Friday, 14 October 2016

Chasing Orion's stellar nursery.

Wide awake 3.00 am... outside the stars were shining brightly.
I didn't want to disturb Helen, so I tried to get back to sleep.... no chance! 

I couldn't see Orion through the low south facing window,  but I knew he was there, hanging in the sky, just waiting for a chance to show off. 

I started thinking about the Orion nebula...

Here's a sketch that I made of the nebula... almost 10 years ago...!

Stellar Nursery M42 the Orion Nebula - 150mm Newtonian reflector. 2006

In those ten years I have observed the nebula through various instruments, from 40mm refractors to an 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain.

This morning I would be able to observe with an even larger aperture.
I've been waiting since June to unleash "Oscar" our 12 inch Newtonian onto this most wonderful of stellar nurseries.

I lay in bed for maybe another ten minutes... I couldn't take it anymore, I had to go outside and start observing. 

Helen woke up about the same time, and was also eager to catch a glimpse of Orion's splendid star nursery.

Oscar & Mark

This morning's seeing was between Antoniadi II and III... best conditions for a long while.

Also the outside temperature was ideal for light clothing, and not a cloud to spoil the view.  

Within the next hour Helen and I managed to view the Orion nebula, the Crab nebula, Praesepe the beehive, all three star clusters (M36, M37, M38) in Auriga the Charioteer, plus Rigel and that brightest of star... Sirius.  

Also on the list was the Andromeda Galaxy M31, along with its companion galaxy M32.

Interestingly before the advent of large telescopes, the Andromeda galaxy was thought to be a nebula.!
I would have added M97 and M108 to the list, but Dave and Billa's house blocked the view!
The Orion nebula M42 deserves a further mention as it was the first time that Oscar had been let loose on this most splendid of winter objects.

Many astronomers see a faint greenish tinge to the nebula. Others mention a slight bluish tinge.
To my eyes the ethereal glow of the nebula was bluish grey.  

Surprisingly at the edges of the nebula I could just make out a tiny reddish tint..!

Did I see this colour or not..? Helen had a good look and also noted a slightly reddish tint. 

Preasepe the beehive (Messier 44)  was impressive. 

The Pleiades/M45 or "Seven sisters" turned into several dozen sisters through the 30mm ocular!

Sirius was bright to the point of being painful.
If you slightly defocus Sirius you will see a wonderful kaleidoscope of twinkling colour.  

With the 10mm eyepiece double star Rigel revealed its tiny blue companion really well.

Oscar put on a good show this morning, hopefully the first of many this season.

Clear Skies

Mark & Helen.

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..

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

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Two Sun Dogs in the sky.

Whilst driving home last night, Helen noticed a familiar, but not often seen sight in the sky....
.... a Sun dog.!

These subtle patches of brightness can appear at anytime of year, though usually in Pembrokeshire, January, July and August seem to be the times that I have mostly noticed them.

The sun dogs are produced by a dance between sunlight and ice crystals in the atmosphere.

Those ice crystals act like prisms and re-scatter the sunlight into the colourful light show you can see in the above photograph.

Usually I only ever see the one sun dog, but opposite and equidistant, if you are lucky, you will find another one.

I have spotted a single sun dog on several occasions, but yesterday seeing both together was amazing.

We have Sun dogs, noctilucent clouds, rainbows, Sunsets, Sunrises, Moonrises and Moonsets, plus countless other day and night time naked eye wonders.

It just goes to show that you don't always need telescopes to enjoy the heavens above.

Clear Skies


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The ghosts of everyday clouds.

I was having a wonderful dream this morning.... and then.... BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!BEEP! BEEP!

Somewhere in the village a car alarm was singing!  The sound was a cross between hyperactive cicadas and a flying saucer attempting to land in a nearby garden!

Here's a recording of this morning's cicada driven spaceship...!

It was about 4.00 am the birds weren't even awake...  I got up and double checked that it wasn't our car making that lovely noise.

Looking out of the north window I was greeted by a beautiful display of Noctilucent Clouds....

All thoughts of the annoying car alarm quickly disappeared.

I haven't seen a display of NLC since July of 2009.

Here are a couple of the pictures I captured that evening.

Can't believe its been seven years since I last spotted the "night clouds".

July 2009
July 2009

After about ten minutes the BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! stopped..!

Simpson Cross was again plunged into a wonderful July morning twilight.
Silence PLUS no street lights...PERFECT.

I simply leaned on the windowsill, and bathed myself in this most glorious of mornings.

July 19th 2016 - 04h06m BST

Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds in the sky, occurring some 50 miles up in the Earth's atmosphere.

The word noctilucent is derived from the Latin "night shining" and night shine is exactly what they do.

This morning's display had an ethereal wispy glow, its trailing silvered beauty traversed a large chunk of the northern horizon.

If clouds were ever alive, then the noctilucent clouds could be described as the ghosts of deceased clouds.

I may not get to use the telescope much at this time of year, but when you have such beauty as the ghost clouds to keep you company a telescope is not needed.

Clear Noctilucent skies


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Time for tea and cake.

The Teapot: July 2006 : View from nr Wolfscastle

It's that time of year when the teapot comes around.

The teapot is an asterism found in the constellation of Sagittarius.

It contains many interesting objects, so many infact that I will be re-studying the teapot for several weeks to come. 

Tonight I'm hoping to catch a few of the Messier objects that are scattered in and around the teapot.

Screen Shot : Stellarium
If I stay at home tonight, my only real chance of seeing the teapot will be at around 23.45 BST.

As you can see from the screenshot the asterism fits pretty much within the confines of the trees at the end of the garden...   Those trees are a real pain for extended observing of southerly objects...

I really now need to go mobile...!

Talking of mobile astronomy, does anyone fancy doing some stargazing evenings around the county of Pembrokeshire?

I cannot do any mobile observing for the next few weeks, I'm still recovering from shingles and painful abdomen muscles..!

A fortnight ago I nearly gave my self a hernia....!

Thankfully all is OK again, but no way am I lifting anything heavy for the next few weeks.

OK enough moaning ..... here are some "Teapot" Messier objects to see this evening:

That list should keep me busy for awhile...

All this talk of tea has made me thirsty... time for some Earl Grey... and definitely time for cake..!

Clear Skies

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Waiting for the sky to clear.

Waiting for the sky to clear...

These past couple of weeks have been terrible for viewing here in south Pembrokeshire. 

There has been almost constant cloud cover on practically every night for the last fortnight.  

I haven't been able to make observations with the big Dobsonian since June 8th. 

Though, due to some strained abdomen muscles, followed by shingles I reckon I wouldn't have been able to observe, even if the weather had been kind..!! 

Over the next week I hope to at least observe Saturn, which will be near due south at around 11.00pm for the next week...

Thanks to the nearby ash trees 11.00pm is perfect for Saturn watching in our garden....  

View southwards from our garden. photo: Stellarium

The above photo is a screen shot from the excellent Stellarium astronomy program.

It just happens that the "trees" template in that program looks exactly like the south side of our garden...

At this time of year the gap in our southerly tree line allows maybe half an hour of planetary observing.

As you can see I have to time my southerly observing  precisely...!

Maybe I should try my hand at mobile astronomy.

Clear skies


Thursday, 9 June 2016

From Messier to Barsoom.

The Plough - Join the dots..

I set the telescope up at about 10.30 p.m. and waited for Mars to show its face from behind the trees at the end of the garden.

While waiting I trained the scope on to a few Messier objects around the Plough.

It would be the first time I had used this scope (305mm/f5) from my home location.

Here are some of the observations I made last night:

M-97 - The Owl Nebula. Stands out easily as a faint fuzzy patch!, though no doubt a darker sky background will add to the overall contrast.

M-108 - Easily spotted in the 30mm eyepiece (x50) plus M97 was spotted in the same field of view.

Move M108 to one side of the 30mm eyepiece field of view and you will find M97 at the other side of the field of view.

M-51- The Whirlpool Galaxy. Considering that the sky background was not totally dark the whirlpool was easily found.
Both fuzzy patches noted, with a hints of added surrounding nebulous detail.

After spending some time circling the Plough, I slewed the scope over towards Cygnus the Swan.

M-13 - This globular cluster in Hercules looked amazing, much brighter than in the Schmidt C8. With the 9mm eyepiece the cluster filled the field of view.

M-57 - The Ring Nebula in Lyra, stood out from the not yet dark background really well.

M-29 - OMG! the open cluster in Cygnus, filled the field of view through the 30mm eyepiece. Stars were spilling out everywhere. Helen hogged the eyepiece with this Messier object, I had to wait my turn to grab a view...! haha..

Mars was now well placed for viewing and so I grabbed my chance to observe before it took refuge in the big tall trees to the west.

Through the x2 Barlow and 9mm plossl (x333)  I was able to see slight martian surface detail.

Seeing wasn't up to much, but after inserting a 80a filter in the optical path, the planet was noticeably sharper looking and more detailed.

The blue tinge of the 80a filter made Mars look like an habitable planet.
I spent the next 10 minutes lost in thoughts of Barsoom, the world of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium..!

Actual sunset on Mars.

NASA have amazing pictures of the surface of Mars, click on this link to find more:

Clear Skies


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Plough revisited.

"from that celestial Dipper, or so I thought the dews were poured out gently upon the summer world..."
B.F. Taylor

I recently acquired a 305mm/f5 "light bucket" called Oscar. It's a beast of scope!... I'm  reminded of the "Leviathan" of Birr Castle whenever I set it up in the garden!

With this larger aperture I plan to travel further out into the Universe and touch some of those elusive faint fuzzy blobs I kept seeing in my smaller telescopes.

I thought I would start this journey by taking a Messier tour of the objects around Ursa Major, specifically those near the asterism of the Plough.

Being that the nights are now shorter, and that the sky background never seems to darken, I wonder what I will see of those faint fuzzy blobs?

Hopefully over the next week or so I will be able to observe the following "Plough" Messier objects: 

M-81 - Bodes Galaxy. I've observed this galaxy within the field of my old Schmidt C8 as a distinctive, dim, interesting fuzzy image, but very little else.

M-82 - Not as impressive as M81, but then last time I saw it I was using an f10 Schmidt; plus the conditions that night weren't that good. I wonder how the extra aperture will fare?

M-97 - The Owl Nebula. I have no idea what Oscar will reveal of this nebula, having never seen it with such a large aperture.

Hopefully I will be able to see it in the same field of view as M108. I can't wait to turn the "Leviathan" onto this nebula... wonder if I'll see the owl's face!

M-101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy. I've never seen this one in a large scope.....

M-108 - Can't wait to observe this galaxy with the Owl nebula in the same field of view.

M-109 - Again, I have no idea what Oscar will reveal...!

M-51- The Whirlpool Galaxy. I know the Whirlpool isn't in the constellation of Ursa Major, but given that it's so close to the Plough I just had to add it to the list.

I've often seen the Whirlpool in smaller scopes, usually as two distinctive fuzzy patches of ethereal light. Last time was with a 150mm/f8 reflector, I wonder what the larger aperture will reveal?

Ursa Major - Celestial Atlas by Alexander Jamieson - 1822

As soon as I have some observational notes I will post my findings on the blog. 

Clear Skies, and roll on more warm summer nights.


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Conversations with Selene.

Conversations with Selene
extracts from my poetry journal


 It is midnight and the culminating Moon looks down at me with inquisitive eyes.

I stare back and shout "Shwt mae, Hello, how are you tonight?"

The Moon whispered her reply ~
"You are such a tiny speck, a mere grain of cosmic sand in the ever present Galactic hour glass....
how is it that you are so small?"

"But Moon", I replied "I am a GIANT!... a COLOSSUS!.. YOU to ME are small..! 
why, I can even place your full Moon face upon my thumb, and flick it like a coin"

The Moon sulked....! 

I simply drank my chai tea, whilst overhead countless stars ebbed and flowed across the sea of the sparkling Milky Way.

Sometime later I awoke to the sight of a red faced Moon dropping slowly into the west. 

The darkened Moon smiled and whispered  "So long tiny speck of sand, see you later tonight, we will continue our talk then.."

"So long dear Moon" I shouted..... "I will be waiting"


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Warming by the fire...

Jupiter and the Moon 17/04/16

I was feeling the cold tonight, so I decided to light the fire and grab myself some dandelion coffee; Thanks Helen :-). Observing Luna would have to wait another night.

Though I didn't entirely abandon the Moon.!

Before packing away the telescope I captured a few images of beautiful gibbous Selene.


The above image is a bit blurred at the edges, this is due to the method of photo capture that I use.. namely afocal photography.

Best described with this photo:-

afocal photography

Afocal photography is a brilliant way of capturing astro images, all you have to do is simply place the camera lens over the eyepiece of the telescope. 

Though sometimes it can be a bit hit and miss. Tonight's lunar image was a bit miss around the lunar limb... Blame it on camera shake from cold hands!

As I was packing away the telescope ominous dark clouds to the west were gathering and slowly rolling in for the night....

Maybe sitting by the warming fire isn't such a bad idea.

Warm fingers crossed for more clear skies in the week ahead......


Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Birdsong and the Moon

Tonight a blackbird was perched on Gilbert's roof singing a song for the Moon.

A perfect evening to train the Jason refractor onto the waxing crescent . 
The nearby blackbird gently sang and the troubles of the world melted away...


Sunday, 27 March 2016

Sketching Sol and Jove.

 Last night's Jupiter sketch....... 

I didn't stay outside long last night as it was windy and cold. There were also clouds looming on the western horizon, which is a sure sign of soon-to-be bad weather. 

Within the hour it was raining and blowing! 

Considering the amount of cloud cover this March, I have been lucky to capture several Jupiter drawings. I've also managed a fair few solar sketches.

Here's a sample of my March solar sketches:

All my solar sketching and photographs can be found on my Pembrokeshire Solar Astronomer

 Clear sketching skies


Monday, 14 March 2016

Luna and Sol dance across the sky.

60mm'f15 Jason refractor - afocal 40mm Kellner eyepiece

 This evening's lunar photo, taken with the Jason refractor.

Earlier in the day I managed to make a sketch of Sol.

I brilliant day for astronomy...... later in the evening a thin hazy sea mist crept over the village, blocking out much detail on the planet Jupiter. 

So... no planetary sketching tonight.

But it was still an amazing evening for all West Wales astronomers..