May Herschel Targets Seasonal Planetary Nebula List

Well, I put together my list for May, though I never finished April's list. Let's hope the next two and a half weeks clear up better than the last month. I guess I should feel lucky I got in what I did!

Here is my Google Document for May. Just click on the May Target tab on the bottom:

Google Document May Targets

Here are some highlights:

NGC 4361 Planetary Nebula in Corvus. O'Meara in his book says this about NGC 4361;

"NGC 4361 is one of the finest non-Messier objects of its class."

Excited to view that.

Here's a site that shows the PN (and others with finder charts): NGC 4361 PN

NGC 4038 Irregular Barred Spiral Galaxy in Corvus that is interacting with its companion NGC 4039.

NGC 4594 or M104, The Sombrero. Always fun to look at.

NGC 4699 a Mixed Spiral Galaxy in Virgo that O'Meara describes it as "looking like a old vinyl record. He calls it the Vinyl LP Galaxy."

NGC 4665 Barred Spiral Galaxy in Virgo. O'Meara says "larger scopes may reveal a dim bar that extends north and south from the round core." Probably won't see the core, but then again, why not try?

NGC 4548 Barred Spiral Galaxy in Coma Bernices. Can view it not as a round glow, but with a broad spiral shape with a bright core.

NGC 4216 Mixed Spiral Galaxy inclined. Beautiful Galaxy or so I've heard . . .

Many more but those are the highlights.

Here is a site that I really enjoy as Planetary Nebula are one of my favorite observing targets. When I view a PN, I know I am viewing the future of our own star, the Sun when it ends its red giant phase and throws off its outer shells of gas as it begins to enter the White Dwarf stage, which will happen in about five billion years. This site can be slow to load but it lists by season in the northern and southern hemisphere what PN's are available for observing the the information about it. Enjoy!

Seasonal Planetary Nebula to Observe


What to Observe in May

Well, yet another round of clouds and wind and an approaching storm means nothing to do with astronomy tonight. I finished level 2 of the Ealing training yesterday, though I struggled do to some personal things going on. Nothing bad happen, I just wasn't as clean or quick as the night before. Lesson learned, when distracted don't use astronomy equipment. Here is a picture I took. I'll take more as I am volunteering at a couple of star parties to run the scope to reinforce what I have learned before getting alone with it . . . sounds rather intriguing doesn't it?

I found great article that I want to share with you on things to observe. Some of you may know it, it is called The Night Sky This Month. There is also a very cool video cast called Astronomy Sky this Week This video blog is based out of the Denver Co. area but has some good info on it.

Some highlights from The Night Sky This Month article:

Here is some info on Venus and they have a finder chart for each of the items: "At the beginning of May, Venus spans 11" across and shows a gibbous disk 88-percent lit. By late in the month, the disk has grown to 13" and the phase has shrunk to 81-percent illumination. The planet shines at a stunning -4 magnitude, about ten times brighter than the brightest star Sirius. . . "

Saturn is high up and visible through early July and though the rings are tilted at 1.7 degrees, they will open up after the end of May. Uranus is in the morning sky with Jupiter and makes for a fun viewing in the early a.m. Neptune comes back "in western Aquarius, 1.5° northwest of the 4th-magnitude star Iota Aquarii." Finder maps are located on the site.

For the Deep Sky their target in May is Kemble's Cascade. I viewed this last fall and it is a wonderful object to see. I encourage you to go over to their article and check out what they have to say on it.

The article mentions two comets, one should be easy enough to see with anyone with a 4 inch scope. The article says:

Comet C/2009 K5 McNaught sweeps from Cepheus past Polaris to Camelopardalis during the month and remains circumpolar (meaning it never sets) for most midnorthern observers. Glowing with the combined light of a 9th-magnitude star, the comet will be easily accessible from suburban backyards with a 4-inch scope. On Sunday night, May 2/3, it lies just 1.5° from the 3rd-magnitude star Beta Cephei and two weeks later, on the weekend of May 14 and 15, it can be found 3° from the open star cluster NGC 188. During the month's second half C/2009 K5 McNaught passes near Polaris, the North Star, and soon after that moves from Cepheus into dimmer Camelopardalis.

Think I'll try to take a peak and perhaps show it at a Star Party I'm attending!!!! Check out the info on the other comet. I wasn't aware of either comet! So lets have fun looking at a comet or two! The second comet, Comet 81P Wild will be hard to view at around 10th magnitude and will be like finding some of the fainter Messier galaxies in Virgo. Up for the challenge?

I hope you find this information useful and The Sky This Month has a link so you can get their monthly newsletter via email. Enjoy, and I hope your skies are better than me.


Training on the 16 inch/40cm Ealing Classical Cassegrain telescope with CCD imaging capabilities

Well from 7:40p.m. tonight until around 9:15p.m. I spent the evening training at my club with a fellow member and our trainer (my club is the Salt Lake Astronomical Society or SLAS) on the 16 inch or 40cm Ealing Classical Cassegrain telecope that has CCD imaging capabilities (see the images below). At the training we reviewed the checklist that goes for using the scope, that allows any member who is trained on it to use it safely and effectively. We began by preparing the bay to be opened. and then opening the bay. There is a finder on the telescope that requires everything to be done right, or you could damage the finder or the scope itself because it only has about 2 1/2 to 3 inches of clearance on the scope.

After the bay was opened we were taught how to use the two clutches to moe the scope. We learned what was considered the neutral position for the scope and to make sure that the mirror was ALWAYS pointed to north so that it never was pointed down. Want to guess why we want that? While operating the cluthes to move RA and Dec. it was important to remember to put some tension back on each clutch so the scope didn't not move around freely. One cool feature is on this scope when you move it back into the closing position, if you try to move it too far for the RA or Dec. an alarm sounds telling you that you've gone to far. Very cool feature.

One of the key movements on this scope is Swapping the Meridan. This allows you to use the scope safely looking either east or west and to the NW, W, or SW or SE, E or NE. It is actually pretty easy to accomplish.

Lots of things on this scope to do while tracking, yes, it has tracking. You MUST make sure the clearance between the parts of the scope and the railing at the top ladder or the scope could be damaged. One has to watch while observing that if you approach a west or east to far, that you have to do a meridian swap to keep observing that object/target.

Here are the specifications for the Ealing. It comes from the University of Utah where it was basically collecting dust and not being used. The Ealing is a 16 inch Cassegrain on torque tube (German equatorial) mount. The focal length on this telescope is 200". The magnification is 168x with teh default eyepiece. Field of View is equal to 1/2 degrees with the default eypiece.

There is a 5" Maksutov that is used for correct and inverted images. The focal length on this finder is equal to 1540mm (60 degrees). The magnification on this scope is equal to 38 x with the default 40mm Plossl eyepiece. FOV is 1 degree with the default 40mm Plossl EP.

Finder for the Maksutov is for correct and erect image. The size is 6x26mm and the FOV is 6.3 degrees. There is alos a 15x70 finder for correct and inverted image with a FOV of 3.3 degrees. A 7x50 finder for correct and inverted image with a FOV of 9.4 degrees. Finally there are two telrad finders with the 5 degree bull's eye.

I'll load up the stock photos from the club here, but I will take my digital camera with me tomorrow to take some pictures and post here. Wonderful night it was and such a joy to use. I can't wait til tomorrow night when we are actually going after targets. It also means I can do astrophotography or better yet, sketch from here.

Bruce Grim for who the 32mm Reflector at SPOC (see below) is named after. I believe he is one of the key members who helped to restore the Ealing. Here you can see the Ealing at his house before it was taken to its current home. Now that is a nice size scope!

Here is the Ealing fully installed and ready to go on one of those cool or cold northern Utah nights. I'll take pictures and post tomorrow. You can see the bay here that was made just for this scope. I am SO looking forward to sketching the moon, planets and DSO's from this scope. I firmly believe that this is one of the most underused privileges and benefits of being a member of our club. Check out the link below to the 32 inch reflector also. That will be my next training. All this for $25 membership and then another $25 for a key to use these tremendous scopes when you want AFTER you have completed the training that is FREE that the club offers. So whether it is with SLAS if your a member or with your own local club that may have scopes for you to use, get out there and learn how to use em so you can get time on them!

Stansbury Park Observatory Complex or SPOC Think of the character from Star Trek, Spok. That is how you say the nickname. That link will show you the complex and the three scopes that are there. I am also trained on the Brandt 200mm or 8 inch refractor.

In case you don't see them, here is the Grim Reflector which is a 32 inch Reflector with the mirror made by SLAS member who owns a company called Nova located about 5 minutes from my home.

The Grim waiting for installation of its 32 inch primary mirror. Notice how tall this scope is. The second picture shows Bruce Grim (who is a tall man) looking at the scope at first light (I believe). This is my next project to get trained on!


Saturn and Lunar Observing April 24th 2010

No sketches from my session tonight, but a few fun moments and some personal insight from me. So no need to read this if you don't want to. It's about the moon, Saturn, my son and I, and some clouds. That sums it up so now you can fly on your way or you can park for just a moment on the superhighway and perhaps enjoy our moment.

Tonight I took a break and set up the XT8 out front and decided to spend some father son time with my 16 year old Nathan, and see if he was up to snuff to finding some stuff. He was, and he declared winter over with and and is now observing with me again. He won't come out in the winter. Too cold for him! We enjoyed chasing Saturn, and has a pretty decent view at times at 240x using the 5mm Hyperion with the XT8. After spending a half hour with Saturn we decided it was time to start learning the moon together. We had a really good view of Gassendi and the craters surrounding it and was going to sketch it . . . oh, and my son is kinda of excited now and has decided he can probably out sketch me and so a sketch off was on, and then kaboom, in come the clouds flying like they are chasing a witch in October on her broomstick. Shut that session down.

Crater Gassendi

The positive though is I had a fun two hours with my son, and it provided a common bond for us. He's sixteen, that stage where he wants his independence while yet wanting to cling at to the stability of home. I wonder if as adults if we also want those same things, independence while having the stability of our home and family? Tonight shows why am I so passionate about young people from my son's age and down learning to use scopes. If you could have seen Nathan beaming with self-confidence as I called out some of the major Messier and Double Stars for him to track down, and he did in a matter of moments, swiftly moving from atlas to telrad to the eyepiece, that made this Dad proud.

I don't know if observing is something he'll take up on his own, or if it will be one of those things he simply does with Dad to be with Dad, only time will tell. Much like fishing though, this links us together and provides with us something to share. Perhaps that is the greatest gift of all that his hobby teaches if we let it. The ability to share and reach beyond ourselves and connect with our loved ones, our friends and complete strangers that occasionally become new friends, lasting friends. It reminds us we are interlocked together on this spaceship called Earth.

I'd say stay tune for tomorrow but I have training at our club the next two days on our 16 inch scope and Tuesday I renew my certification on our 8 inch refractor. I do have say that I have decided to sketch either Saturn or Jupiter or both by signing up to use the 8inch Brandt refractor our club has this year.


Observing Items for Newbies. Suggesions from Jay, maybe others.

So in a continued theme, I thought I would offer some advice to a newbie just starting out. In comments, free to modify, add, or tell why you wouldn't recommend a certain program I've listed.

When I first started out I would observe even under a full moon. I learned quickly that the full moon isn't very good for anything, but from the waxing gibbous through the waning gibbous phases, there were plenty of objects to go after, and they were not your traditional deep sky objects like galaxies, planetary nebula, nebula, etc. What I learned was instead of not observing during the these two phases and before for the waxing crescent and First Quarter, why not get a lunar filter and observe the moon?! Noble idea. Then I found another project to do that let me observe a deep sky object, double stars. I know that double star observing isn't for everyone, but during this time I found I really enjoyed splitting doubles, and observing them. I also found out about carbon stars which have some wonderful shades of red or reddish orange to them that I just love. That will be for another post on its own, carbon stars. So here are some suggestions to those just starting out.

So you know, all links go to the Astronomical League and to one of their observing programs. If your a member of a local club, many are part of the Astronomical League and if you complete a program you can get a nice certificate and a pin for some of them. For me the goal isn't the certificate, its all the fun I get to have observing the objects that are part of the program. Also, personally I don't have a time limit, I get done when I get done. Last, don't be afraid to NOT observe from a program if you want. Sometimes always doing a program can get old. Mix it up! When you do finish a program and as long as your club is a member of the Astronomical League, just find out who you need to pass your logs off with to get your goodies. So with no further adieu, here are some recommendations:

When the moon is in the waxing gibbous to the last quarter stage:
Lunar Observing Club:

At full moon its hard to observe the moon unless you have a good moon filter but when the moon is bright, no need not to observe, and white light won't hurt your eyes while you observe it!

Double Star Club:
Some people like em (I do) and some don't. You can decide. More than viewable during the bright moon phases though.

FYI, the list of objects are in the PDF Format on the bottom.

Finally, when the moon is out of the way (from about wanning crescent through First Quarter) here are two suggestions:

The Messier Club
Make sure to click on the Messier Club List on the bottom and it will show you a list by season of what items to go after and you can download the list as a PDF and print it off.

The Urban Club

This provides a four lists of items to observe if you live in a heavily light polluted area. Look at the four links at the bottom and each provides either information for viewing in light polluted skies (if your new, please read that) or a list of items to observe. Check out each list or if you just want some Deep Sky Objects to do from home:

The Urban Club DSO List

I hope this helps anyone new to the hobby to get started with what to observe. If you need a quick Atlas for free look in the Stellar Media Thread over at CloudyNights. and there is a good one there, but it takes a lot of printing. I recommend the Pocket Sky Atlas for getting started. Also, in the Equipment Forum this a sticky thread called Links of Interests and one link there, Carol's Picks has great links to other info. For instance, about half way down are free Telrad charts that could help you in locating objects.

I hope the links do help someone wanting to get started on observing. Take what you want from them and go from there, or do nothing with them. Most of all, have fun and realize you need some patience as your just starting out. It takes time to learn everything but you learn from doing, so don't stop observing. Yes, may your equipment always work right, may your skies be clear and your seeing terrific, or in other words, Clear Skies to you!



Well, another cold and wet day in northern Utah today. It cleared last night and I could have take either the XT6 or XT8 out to do some planet (Saturn) viewing and sketching and/or some lunar observations, but we had a lot go on yesterday. We got a new/used car. I don't buy too many cars new, I hate car payments. So yesterday I purchased a 2002 Nissan Pathfinder with around 85000 miles and had my mechanic check it out before the purchase. Hands down, in excellent condition and no accident damage. Is it perfect? No. Is it in really good and decent shape? Yes. Now I have a vehicle I can take out with me, load up at an end of a session, and grab a few hours of sleep in it before driving home. The bad side of it, gas mileage. 18 to 20mph will hurt but we were ready to assume that responsibility to have the carrying capacity.

Now on to my post today which is inspired by a friend's post, Nobody Special or Tom over at Cloudy Nights. He posted about what eyepieces he has and I thought I would go through my progression and then thoughts for the future. The images will be blurry as the camera I used was the first one I grabbed. I will probably try to re-shoot some of these later.

I started with the XT8 scope, brand new for $100 through a educator program that use to be offered through a local planetarium. With the XT8 at that time, Orion included the 10mm Sirius Plossl and the 25mm Sirius Plossl. That has changed and now Orion only includes the 25mm with their classic scopes.

Here's a image of the two eyepieces, and yes, I do have extra 25mm's and a few 10mm's for the scopes I bought for my school program that will not be part of this review directly, since they are the same as the ones here.

As most will know, the 25mm Sirius Plossl is by far the better of the two eyepieces. The eye relief on the 10mm makes it almost unsuable for me as does the narrow field of view. With the 10mm one has to constantly adjust the self tracking of the dob as most objects fly through the eyepiece. The 25mm provides a decent field of view with a decent eye relief and thus pretty good views. For a long time it served as my finder eyepiece which is what I believe it is meant to do for those just starting out.

What I found out with this eyepiece is that is just wasn't enough to grant me what I wanted. I bought the 2x Shorty Barlow, which if you unscrew the bottom serves as a 1.5 barlow also, and that gave me some decent views for about 3 months, yet that just wasn't cutting it.

I read reviews online and decided to try the 17mm Sirius Plossl. Now why all the Orion's? Because there is a local shop nearby and as a member I got a discount as a member and often the items were priced with lower prices than the current retail was so I got the item with a discount for an excellent price. That made it easy to do. So I picked up the 17mm Plossl and I have to say, I had my new favorite eyepiece. The 17mm doesn't have a huge FOV, 52 degrees if I remember right, but the magnification seemed just right. I used this with a barlow as my main Ep for about 3 more months.

Well, I knew I wanted a wider field so a couple of months afand this local shop carried the Orion Epic ED-2 eyepieces, the Orion Expanse, and the Orion Stratus line. My first pick up at this time was the 32mm Sirius Plossl (discount and old retail price) and I have to say, this is probably with the 17mm my favorite of that line. If I had to have two Sirius Plossls from Orion I would take the 17mm and the 32mm. The 32mm delivered the bang and the view that I found at the time truly wonderful. I still use the 32mm on some objects if I don't want to convert to the other 2 inch wide field EP I have or if I need a ok wide field at a Star Party where there are a lot of kids.

Here is what my Plossl line up finally ended looking like without the extra EP's from my other scopes.

I also picked up at the same time a used Orion 9mm Expanse and at first I really did not like it. It kidney beaned on me, and blacked out on me all the time. Then one night something happen. Looking at M42 with it, I saw a view that even the 17mm Plossl hadn't shown to me in terms of FOV and seeing. That night I figured out it was where I placed my eye that mattered. Eye placement on that eyepiece is the key to using it successful. Since that night I can honestly say I have not had one black out (unless I have caused it on purpose) or a kidney bean. The eyepiece gives a pretty good view at 133x and I still use it in the XT10 I have from time to time.

I bought my first filter around this time also. The Orion Ultrablock Narrowband Filter. Why this and not the Lumicron? At the time David Knisely over at CloudyNights and on the Web had reviwed them and though the Lumicron had a slight advantage over the Ultrablock, in reading his review at the time, it felt it was a tie. I could pick up the Ultrablock locally and again, that is important to me (I like being able to buy locally) and so I did. I have never regretted it. The Ultrablock NB Filter works terrific. I got it initially for use with the planetary nebula that I chase every month and still do (I don't blog on it here since this has been dedicated to my Herschel Hunt but I may add my PN's into the mix). I've used it on other objects also.

This was sufficient for a few more months until I read over at Cloudy Nights about the Hyperion and Stratus eyepieces. I knew the shop had the Stratus, they were local (important to me) and I got a discount and probably a lower price then ordering online. At the time, the Hyperion's were $119.00 shipped and I was able to buy my Stratus' locally for about $3.00 more than that and was quite happy. I walked out of a local shop, supporting them and taking the product home to use that night. My first Stratus based on what I had read and researched, and with some advice from Tom Trusock at CloudyNights, was the 13mm. I will always remember looking through that EP at the time with a wonder 68 degree FOV and the magnification it brought. I was in heaven. It became and still is my number one workhorse and probably will remain so until I buy a 13mm Televue.

Yes, that's my MacBook Pro screen in the background with a certain site I've mentioned in this post up. Shortly after purchasing the 13mm, my mother came out and insisted one day when I went to buy the 21mm Stratus, which I use as m finder eyepiece, that she get me another filter, so I got the OIII filter. First on the 21mm Stratus. It is a wide field, sharp like most of the Stratus EP's except near the edge, but to be honest, I don't really ever notice that too often and it doesn't bother me. Perhaps after I own my first Pentax or Televue that will change, we'll see. I find that with the 21mm Stratus, I really don't need to use my finderscope all that often unless I am really stuck on an object or just need to orient my head to the sky. Now if I could only have two EP's in my set, they would be the 13mm Stratus and the 21mm Stratus. Now some of you may think, why not sell all of these and get the Hyperion Zoom and be done? Good question and I think that is up to each of us to determine. For me, I like the view in the individual EP, and I think they offer a little sharper view and a wider FOV at some magnifications. So, for me, I like individual EP's and my mind probably won't change on that. Doesn't mean that I don't think the Hyperion Zoom is a terrific EP, or the way to go for many, I'm just saying its not the way for me.

My two go to eyepieces, the 13mm and 21mm Stratus:

My OIII filter has also come in quite handy, and I used it a lot last summer, but not a whole lot lately. I have to admit that on filters I need to spend some more time online reading up on them but I find I use the Ultrablock NB a lot more than the OIII filter. Often on PN's I use both to compare the view and more often than not for me, I find the Ultrablock provides details I don't see with the OIII. You'll notice I took them out of the box and used a label maker to make a lable on the bottom of each filter. This allows me to see with a faint red light which one I am grabbing for, or as I have kinda of memorized where they are in the case, more often than not I don't need a light and just pull it out and the white tape with the black letter will sometimes allow me to make out the word so I know which filter I am using.

My next two EP's were also gifts that I received about a year ago, and I find I use one sometimes a lot, and I don't use the other too much. My daughter had a job and saved up money and because she knew I liked by 17mm Plossl so much, yet I liked my Stratus EP's, she went and bought me the 17mm Stratus. I love the eyepiece, as it is clear, concise and gives a great view. I just like the 13mm a little better and thus I don't use the 17mm that much. This is where I open up again and show how I am though. Since this came from my daughter who was 16 at the time, and at a significant cost to her, I have a very sentimental value to the EP and probably will never get rid of it. Dumb some may think as it is only an mechanical object. Yes, but for me it represents something a whole lot more. My daughter reaching outside of herself, and if you have or have raised teens knowing that when a teen does something like this it is a wonderful moment as you begin to see how they are transforming from kids toward adulthood (and that is something every parent I think, though scared to death of, should welcome! Our children are to be guided, empowered, held accountable and allowed to make choices and mistakes so that as they progress, they enter adulthood ready for the challenges that come with it. Well, as ready as anyone can be, we all still mess up. I'm 45 and I still mess up, just ask my wife if you ever meet her!). So that 17mm will probably will something that is always in my EP case and if nothing else, as I grow older and perhaps a little more sentimental, I will remember the many things it stands for. Much like every time I use my OIII filter, think of my mother which is a different story for a different day.

Kendra's Eyepiece

The other eyepiece I bought with birthday money (it is also when I purchased my second observing chair) from ScopeCity in Las Vegas. It is the 5mm Hyperion. I love the magnification this eyepiece brings on those nights when I can really use it. I usually when using it, have to track my object and then wait for those periods of clear seeing that come and go. Using a high power lens requires patience and fortitude to get those few seconds of clearness on the object your looking at. Overall, I do wish often that I had purchased the 8mm or the 5mm as I think 150x would be more useful than 240x. I thought I would just barlow the 13mm Stratus for 184x, and I have done that, but it is almost like doing a barlow of a barlow, which is ok, but it is also a pain to pull the barlow out, hook up the 13mm Stratus which is like a hand grenade to the barlow and put it in the tube. You'll use 150x a lot more than 240x, especially on galaxies.

5mm Hyperion

My Stratus and Hyperion Line:

One item I forgot to mention is the Orion Q70 32mm EP. I purchased this after reading several reviews, and one in particular from Steve who is down in Mountain View and use to be on Earthlink with a website/blog and reviews of equipment. The Q70 is not a high end eyepiece and it doesn't claim to be. It is fuzzy on the edge (then again, that personally doesn't bother me) yet is it clear and sharp in the middle. I really like the two inch wide field of view it offers and have used it on the Double Cluster and other such large items with good success. Notice I still have it. It works just a touch better in the XT8 than in my XT10, but I still use it on both. For $79 it was a good EP to get and have in the kit.

Last Christmas, my wife gave me for two gifts a moon filter and a Hydrogen Beta Filter. I have used both, and enjoy both. Saw the horsehead with a fellow friend this winter from a dark site. Clear and crisp, the C shape we saw stood out. I posted that sketch here. I don't think I would have seen it even at this site without the filter. David Knisely has a list over on CloudyNights of items you can see beyond B33 I have used the filter to see several of those items.

Something I'll share with you is what I did to the bottom of my Stratus and Hyperion bags that come with them. I used a silver magic marker and just wrote on the bottom what eyepiece is in that bag. I like using the bag as a way to protect them. When I'm in the field, i.e. a dark site I can pick up the bag and see what EP I am getting. Often I don't need this in the winter as I carry the two EP's I am going to use the most in my coat where they are snug, warm and protected. Come summer though this helps.

So where am I now? As long as the XT8 and XT10 are my main scopes, I'll just keep what I have. I know they are not the elite or top of the line, but I'm okay with that. I am looking to make a final truss dob purchase in the future, and after I get that scope I'll probably get a couple elite EP's as well. What I will do there is probably get something around the 13 and something around the 21, and a 8 or so. I think three premium eyepieces is enough to get by with an outstanding scope.

Some of you may wonder if I regret going the Sirius Plossl route and not going with the Meade or Televue Plossls. No regrets on my part. It was a learning process and when I work with students after school, I let them use the Plossls once they have been trained with no problem. Sometimes to have fun, and I never write about it, or report on it, I simply observe for an hour or two with the Plossls. Having compared the Plossls to the Stratus or Hyperion, I would recommend to anyone with a XT8 or XT10 to get the 21mm Stratus and the 13mm Stratus. You'll want a high magnification lens also, so for that I recommend the 8mm though I don't own one, my reasons listed above are clear. There are other wider field of views available now and I recommend to a newbie to check into those. I'm content for now with the scopes and equipment I have, though I know I need a little bit larger scope down the road to capture some objects the XT10 just cannot reach. I hope your skies are clear, that your equipment works without flaw, and that your seeing is tremendous! Enjoy the sky, and most important, enjoy the people in your life whether they share this hobby with you or not and make sure they know you enjoy being with them.


NASA SOFIA, Not Air Force One, but it is COOL! Plus Top 10 Star Mysteries.

Well after linking together the information Rob put together on transparency and telescopes on mountain tops, I felt this was a good time since its raining and no observing here on the ground at 5000 feet is going to happen, to introduce some of you to NASA's new 747 airplane, SOFIA or Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. This isn't Air Force One, but it is EXTREMELY cool if your into astronomy. Here is a link that shows parts of the plane off from the BBC today. IF you want to see more NASA movies then click on this link and view away as SOFIA goes through its test flights. Rather cool I think to watch that modified door on a 747 open and close. Here is NASA's SOFIA homepage. Just think what astronomers will discover when they are able to use this infrared telescope up above all the muck of the lower atmosphere! I look forward to seeing their mission updates and hope you will also.

Want something fun to review when those weather forecasters get the forecast wrong and nothing but a thick layer of clouds has rolled in and won't go away? Here it is, The Top Ten Star Mysteries over at Some you might know, however, bet there might be one or two that are new to most of us! Enjoy and may the clear skies come back to you!

Why Transparency Matters

This was shared at a local email posting group I belong to and I want to share it here. Rob Ratkowski who lives in Hawaii and is a member of my local club shared this article and picture over at Earth Science Picture of the Day. Rob uses it to explain why observatories are built high on mountain top locations, and it shows why transparency is so important. Please take a moment to take a look and read.

Here's the picture, but don't forget to go and read Rob's article for his explanation, it is tremendous!

Sketching Materials and Sketching Lamps

I've wanted to put this together and I hope it comes out like I want. So no new sketches tonight as we went out as our family does for my birthday dinner which is no small feat. Why? I have Celiac disease which means no gluten, yep, the stuff from Wheat, Rye and Barley so there are only a few restaurants I can safely eat in or I get deathly ill. Besides get really sick, the gluten causes my immune system to attack my body and in the end, nothing good comes of it. So I have to avoid gluten. I choose to go to Outback tonight, one of the restaurants I know is safe and when dinner was over with, and we walked outside, bingo, the sky was completely clouded over. No lunar or double star observing for me!

One of the things I haven't mentioned on here too much is my family. I have two teens, a 17 year old daughter named Kendra, who in the summer will come out when I'm observing and sit in a chair and talk for at least a couple of hours. At times, I stop, sit on the ground, and listen. As magical as observing can be, it is those moments, when you really connect with your child through this hobby, just by listening, that the real magical moments happen. I also have a son who is 16 and is a capable observer, though in the winter he abandons observing for the warmth of the house. He has about 30 of the Messier down and often goes to outreach nights with local schools. He was going to come out Sunday night with me, but Mom took him driving as he continues his quest to "bag" the required hours needed so he can get his license.

Anyway, outside of the two kids and my wife and I, in early March my father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer disease in the moderately severe category, and cannot be left alone. He is 82, and to be honest, rebuilt much of our home when he was younger. Yep, he was the master and I wasn't even his apprentice, was his grunt. So now much of our time is taken up in taking care of him. Observing gives me that release as the piano and music does for my wife. I'm lucky to have a wife who supports me in my hobby and kids as struggle to meet our personal goals, family interests and commitments and our commitment to love and honor, Dad, Grandpa and (my father-in-law as I don't want to use his name here). I've made a series of three sketches now to honor him, and I have to say that on two of them, they are the best work I've done. No digital enhancements, just the actual sketch, refined and on paper. Anyway, I know we all have struggles we face, but I hope that our hobby reminds us that in the end, it is people that matter, and our relationships with them. Ok, enough of that. On to the topic now.

I'm going to present images of my sketching materials and offer an explanation of why I have what I have and when I use them. I think you'll see, like with many things in this hobby, it was test and try to find the right equipment.

First off are materials and I'll start with my pencils and my case, and a couple of other items.

You can see that I purchased all my stuff from craft stores like Hobby Lobby, Roberts Crafts and other local stores. I never buy at full price but buy when they go on sale for 30% off or more. No need to pay their marked up prices if not needed. The case to hold the pencils cost me $9.99 on sale. It's leather and holds all that I need. I have Faber Castell pencils in their because they were on sale. I have a HB, 2B, 4B, 2H and 4H in there. I also have three drafting pencils as I have found that they provide me with more control than the straight pencil. I have a separate bag that holds my extra leads for these drafting pencils, and their sharpener. The three blue ones you see hold 2B, 4B and 2H. I have dots on them so I can tell which pencil is which in the dark.

Erasers: You'll see my rubber eraser there, my gum eraser is not here but in my art bag, and you'll see my kneaded eraser. My erasing shield (the silver thing) is there, and no, it is not very sturdy, but sturdy enough to erase with. An important point I think is when you erase use the shield, it protects the rest of the sketch and paper and use a paint brush (I use a modeling one I picked up) to brush the eraser that is left over way. You can also see my sandpaper lead pointer. This I use to sharpen pencils, blending stumps (sometimes, sometimes a sharpener I bought just for them), especially if I want a certain angle or edge on my pencil.

Blending Stumps. I have three sizes of blending stumps; a small one, a medium size one and a larger size. I use the small and medium the most but when needed on large items like M42, the larger stumps has come into play. I have two of the medium as I find it easier to load two different colors on my stumps to try and capture the different tones I see. The two medium are together and the small and large sizes are on the far right in the picture above.

Drawing and holding.

Here is a picture of the sketching book I use. The dimensions are 9.5 inches by 6 inches. I find that this size works best for me and allows me to sketch as I see items. I take my sketches out of the book (that is an old book when I didn't do that) because of a suggestion that I was leaving imprints on my sketch done on the previous page. It was then suggested that I take the page out and put a blank paper on a clipboard and put the sketching paper on that, or place a paper under the sketch so the marks etc. don't carry through. I now take out my blank piece (I make my circles on cloudy nights) and then sketch on a clipboard.

The other item here is a clear plastic hold that I use to hold my sketches. I don't take this in the field as I fear losing it and I have another item for that. After spraying my sketches with Blair, Very Low Odor Spray Fix, and letting them dry, I place them in that pocket that zips closed to keep them safe. The Spray Fix runs around $8.00 to $9.00 a bottle and the plastic pocket cost me $2.00 to $3.00 at Hobby Lobby.

Clipboard and Sketch Holder

Here you can see my clear clipboard that I currently use to sketch on. I'm trying to find a replacement but just not having any luck. I would like something a little thicker and just a little larger. I'll keep looking and to be honest, this is sufficient. The bag is a larger size pencil bag with a clear plastic face and I put my completed sketches in there. It protects them, especially if a night gets dewy out in the field. The green binder is the Messier Telrad Charts for all Messier Objects and I've offered it for free locally and no one has taken me up on it (in clear plastic sheet covers also!). If your local and want them, email me and we can make arrangements (I actually have two, of two different types of charts).


Not shown are the traditional, hold the flashlight in your mouth, but I loan my flashlights out so I decided that wasn't a good thing. Here are three alternatives.

The silver red light is a Walmart Reading/Book Light that I modified to make red by using Rhyolith Paper and Fingernail polish, with a plastic sleeve that can fit over the light (not shown). The neck on this is firm and flexible and I like it a lot. I have one for reading for when the wife goes to sleep. Runs on a watch like battery so keep an extra on hand though in a year I haven't lost any light with it. Edit: Cost: Priced it at Walmart for $5.99 yesterday, April 27, 2010.

The small black one is my least favorite because the neck is just to flimsy. It is like an old Gumby toy that has broken wires and the arms are hard to keep together. However, in its defense it is the darkest light I put out and great at a real dark site when not much light is needed. It's not bad, just not terrific. It is darkened like the Silver Light but to a point that it wouldn't even show up when I tried to take pictures. Runs on a watch battery also, so keep an extra if you use this one. Cost $4.00 or less at Walmart.

The last is a lamp that I bought from Walmart last summer for $9.99 (think it was less as it was on sale). I modified it by taking the clear display off the bottom, putting in Rhyolith and using red fingernail polish to darken up an edge here and there. This runs off of 6 LED lights, so it is quite bright but with the mods, it allows me to see to sketch. If I find I need more light I use this one, and to be honest, I use this one a lot. second only to the silver book light/lamp. I do wear my eye patch when using it though in my observing eye so as not to lose dark adaptation. The head of the lamp swivels 360 degrees and the arm is adjustable from 90 degrees to 180 degrees. Both are really nice features to have when sketching. I can get the light right down on the sketch if I want, or have more of a diffused light if I want it.

Clipping to the Clipboard

Here you can see each light attached to the clipboard. Fairly easy. The two smaller book lights need some extra help so I use the foam washers that are on the top of CD's or DVD's that you buy in the store. Those work like a charm. On the larger one, it doesn't need one or so it seems at first. As you get into your observing though, it will slip or fall off. So, not pictured is a block of wood that is about 2 inches by 4 inches and about 1/4 inch think that I put underneath the bottom clip and it never comes off. All three work fine for this.

The Red Lights in the Dark:

The Large Lamp in the Dark: Easy to see my sketch

The Silver Book Light: Not as Bright, but very doable.

Again, the small, black reading lamp was too dark to get an image fun. It does provide just that touch of light needed to observe with, record the observations and sketch. Great for a dark site. I think you can see that by far the LED lamp is still really bright. If that lamp was adjustable I think I would use it more. I need to take out a couple of LED lights and see if two, three or four are the best elements. I'll do that soon. The Silver book light/lamp is my favorite. It also has an adjustable arm but one that is firm and works great.

So, hopefully I've helped. I had an Orion adjustable lamp that got broken, and am ordering a new one, but I really enjoyed that lamp a lot. I recommend you go over Jeremy Perez's site and see what he did for his lighting which is adjustable I believe. You can find it here.


April 18th to 19th, 2010 Herschel Galaxies in Leo and Leo Minor

Well, I went out and got a whole bunch done last night. Wasn't the best of conditions to start off with, but that improved. It's goes back to my motto right now, observe when you can and as often as the sky allows. Last night was the last time I felt I could go after the galaxies I need without 1. Setting up like at 1:00a.m. (may do that) for a few days or the moon just washes out the Herschel Galaxies I need. I'm gong to leave the DSS images off. I would welcome input if others find including them useful?

I started off the evening collimating and then taking a look at Saturn. Saturn at 57x, 92x, 133x and 240x looked really stellar and even at 240x held the image about 70% of the time and more as I sketched this planet for the first time (sorry not in this lot, this is for Herschel items, right?). After Saturn I noticed seeing still wasn't that good so I headed up to Leo and looked at M65 and 66. Nice and wonderful looking as always. The triplet wasn't evident at this time because of the moon wash from the waxing crescent moon I suppose.

I finally got going around 10:30p.m. MDS or 05:30 UT. Here are the observations and sketches.

Object: NGC 3379 Elliptical Galaxy in Leo (also known as Messier 105 or M105).
Time: 10:22 MDT or 05:22 UT
Seeing: III Antoniadi, Clear, mild.
RA 10h 47m 8s
Dec. +12 25m
Mag. 9.3
Size 3.9' x 3.9
13mm Stratus @ 92x; 9mm Expanse @ 133x

Thought I'd try that old Expanse and she is still working really well for me. Key is knowing where to place one's eye but no kidney beaning or dark outs. 92x shows a stellar core that is small and bright. The outer halo is dimmer, ellipical in shape with the SE and NW portions brighter, SE is much brighter overall though. 133x shows a much brighter core, and increases its size. Averted vision is needed to see the full extent of the outer halo, which diffuses out on the edge.

The sketch is below the next observation since they shared the same FOV.

Object: NGC 3384 Barred Spiral Galaxy in Leo
Date: 4/18/2010
Time: 10:34p.m. MDT, 05:34 UT (spent over 40 minutes here but same FOV).
Seeing: Antoniadi III, clear and mild, slight breeze.
RA 10h 48m 3s
Dec +12 38m
Mag 9.9
Size: 5.5' x 2.9'
13mm Stratus @ 92x; 9mm Expanse @ 133x

At 92x tonight the core is very stellar with a little hint of a halo around it. At 133x the core is slightly larger, very stellar now, yet still somewhat dim. Using the breathing technique (hyperventilating for several breaths) combined with averted vision brought out the full extent of the halo around the core. There is a 12 mag (?) star just to the east of M105 that comes out also with the averted vision and breathing technique. Halo seems to comes to a point on each end.

Object: NGC 3377 Elliptical Galaxy in Leo
Date: 4/18/2010
Time: 11:24pm MDT or 06:24 UT
Seeing II on Antoniadi Scale, Clear, mild, breeze of around 5mph gusting to 10mph
RA: 10h 47m 7s
Dec: +13 59m
Mag: 10.9
Size: 4.1' x 2.6'
13mm Stratus @ 92x; 5mm Hyperion @ 240x

Telrad to 52 Leonis and then go right in the EP and there it is. Easy to spot. At 92x the core is mildly bright, not intense or brilliant. The halo surrounding the core is a dark shade of gray. The galaxy is oriented NE to SW and averted vision extends the galaxy to a spindle shape. Best to view this galaxy without 53 Leonis' light in the FOV.

240x brings out a much larger core, but diminishes the halo, something I don't see to often with a galaxy but I have had it happen. With patience though, at 240x and working averted vision with direct vision, you can really show off the galaxy's length with periods of good seeing.

NGC 3412 Barred Spiral Galaxy in Leo
Date: 4/19/2010
Time: 12:09am MDT or 07:09 UT
Seeing II to I, slight breeze, 5mph <, Clear and Mild RA: 0h 50m 9s Dec. +13 25m Mag. 10.5 Size: 3.3' x 2.0' XT10 13mm Stratus @ 92x Start back at 52 Leonis and go two stars (HIP53097 and HIP 53075 I believe) that are close together, and SW from those two stars is the BSG. The core is stellar, very bright surrrounded by a moderately bright halo. The galaxy forms a right triangle with the two stars. Averted vision brings out an irregular shape to the galaxy somewhat. The galaxy seems spread out from the NW to the SE, then at times I want to say I am seeing a more rounded/irregular shape. 240x brings out a strong and bright core, and more rounded shape with an irregular halo.

Object: NGC 3489 Mixed Spiral Galaxy in Leo
Date: 4/19/2010
Time: 12:45a.m. MDT, 07:45 UT
Seeing: II Antoniadi Scale, clear, cool, no wind or breeze
RA 11h 00m 3s
Dec: +13 54m
Mag. 10.3
Size: 3.2' x 2.0'
13mm Stratus @ 92x
5mm Hyperion @ 240x

92x shows a moderate size, round bright core in the midst of a fading halo that is much dimmer than the core. 240x really improves the view of the entire galaxy. The core is now stellar and surrounded by an inner halo of white brightness. An outer halo is evident that seems to extend west, south-west, to east, north-east. It is fairly evident. I sketched this galaxy at both 92x and 240x but only the 92x is shown. The galaxy also sits in the middle of an equilateral triangle. Nice galaxy to get detail out of.

Object: NGC 3245 Spiral Galaxy in Leo Minor
Date: 4/19/2010
Time: 02:00am MDT or 09:00 UT
Seeing: II Antoniadi Scale, Clear, Calm, Cool
RA 10h 27m 3s
Dec: +28 30m
Mag: 10.8
Size: 2.9' x 2.0'
13mm Stratus @ 92x

Face on spiral galaxy sitting north to south. At 92x with averted vision it shows the core better than with direct vision. Core is stellar, bright, and the halo surrounding it is diffused, gray and very faint. Averted vision shows more of the size of the halo and its shape which appears roundish. Lays in an interesting position, forming the top of a triangle with two stars as the base corners. Not much detail, basically you detect this one and see it, but I like the field of view. My sketch has this too bright for direct vision.

Object: NGC 3277 Spiral Galaxy in Leo Minor
Date: 4/19/2010
Time: 02:22am MDT or 09:22 UT
Seeing: II Antoniadi Scale, Clear, Cool
RA 10h 32m 9s
Dec +28 31m
Mag: 11.7
Size: 2.2' x 2.0'
13mm Stratus @92x
5mm Hyperion @ 240x

This is an EXTREMELY faint galaxy unless your in a good dark site. At 92x and 240x I can discern a VERY small and stellar core and only with averted vision. Breathing helps to bring out the halo as does averted vision which is faint also, fainter than the core. This one took some time and patience to bring it out. I would not have sketched it figured perhaps my poor ability will help someone.

Object: NGC 3344 Mixed Spiral Galaxy in Leo Minor (FAVORITE OF THE NIGHT!).
Date: 4/19/2010
Time: 02:45am MDT or 09:45 UT
Seeing: II Antoniadi Scale, clear and mild, calm
RA 10h 43m 5s
Dec: +24 55m
Mag: 9.3
Size: 6.7' x 6.3'
13mm Stratus @ 92x
5mm Hyperion @ 240x

A beautiful non-Messier galaxy and one that I will be back for a return visit, and probably more than once. The galaxy takes magnification well. At 92x the outer halo has a somewhat milky or fuzzy appearance. At first this reminded me of M78 but the more I observed, the more stars I saw near the halo. There is a bright 10th mag (?) star is evident close to the core. At 240x there are more stars in and around the halo that are evident. Fun object, and I look forward to seeing more of this one.

Object: NGC 3414 Lenticular Galaxy in Leo Minor
Date: 4/19/2010
Seeing: II Antoniadi, Cool, Clear, no breeze
RA 10h 51m 3s
Dec +27 59m
Mag: 11.0
Size: 3.0' x 2.4
13mm Stratus @ 92x

This is another very faint galaxy to locate in LP skies. The core at 92x is very small, pin point to be exact. The core is also bright. I can discern a very faint and small halo around the object with averted vision. Not one to write home on.

Well, I fear that is it for the Herschel objects until we get to the waning phase of the moon, when it doesn't rise to late at night. I am going to be observing the moon in my 8 inch scope, doing some sketching and probably looking at Saturn for practice as well. If I do something I'll post it. I may get up early one morning in the next two weeks and try to squeeze a view in. Clear skies to you, may your equipment always work faithfully, and may you truly marvel as you explore the wonders of our universe.


April 14 2010 Observations, NGC 3945, 4041, 4036, 3242, 3115, 3169 & 3166

Lots of fun last Wednesday in the West Desert of Utah. I was in the Rush Valley at Pit n Pole with Joe, a local member of our club and a very good astrophotographer. I was there for more Herschel items and I have to say, even though the Herschel galaxies can be small, some of just fantastic to observe for details!

I'm going not exclude some items from each observation except for seeing in the Antoniadi Scale, since it started out as a III and went to a I that night.

Date: April 14 to the early morning of April 15, 2010
Location: Pit n Pole, Rush Valley Utah
LVM: 6.9 to 7.1 (I get my new SQM on Tuesday for my 45th).
Instrument: XT10
Eyepiece: 13mm Stratus (21mm Stratus), 5mm Hyperion, 2x barlow, Orion Ultrablock Filter

My first object was Saturn and I had excellent views at 57x, 92x and 240x. I'll post more on that later.

Object: NGC 3945 Barred Spiral Galaxy
Const. Ursa Major
RA 11h 53m 2s
Dec +60 43
Mag. 10.8
Size: 5.9' x 3.9'
Seeing: III

At 57x the galaxy is clearly evident with a bright core and a diffused halo. At 92x the core becomes quite bright and surrounded by both an inner halo and with averted vision a circular fainter second halo. It has a bright star 12mag to the NE and a fainter 13 mag to the SW. The two stars from the core form an equilateral triangle. No hint of arms or other structure.

Date: 4/14/10
Time: 05:53 UT
NGC 4041 Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major
Seeing: I
RA 12h 02m 2s
Dec: +62 08m
Mag. 11.3;
Size: 2.6' x 2.6'
XT10, 13mm Stratus

Very stellar core, small tight core surrounded by a halo that is just slightly darker than the core. There is a hint of detail here but I can't get it out., teasing me or my eye is teasing me (more likely). That outer dimmer halo could be a hint of arms and mottling but I can't get it out with the 10. Averted vision is a must with this object, showing a larger area and the hints I discussed.

NGC 4036 Lenticular Galaxy
Date: 4/14/2010
Time: 05:34 UT
RA 12h 01m 4s
Dec +61 54m
13mm Stratus

Very bright lenticular galaxy at 92x shows a dim, circular bright stellar core. Sitting west-north-west to east south-east. Core is small, halo around the core is brighter and cylinder shape/cigar shape with some bulging near the core/middle. Both NGC 4036 and NGC 4041 are in the same FOV so I sketched them together.

NGC 4041 DSO image

NGC 4036

NGC 3242 Ghost of Jupiter Planetary Nebula
06:22 UT
Seeing I, Clear and Cold
Const. Hydra
RA 10h 24m 8s
Dec -18 38m
Mag: 7.3
Size 45" x 36"
XT10 13mm Stratus, 5mm Hyperion, Orion Ultrablock NB Filter

At 92x the Pn shows with direct vision easily with no filter. Its central star is visible at 240x and is an inner shell with averted vision. This object will also increase in size at 240x and takes magnification well if your sky allows it. No color evident for me tonight outside of a bright white. This would be a wonderful PN for first time observers to see to know what to look like as long as they realize not all PN's are this stand outish.

Pit n Pole Rush Valley UT
07:01 UT
Seeing: I Clear and Cold
NGC 3115 Lenticular Galaxy in Sextans Spindle Galaxy
RA 10h 05m 2s
Dec -7 43m
Mag: 8.9
Size: 6.9' x 3.4'
XT10, 13mm Stratus

This is an excellent lenticular galaxy sitting NE to SW. The core is really bright, much brighter than the surrounding halo with some mottling. No arms evident. Wonderful object with lots of detail to view. As was pointed out to me on Cloudy Nights, there is no mottling on this object, what I saw was the central ray that runs through this galaxy at 240x.

NGC 3166 Mixed Sprial Galaxy
Date: 4/15/10
Time: 07:34 UT
Rush Valley UT
Seeing: I Clear and Cold
Const. Sextans
RA 10h 13m 8s
Dec. +03 26m
Mag. 10.4
Size 4.6' x 2.6'
13mm Stratus

Beautiful field of view with stars and 2 galaxies clearly visible, third (NGC 3165) is visible with averted vision. Very pretty in my opinion, my favorite of the night. NGC 3166 is a roundish galaxy with a very bright core. The halo surrounding the core is just slightly darker on the outer edges while the same color next to the core. The halo diffuses into a possible third halo that extends in a east to west direction. Averted vision shows the outer halo. Hint of NGC 3165 as a "Messier Smudge" as I call fuzzy objects to the SW with averted vision. In the same FOV with NGC 3169.

NGC 3169 Spiral Galaxy in Sextans
Date: 4/15/10
Time: 07:37UT
RA 10h 14m 2s
Dec +3 28m
Mag: 10.2
Size: 5.0' x 2.8'
13mm Stratus

Smaller than NGC 3166 it lies almost due east of NGC 3166. NGC 3169 has a small stellar core with a halo that is faint and round. Looks elliptical to me.

DSS of NGC 3169

NGC 3166 Image DSS

That's it for today. I'm heading out tonight so hopefully more this week. I'm off track which means I have this week off work so if the skies are clear I am going out! May your transparency be sharp, your skies clear and your instruments working flawlessly, and may you enjoy the wonders of our Universe!

Edit: I did not get to go out tonight. Far too many high clouds blocking my view of Leo and Leo Minor (my next target). Now at 12:00a.m. MDT, the skies have cleared with heavy scintillation, a 4 on the Antoniadi Scale at minimum, possibly a 5. I'll try again tomorrow night.