddling with cameras, tripods and film.

For me the enjoyment of meteor watching is simple.

Grab yourself a good deckchair, failing that a decent dry grassy spot and sit back and ponder the Universe.

For many of us, our daily lives are saturated with stress and fear.

We all need quiet moments to recharge and reflect.

These warm August "Meteor" nights allow us that time to recharge, reflect and dream.

Vincent Van Gogh had it right when he said-

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. Vincent Van Gogh
Read more at:
For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. Vincent Van Gogh
Read more at:
“I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream".

Fingers crossed for some Perseid fireworks

Clear August skies


p.s. Don't forget the Chai tea ...  :-)