Wednesday, 27 February 2008

A quick test on the Hyperion

Not a lot of observing done last night, although I was tempted to not go to my class as the sky looked so clear. Are well, hope it's clear again tonight. I got outside early on with the youngest to try and see a couple of satellites, but in both cases we missed them. I suspect that as the sky was still pretty light, the satellites just weren't bright enough. I then managed to miss Iridium 55 flaring as well. Was stuck inside at just the wrong moment. Blast. I took a couple of test shots with the Z2 in raw mode, but haven't had a chance to download them yet. I've also found a setting buried deep in the camera menus to turn off noise reduction in the camera. This makes saving the captured image significantly faster. It's gonna be interesting to see how they come out.

After my class, I got outside for about ten minutes to do a quick comparison between the 5mm Ortho and the 5mm Hyperion. I used the barlow to take the magnification in both cases to 160x trying to push each ep. I found that focusing the Ortho was more challenging than the Hyperion at this magnification. I'm not sure why, I guess the extra lens structures in the Hyperion make it less sensitive to variations in the light cone from the Objective lens. I picked Saturn as the target of my little test. Once focussed, I was able to see the rings, the gap between the rings and the planet and at least one moon in the Ortho. In the Hyperion, I was able to see all this and another moon further out. Saturn shot through the FOV of the Ortho in a very short time whereas it took a lot longer to travel through the Hyperion FOV, approximately twice as long, which made observing Saturn significantly easier and the feeling of being rushed was no longer there. The longer eye relief and the larger exit pupil, just make the Hyperion much easier on the eye to use. I'm really glad I have this second Hyperion.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Hyperion 2 - The 5mm Arrives

My new gear arrived today, courtesy of Steve from FLO. His usual superb job, ordered yesterday morning, arrived today. I must say that having thought the 17mm Hyperion was big, I got a bit of a surprise. The 5mm is even bigger. I've managed to get it in my flight case, but I had to take out the plossls to get it to fit. I've done a quick comparison test between the Hyperion and the Ortho on my usual fence, and it's so much easier to use. The Ortho is a good little eyepiece but the exit pupil is very small, and the eye relief is quite short. This meant that when I was studying the moon the other day, I kept brushing the top of the eyepiece with my lashes, not a problem, but a little irritating. Also, the eye position on the exit lens is pretty particular. Now, the Hyperion by comparison, is a dream to use. Long eye relief, really wide exit pupil, get the eye at about the right position, easy with the eye cup in place, and the image is viewed in a relaxed easy way. The FOV seen between the two is also significantly different. The Hyperion shows what looks like about twice the field of the Ortho. This is estimated based on the amount of fencing seen around the post. This may just be me, but achieving focus on the Hyperion also seems easier, perhaps it's a little less sensitive to being spot on.

The dovetail bar has pre-drilled holes in just the right places, so that when the rings are in place on my scope, the tube ring holes, line up perfectly, no drilling required. This is excellent news for me. Now I just need to determine the correct screw size for the tube rings. The Moon filter looks to be a good piece of kit, but I can't try this out until some time later. Probably not tonight by the looks of the weather.

The oddity of the image editing problems I've been having, has been tied down to the fact the input images are jpg's and don't have enough information in them for decent editing. I need to test out the camera raw mode. However, I was able to, using very gentle level's and curve's improve one of my ISS pictures a little. I think I still overdid it a bit, as the image no longer looked so natural. I wasn't happy with it, so didn't save it, but the exercise was worthwhile.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Day Dawns

The day has dawned crisp, bright and cold with only a few wisps of high level cloud. I haven't looked at the forecast yet, but I can only hope that it stays like this all day. A bit more tinkering with the images yesterday and I'm still no nearer identifying what is going on when I try to make a curves adjustment as described in the tutorial I've found. Instead of the histogram stretching as is described it breaks down into a series of lines. I've posted a question on the forums so I'll see what answer I get back.

I have authorisation to spend some money today. Yippee. I feel a new Hyperion, a moon filter and a dovetail bar at least coming my way (those Baader Microstages for afocal imaging via a Hyperion are looking tempting). These are what I emailed FLO about. Gonna have to rearrange my Maplins flight case again.

I still haven't as yet managed to snipe one of the Nexstar 60 SLT scopes and mounts from ebay, but I'm not giving up, and one day, I'll get one at the right price. Then of course, I'll have a spare Celestron 60mm refractor loitering around the house, and I'm not sure that will be too popular but hey. I'm sure it would make a reasonable guide scope for someone or maybe donate it to someone with a passing interest. Whether it can be mounted easily on anything else, now that's another question entirely. I'm not sure whether the Nexstar mounts can be used as non goto, I suspect they can, and that's fine, as I enjoy hunting objects out. The main benefit this mount will give me, is the ability to set a target and lock it, so that the mount tracks it for me. This has to be good. The goto has the added benefit, that if my eyes just can't find the object, I can select it on the mount and see how far out I was. Would this make my scope a Nexstar Vista 80s or a Vista 80sLT ? Hmm, interesting question.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

1 more for the list - Image processing

There still hasn't been any observing. The closest I've managed to get is to look, longingly out the window to see if the clouds have moved on, only to be disappointed. Ah well.

I've managed to confirm, with the help of an SGL member, and my new lunar atlas, that I have indeed picked up one more object on the Lunar 100. This is Reiner Gamma. It's an odd think, a little white spot on the surface of the moon.

I've also been attempting to "improve" my images I've taken previously. I've been running though a couple of image processing tutorials, only my images never end up quite right. I'm beginning to wonder if this is because they are captured in jpg format instead of raw, and therefore don't contain the all important information needed. I have found a raw hack for the camera, it's provided from a russian site, so I'm not sure of much about it. I can't read any of the details. I feel I need to look into it further before considering updating the firmware on my camera with it. But it may be that I'll be able to capture raw mode images soon.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Grey Fluffy Stuff

Well, since the night of the eclipse, the sky has been heavily overcast. No observing has taken place. I've got no new images to edit or tinker with. So there has been very little astronomical activity taking place. My new book arrived today. New Atlas of the Moon, and a first glance looks like a superb tome. I'll write a review when I've had a chance to peruse it properly. I also emailed Steve at First Light Optics (FLO) regarding some bits and pieces I want to order. He's so efficient he called me up within 30 minutes. I'll get the order done on Monday properly as I was unable to get on with it this morning, although Steve has put aside for me, the items I want. This is superb service though. That's about it for today. The forecast for the weekend is much the same, so it's unlikely there'll be anything else to report.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Moving Dots - 20 Feb

Today has been a bit odd weather wise. It started as it meant to end. Foggy. The fog cleared quite early and the day was bright all day. I plotted a few satellites to try and see, and a few minutes before the first one, the youngest and I kitted up in the arctic gear and bins and headed out. This was quite a pleasant surprise as not 30 minutes earlier, the sky had been pretty cloudy. First up, a pass by UARS and we both saw that this time. Then just after that had passed, over came the Cosmos 1508 Rocket. USA193 should have been next, but we couldn't see it. I don't think it's been shot at yet, so it's probably still there.

Whilst waiting for the next one, we scanned what could be seen with the Binos. It was a little hazy and misty, so not everything was very clear, but we had a look at the Sisters, the Hyades Cr69, M42, then back to Mirfak to look at the association. I tried for the Double in Perseus, but no joy there, too misty. I had a look at the moon for few minutes, but it was tricky as the moon's features were playing hide'n seek in the mist.

Then it was about time for satellite number 4 to pass over, only the clouds beat it to the draw. The session ended after 30 minutes, Cloud stopped play. That was it for the rest of the evening. A combination of the clouds and mistiness has stop any chance of catching anything else, except possibly a cold.

A few more for the 100 - 19th Feb

Another clear and crisp day once the mist had burnt off. I know this isn't going to continue. All day I saw patches of clouds skip across the sky, but overall, they were only small. When evening came, there was what looked like a wall of clouds to the south and the moon was playing peepo through some lighter stuff in the east. Still, there was enough clear sky for some early evening observing with the youngest.

First up, we failed to see the Satellites USA193 and UARS. I blame the clouds, and I have to admit, probably not being eagle eyed enough. He was using the 7x35 bins to have a look around, he was eager to see the satellites through them, even though I pointed out, they would be really hard to spot. Then I got the scope and Hyperion out and we both had a look through that. First up the Pleiades, much better looking than previous nights, the moon was in hiding. Slewed the scope a little to have a quick look at the Hyades. This is a little too big to fit in the FOV, but we had a look at the Aldeberan section. Then on around to M42 and Cr69. Then the moon decided to come out to play from behind the clouds, so I swung the scope to there, and we both had a good look. I didn't try and point out any of the Lunar 100 to him, whilst the larger objects are visible with this eyepiece and the rotation effects of the Earth are ignorable, using the 5mm ortho is tricky enough for me, and I pretend to have a clue what I'm doing.

Then back in for a while. I thought that would be it, as the clouds from the south were moving in, but no. About 2130 I was pleasantly surprised to look out and find the sky clear again. Excellent, so I grabbed all the gear and headed back out to look at the moon again, but this time with the 5mm ortho. I also grabbed the camping lantern to light my notes up with, much easier than a little torch.

Seeing surface features seemed so much harder. Not because of the seeing, this was so much better than the previous night, although there was still some ep dancing going on. It was just that with the terminator so far to the edge (limb ??) the surface features all looked so flat. So first up, was to try and find Wargentin, and this I managed. I even managed to push the mag up to 160x with the barlow and whilst the view was wobbly, the details were visible.

It was whilst I was looking at Wargentin and the surrounds I realised I'd made a mistake with a crater identification. I thought I'd found Cruger, but I hadn't I'd previously found Grimaldi. It took me quite a while to work this one out. And even then it was only after dashing in and out and checking on VMA and having seen a photo of the Cruger area that enabled me to figure it out. Still, All correct now. I now really have Cruger nailed. Phew. I then tried for the Sirsalis Rilles, but wasn't sure quiet what I was looking for and couldn't be sure I'd seen them. So I moved on and went back to Grimaldi. What threw me with Grimaldi was the description in the Lunar 100. It says it's small. Through my scope, it certainly doesn't look small, and I think this is probably how I got confused in with Cruger in the first place. I checked Grimaldi on VMA, but that didn't really help much, so back to Google Images and found a superb image showing what I was looking for and it, and so now properly id'ing it, I ticked it off.

Then I moved on to try and find the Rumker hills. Another toughy. After spending 5 minutes studying the area, which intially just looked very flat, I saw something that looked like a bump on the surface. This was mainly down to the way the light falling on the surface and the shadow's being cast. This just looked different to the craters. I referred to the Lunar 100 map again, back to the scope. Studied some more. All the while jiggling the scope to keep the FOV in the right place. I gotta do something about this. I hope to have a Nexstar SLT mount soon, that'll make tracking a lot easier. Anyway, I popped to the puter and checked on VMA, again all seemed to be in the right place. I did a search on Google Images, found a few, and they confirmed the location. I went back to the scope again, found the bump again, then ticked it off on the list.

I then went back and had another go at the Sirsalis rilles. I checked on VMA and google images. I went back to the scope and checked again. After a few minutes study, I did see some lines in the area, but I'm not sure they were the rilles. They looked more like ripples in the surface and not like the other rilles I have seen. I have yet to tick this one off and I'll keep going at this one. The angles may be such at the moment that I just can't see them.

I then went to try and find Bailly. I wasn't sure from the map quite what this should look like, so I went back to VMA and Google Images. I soon discovered that this was quite an easy target, found it and ticked it off.

In total I was looking at the moon for about 90 minutes. I noticed then that the temperature seemed to have plummeted and my RDF was misting over. The scope still seemed to be ok. The paper of my notebook and the Lunar 100 had also all gone soggy. I decided at that point enough was enough, and ducked back inside to thaw. Not such a good night for hunting on the Lunar 100, only 4 new ones, but thankfully I've also managed to make a correction. Equally, I suspect that most of the rest will show up much better when near the terminator, so now it's a waiting game. I'm now up to 58 of the 100.

Hopefully the weather will stay clear, and I can manage to get out at the right time to try and capture some images from the total Lunar eclipse this evening, but the forecast is for fog from 2100 through till the morning.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Lunar 100 - Over half way

Another clear night, I've lost count now, but I'm loving it. First up, another go at spotting satellites. I spent about 30 minutes on HA studying the plots, working out where to look. There were two possibles at about 1830 yesterday. Cosmos 1184 and UARS. My youngest and I got out with 5 minutes to spare, allow some time for acclimating the eyes, see a few stars. I was quite surprised by how clear the evening sky seemed to be. I'm sure I could make out 3 or maybe 4 stars in Ursa Minor. Normally I can only pick out Polaris. Ursa Minor tends to hide in the glow from Gatwick Airport. First up, UARS put on quite a nice show as it rose from behind the house, and slowly faded out into the big dipper. I didn't manage to see Cosmos 1184. Seeing these fleet little objects I'm finding is pretty tough.

At the request of the little one, I popped inside and grabbed both pairs of Binoculars, the 12x70 for me and the 7x35 for him. We had a look at M42, the Sisters M45 together. I had a quick look at the double cluster in Perseus, the Leaping minnow and only half a smiley face in Auriga (washed out by the moon). Then we both took a look at the moon, and he had a look at a couple of passing planes. Then back inside for a while.

A little over 2 hours, and a bit of work, later, I was back outside, this time with the scope for another session studying the moon, and grabbing a few more of the Lunar 100. I'd discussed the movement of the terminator on the lunar surface yesterday on SGL and was still astonished as to how much more of the Lunar surface was revealed tonight, compared to last night. I started out with the 5mm Ortho giving me 80x, and had trouble getting focus, I thought there must be something wrong with my eyes or something. Anyway, first up in my sights was Mersenius, I found this reaonsbly easily, the shadows caused by the angle of sunlight showed it off pretty nicely. Then I had a look for the De Gasparis rilles. I couldn't see anything at 80x, so dropped in the barlow and went to 160x.

I knew the moon was there, the FOV was filled with a large white blur, but I could only barely make out any of the features. Now I know what poor seeing is. The view was really bad. I removed the barlow as it wasn't even worth trying, went back to 80x and just concentrated. Even at 80x, the jelly wobble of the moon meant things swam in and out of focus, and occasionally became like crystal. In one of these crystalline moments, I saw what I think were the rilles I'd been looking for. Anyway, all that playing with jelly had taken some time, and so I moved on for a look at Schickard, as I turned to check on the Lunar 100 map, I stretched my leg out and belted the third leg of my tripod. ARGGH!!!. Thankfully the entire kit and caboodle didn't come crashing down, which was a definite bonus. Must remember about that when I'm sitting with my legs under the tripod. Don't want to do that one too often.

Anyway, I got aligned again, managed to jiggle my way back to the correct part of the moon and found Schickard. Then tried to find Wargentin, but this was doing a darn good job of hiding from me. I moved back to Schiller and had a good look just below and managed to pick out the Schiller-Zuchius Basin, that wasn't easy. From there back up to a less angled area and picked out Flamsted P, not hiding in the shadows today. From there I moved further up and found Aristachus. I coudn't believe quite how bright this crater looks against the backgound surroundings, and after looking for a while, I think I was able to see some darker markings, could be wishful eyes though. Schroters Valler was nice and obvious, drawing a sort of horseshoe shape
from Aristarchus. I'd seen a great picture of this just before I got outside so new exactly what I was looking for. I was also able to pick out the Aristarchus Plateau, in the same area. I used the same trick as for the domes, the light and shade areas show up differently from craters.

Then I hopped back aways and had a look around for Posidonius, this was a real tough one to see. There's no contrast in that area to show the edges as the entire region is bathed in light. It looks to be a pretty big crater though, and once I'd managed to work out where it was supposed to be, I could make out it's shape. I'll revisit this one when the terminator is in a better position so there's contrast in the area. I then realised that the Marius Hills ought to just be showing along the line of the terminator, and gently nudged the scope to point that way. After a few minutes of searching, I was able to pick them up, again because of the differences in the way the shadows fall.

Then I had a good luck around the Lunar 100 map to see if I could work out where the Mare/Highland dichotomy would be located. After a moments looking, I had a brief moment of epiphany followed by a slump into stupidity. I couldn't believe how dumb I'd been. Here I was, I'd been looking and searching the moon for this object (number 3 on the list) since I'd started, and it had been staring at me from across most of the face of the moon. Talk about can't see the wood for the trees, or should it be patterns for the craters, something like that anyway. So I ticked that one off the list, and decided the I'd had enough of the moon for one night, after that shocker.

I lifted up the scope, and moved so I could look around the house for a brief 5 minute viewing session of Saturn. I can't be doing with much more than that at the moment as I can't track objects, and trying to jiggle the photo tripod back on target is not an easy task. Still, even that was worthwhile. After studying this little beauty for a short while, I'm sure I could make out the gap between the rings and the planet on the edges, and the shadow of the planet on the rear of the rings, well rear as I'm looking at it anyway, does a planet have a front and a rear ?

After tonights session, I've ticked off a further 11 objects, bringing my total to 54. Yippee, over half way there. Now for the hard part. The last half.

Monday, 18 February 2008

More Moon Madness and a confession

Another find day and night dawned crisp and cold with a large chunk of a bite to it. I tried again with my youngest to see Iridium 45 Flaring. We got out ahead of the scheduled rise of Iridium 45 by about 5 minutes and stared at the heavens, in the correct direction as I'd worked out the approximate track using HA. We watched for about 20 minutes before being summoned for dinner, and again failure.

Now, I'm using a prediction website and occasionally predictions don't happen, things can change. But this makes three in a row, which tends to indicate that it's not actually the predictions that are wrong, but rather, I'm doing something wrong. So what can it be ? That's oh such a good question. I went back to HA, after eating my dinner of course, and studied the plots and times etc for the flare. I spent about 30 minutes doing this. I eventually spotted my error. Such a simple thing. Yet guaranteed to mean that the flare was missed. I forget to check the bearing of the flare from my lcoation. I was looking in the wrong direction. I have now synchronised clocks with HA, and I'm ready for the next one in a couple of days time.

Onto the nights main event. At about 20:30 I got outside again with the scope, I knew this was going to be a short session as I was going out for a drink with some friends, but figured as I had some time, and the sky was clear, it would be a shame to waste it. I didn't have any plans, except to go out and take a look around me. So I setup with the 17mm Hyperion. First off a look at Saturn. She's rising earlier now, so doesn't hide behind the house so much. I was able to make out Titan as well. The other moons all show as being in hiding in the brightness of the planetary glow. I swung my attention, and the scope of course, around to take a look at M45. The sisters are looking very pale and uninteresting at the moment. So moved onto the moon.

The first thing I noticed was that the terminator appeared to have moved a huge leap. That's odd thought I, but picked up a crater of two I hadn't seen before. I spotted Gassendi and Schiller with the Hyperion but decided to quickly pop inside, to swap the Hyperion for the 5mm Ortho, grab my notebook, pen, white torch and Lunar 100 sheets and to take a closer look.

This is odd. I really struggled to achieve focus with the Ortho and the image seemed to almost be swimming. I guess seeing was really quite bad and this was a symptom of that. Still I persevered. Anyway, the first target I found, the new crater, I hadn't seen before, was easy, and the jellyness of the view didn't affect it. I had another look at Gassendi and Schiller with the Ortho. Then as if by magic or maybe the jelly had set properly, the wobbliness subsided. Ah, much better.

I had a look around Copernicus for Copernicus H, and whilst I could see some dark markings on the surface in approximately the correct location, I couldn't be sure so didn't mark that one down. I'll have another go at this during a more organised session, when time is pressing, and the seeing might allow me to push the Mag up.

I spotted what looked like the Hortensius Domes about 1/2 way from Copernicus towards another crater in the direction of the Terminator. After staring through the ep for some time, I was able to see that the patterns of light and shadow on them were different from craters, which is what makes me think they stick up rather then press into the surface. They were in the right sort of location from my charts too, so I ticked that one off. I then moved off to the other side of Copernicus and spotted the Copernicus secondary, not an easy one for me to find, but I'm pretty sure I got it.

Then with a bit of a hint, I found the landing site for Apollo 14 (well, not actually the specific spot, but the Fra Mauro formation. Then I went over to the terminator and had a look at the specks in the darkness. Quite a stunning sight. Then tried to find Flamsted P. I realised that this was hiding from in the darkness I'd just been looking at. Checking my maps I figure it was lurking in the shadows, just out of sight. Perhaps tomorrow.

Then whilst trying to see the Hippalus Rille, I spotted something that looked like the Straightwall, it just leapt from the surface at me. Suddenly, everything I'd seen this evening was in doubt. Oh No!! I checked my maps, I looked again. I was sure that Straightwall was somewhere else, but no, there it was looking at my again. Thumbing it's nose in my general direction. I checked and looked, checked and looked. No the first crater I'd looked at was Gassendi, there was no question, but then what was this object that looked like Straightwall ? That I have no idea, but after about 10 minutes of questioning everything I'd seen and double and triple checking. I decided that this wasn't Straightwall and was in fact something else. Phew. I was rather pleased at that.

I eventually found the Hippalus Rille. Checking the map again, you'd have thought I'd know it all by heart after my Straightwall fiasco, but no. I found there was nothing much more to find in this area at the moment, so moved up to find Mare Frigoris, a nice easy one, then spent a further 10 minutes fixing Gruithuisen Delta and Gamma, probably would have been a lot easier early in the lunar cycle.

I checked my watch, nearly time to go and hunt up some beer. I gathered all my gear together and went back inside. So all in all, for just under an hour's viewing, I'd picked up 8 more for the Lunar 100 (with possibly a ninth, need to try and confirm this somehow, probably need to go to higher mag), giving me a grand total of 43. Nearly Half way, Excellent. Given myself a nasty surprise that, if correct, would have wiped out all I'd seen to that point on the moon, and figured out where I'd been going wrong looking for Flares.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Gazing at the hypnotic moon

I had another go at the moon in daylight today. I actually find viewing the moon like this a lot harder. Perhaps it's to do with the brightness of the sky, but focussing I find is a lot more tricky. Out at 1630, only got in 10 minutes before I was summonsed inside. I saw the Mare Crisium, Proclus and a plane that felt it had to make it's presence felt by flying through my eyepiece, well view anyway, and leaving two long trails of vapour behind it. When the surprise had dimmed, it was actually, quite photogenic, apart from two problems. No Camera to hand (not that I have any way of attaching it anyway), the plane had by this point flown off. Oh well. Back indoors.

Having checked on Heavens Above, there was a couple of predicted overflights. At about 1800, Iridium 23 was due to flare and at about 1900, Cosmos 1939 was due to fly, through Orion, slip neatly between the Moon and Mars and on into the night. The flare was scheduled to hit Magnitude -8, so figured that I ought to be able to see this even with the moon doing her best to upset things. About 5 minutes before 1800, Myself and the children, wrapped up warm and trooped out to have a look. I'd worked out the approximate path of the flight and was able to point them to the right place. We stood. We watched. We stood and watched some more. 10 minutes later, still no flare. Odd thought I. Never mind, I guess that as it was only a prediction, things may have changed. I pointed out a few objects naked eye. Orion, the Hyades, and one of them asked me what the little patch of stars near the Hyades was and I replied it was M45, the Pleiades. Then in again.

Just under an hour later, I'm back outside with the kids looking for Cosmos 1939. This time I bought out the camera just in case. One of them changed their minds and went back inside, and I dashed in and got my bins, both sets. I had the 12x50 and the youngest had the 7x35. We watched and scanned. Waited and watched. Another no show. This one may have just been due to the moon being so bright. So we had a quick Bino view. M42 in orion, M45 the Pleiades, The Moon, I had a quick look at Mars, not surprisingly, "nothing to see hear, move along" and back to Orion's belt to look at Collinder 70. Then back indoors again.

Some time later, 2150, I ventured back out. This time wrapped up in even more layers than normal, extra socks, extra jumper between the two fleece layers. Got setup, with the 5mm Ortho for another moon session, trying to add to my Lunar 100 list. I left the lights on in the house, and again used a white light torch after last night, this worked quite well, made seeing my notes etc, a lot easier. First up Kies Pi. I think I managed to get this one. I did it by comparing the bright and shade angles between the surrounding craters. This was definitly shaped differently, although it took about 10 minutes to be sure. Then I dashed back in to check on Ebay. I was hoping to pick up a Nexstar SLT bargain to turn my Konus Vista 80s into a Vista 80SLT. I got it wrong and missed by a whole £3. Damn, but the accountant didn't seem to worried, that's good, might be able to get the EQ5 from there tomorrow. Back outside again and back to the Lunar 100.

It took some time to work out where Cruger was, but I found it. Then I moved on to try and find some rilles. This I found really, really tricky. Partly, because I had no idea what rilles would look like through the scope. This took me nearly 15 minutes of looking, checking the Lunar 100 map, looking again and on and on, but in the end I think I worked it out and picked up the Triesnecker Rilles and the Hygenius Rille nearby. I struggled with the next item on the list (I was working my way along the line on the map) the Imbrium Sculpture. Again I think I got this, after a further 10 minutes, at least I was looking in the right place, so I'm going to say I did. Just nearby was a very obvious white line running across the surface of a mare. I checked my map and list and it as the Bessel ray, and there's another one from the list, that was much easier. Just nearby were some odd dark smudges across the surface, quite interesting I though, had a look, and lo, another one. This tie the Mare Sereniatatis dark edge, so I ticked that box too.

Then things slowed down. Between the Bessel Ray and the dark edge, my map shows there is a feature called the Serpentine Ridge. At 80x I couldn't see this. I figured it might by like the straight wall and the Altai scarp. So I stared for a while, nothing showed up. I dropped in the barlow and went up to 160x, this didn't work as well tonight as last night, I couldn't quite get Focus no matter how much I fiddled. My tripod is also a little wobbly for this amount of magnification. I took out the barlow, and the view was much easier to focus again. I guess this is bad seeing. Not something I've noticed before, but I normally use fairly wide FOV eyepieces at low magnification and I guess that poor seeing affects this setup a lot less. Anyway, I digress. Back at 80x, I did eventually pick out a small wavy line about half way between the Bessel Ray and the dark edge of the Mare, that was in about the correct position so ticket that box too.

Then after spending about 10 more minutes trying to find targets further round, I gave up. I guess I'll have to wait for the terminator to be back over there to see those. I moved further up the moon, or is that down... Hmm, not got this motion stuff sorted out with the lens and mirror combination. Ah well, I moved further up as I saw it. Found the Sinus Iridum, an easy one compared to the Serpentine Ridge, and then hunted around for Pico. It took me a while. I questioned what I was looking at (it didn't answer me, how rude...) as I kept getting lost, which is quite odd as I hadn't actually moved. But eventually figured out what I was looking for. Another box with a tick in it.

I moved from there to the Alpine valley, nice and close by and it was one of those targets that after a moments viewing leapt out at me. Almost shouting and waving a banner saying "here I am!". Now if only some of the others would do that. Then moced ona but and found the Aridaeus Rille and near that the Cayley Plaines. I hunter in vain for Arago Alpha and Beta and Sabine and Ritter for a further 10 minutes or so. Then, even with the extra layers, the cold started worming it's way through me. So I figured I'd seen enough of the moon.

I finished the session with a look at Saturn. At 80x, a small yet very nice view, and I'm sure I could see some shadow on the rings. Then had a quick look at the horse and rider, and was able to split Mizar into it's A and B components. Packed up and headed in.

So whilst drinking a nice hot cup of tea, I reviewed this evenings findings. My tour of a few more sights of La Lune netted me another 13 targets on the Lunar 100, bringing my total up to 35, hey I'm over a third of the way there. Excellent. I was a little disappointed about the satellite no shows, I wonder to whom I should write and complain ? And again enthralled by the breath taking beauty of our planets heavenly sister. What a great evening.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Sunning myself in moonlight

After my short lunchtime excursion, I got outside again after work for about 20 minutes with my Lunar 100 challenge and picked off three or four more. This was actually easier during the day as the little numbers in the chart are printed in red which is a total disaster with a red torch...

Then back inside for some food, hmm, a nice toasty hot lasagne... I digress.

After food, I popped back outside again with the Mother in Law to show her a few of the heavenly sights through the scope. Not so easy as the Moon is bright, and even the sisters are looking decidedly pale and uninteresting. However, we had a good look at the moon, and I admitted that I had no idea what all those craters were called. I also don't think my paper lunar map thingy that came with my scope is gonna be up to much at night, far to dark and yet really glossy at the same time. Anyho, I swung the scope across a couple of other sights. M42, hard to see tonight, but hints are there, around to look at the Horse and Rider in Ursa Major, and back to finish on the unusually pale sisters.

Then back inside for sometime, as it was time for MiL to head home. Some time passed, about 1.5 hours in all and I was able to get back out at 2120 for a good long look at the moon. There are a few very obvious and large objects that leapt out at me first. Copernicus and the Apenines being the obvious. One of my objectives for tonight was to find the straight wall or Rupus Rectus, and tick off a few more items on the Lunar 100. I'd seen an image posted on a forum of the straight wall and felt inspired to locate it. That was the first challenge. It took me a while popping back and forwards from NW, a map that came with my scope and the Lunar 100 chart to the computer for VMA to narrow the position down. This was made all the harder by the peculiarities induced by the objective lens and diagonal mirror, inherent in any refractor. After some time, I'd managed to figure out the approximate location and using the 5mm Ortho lens (80x) I pointed the scope at the correct area. I looked and looked again, but there was no sign of the wall. Odd, thought I. So I watched, I moved the scope back, I watched some more. Moved the scope again (damn the moon moved quickly at 80x). Suddenly, as if the wall had been hiding from more, or just been built, this line leapt up at me from out of the crater/sea floor and nearly gave me a black eye. WOW!.

Then I was off. I'd got me a reference point on La Lune's surface and from there I was able to go on and find a number of other items. I next picked up a couple of larger objects that I hadn't noted before, Erastenes, Plato and Archimes. Then I spotted an odd effect. It took me a little while to work out what it was that had caught my eye. Just beyond the terminator I could see all these little bright specks. Was this a trick of my eye, some odd reflections in the scope from the brightness of La Lune ? No. None of these. I got there in the end, the cold must have been addling my thought processes. It was the sun shining on the high points of the lunar surface just behind the terminator shadow. A pretty spectacle, and something I wasn't expecting to see.

After working this one out, I went on to take a look at Tycho, another reference point, get a few of these and finding the objects in the 100 become easier. I spotted the Alphonsus dark spots, onto the Davy crater chain which were quite a toughy but I think I got them. I've marked them up anyway. Ptolemeus B (this was a tiny little spot, but it was there). I then started looking for a couple of real toughies and wasn't having a lot of luck. So then I dropped in the barlow. This took my up to 160x and the movement rate of the moon become almost unusable. Any crater shot through the FOV in less than 30 seconds, and bringing the scope back to target on quite a stiff photo tripod was quite tough. But it was worth it. I think I bagged the Gylden Valley and Mosting A. I then took the barlow out as it was to hard to keep the area of the moon I was looking at in view. Gotta sort out my mount soon.

Back to 80x and found Hipparchus, then onto the Regiomontanus central peak. I tried to find some rills, but either I was beginning to shiver too much and couldn't focus properly, it was darn cold last night, and I'd messed up my layering, or wasn't patient enough I don't know. So anyway, I moved on. I found the Altai Scarp, this did the same thing as the wall, and after hunting for some time, just appeared as if by magic. From there Thophils, Cyrillus and Catharina were easy, Fracactorius was also nearby. Then onto Clavius. I then went back to the wall and found Pitatus and Hesiodus A.

At this point, 90 minutes after emergin, the shivers were getting to much, and I decided to go have a quick look at Saturn (the usual superb views, although I was shivering a bit much to see any moons). A quick look at a washed out Beehive, still a pleasing view, but just so much less detail. And in to try and warm up by getting me around a hot cup of tea.

This is the first time I've been able to pop back in the house to look at things like VMA on the computer without mucking up my observing. It was also the first time I've viewed using a white light torch, and for the moon, which is such a bright target, it actually worked quite well. The white light helped me with the Lunar 100 red numbering that just can't be seen with a red torch.
I now have just over 20% of the Lunar 100 marked up. (22 to be exact) and really enjoyed the experience. It was very different to the normal cluster gazing, in one respect, but showed me that just watching one spot for some time can reveal all sorts of wonders, although I didn't realise a wall could be built in a fraction of a second. I'm not sure whether more can be added to the 100 tonight, it will depend on how much further the terminator will have moved, but I'm certainly going to give it a try, and will also wrap up a lot more warmly. One note to self, write more neatly so you can work out what you've written. Ok, so it's tough wearing gloves and shivering like that, but it's important.

I'd like to say thanks to Phil for his Straight Wall image and Ian for his sketch which helped me with orientation.

Daylight Observing

As expected, nothing to see here, move along from last night. I spent a few minute here and there wistfully gazing out the window, hoping against hope, that the clouds might have dispersed somewhat, but to no avail. Never mind.

Today, I've picked up a tutorial on using levels in Photoshop to tweak astro image, so that something I'll need to have a play with. Going to go back to all the old pictures and see what happens with this.

Lunchtime rolled around and, what's this I see, can it truly be... blueness in the air, and shadows cast across the ground. A quick glance out of a window that has a view (the one by my desk looks out onto a wall, and there is only a thin sliver of sky viewable upwards) confirms this. Not only that, but I can see, faintly some of La Lune just over half full staring back. Right thinks eye, grabbing the bull, and for the matter the scope, by the horns, dropping in an ep (5mm ortho) I dashed outside. Here I realised one of the downsides to an RDF. They are impossible to use during the day when the sun is shining. You just can't see the red dot.

I feel I should point out that the sun was at my back, and the scope was pointing in the other direction... so there was no risk of directly viewing the sun without a filter (which I don't have).

The FOV on the 5mm ortho is just too small to find anything except by a massive excess of blind luck without the finder. So I popped back inside (one of the benefits of daytime viewing, all the white lights in the house can't mess up dark adaptation) and swapped to the Hyperion (wonderful ep, just so easy to use, want more!!!). Using the Hyperion, finding La Luna was oh so much easier. Now, seeing her was more difficult than at night, although the view was nowhere near as dazzling. I could make out some of the craters, no chance of being able to determine any of them, as the magnification was too low, and unfortunately I didn't have enough time to spend more than about 10 minutes on this little exercise, in total, as I really had to get back to work. Still, having said that, I will attempt this again and spend far longer observing (when conditions are right and the sun is in another part of the sky of course) and hopefully make more of the opportunity for some lunar study.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Hyperion update

I discovered just now, having found an advert for the Hyperion that arrived in a Sky @ Night that there is a fold up eye cup. I haven't been using this (I didn't know it was there), and it has made seeing tricky on occasion, as the eye position on the Hyperion is further from the exit lens than on the Plossls I have.

The problem has been that get the eye to close, and part of the view blanks out (Kidney Bean
effect ??). By turning up the eye cup, the eye is position correctly, and a quick test on my usual fence has meant that the blackout effect has been pretty much eliminated. There were clues in the box, I couldn't figure out why there were two ep caps, one which didn't fit etc. Boy I feel dumb now.

Still this little discovery can only make my experience with the Hyperion even better. I still want more of them though... I'm figuring the 24mm and the 5mm, which with my 2x barlow (that'll probably need to be upgraded too..). 24mm, 17mm, 12mm, 8.5mm, 5mm and 2.5mm. This seems a good range to me. Ho hum, the shopping list grows longer again.

Not a lot to report

And so, after a week of superb nights, ok I did miss a couple, we're back to normal. Reasonably nice days, overcast nights. Last night the cloud pixies were doing there tantalising best to taunt me. I have to go out early on a Wednesday evening, the sky was beautifully clear, the moon was up an there were quite a lot of stars visible, to the unaided eye. After the early evening outing was over, the sky was still wonderfully clear, and I had decided that I would get out and have a good wander around on the moon and see if I could pick up a few more items on the Lunar 100. After I had changed, eaten, got sorted, I thought I'd take another look outside. What do I find ? The thrice damnable cloud pixies have thrown a soft blanket across the sky. The moon is just about showing her face through the clouds, and there is an occasional gap drifting along between the clouds, but it's moving to fast to actually see anything properly through, let alone find a nice cluster to look at. So that was that. No observing for me.

I read the forums, found a new plugin for Photoshop Elements that adds a curves tool and played with my images of the ISS from the other night. I'm not certain I fully understand the intricacies of the art of levels and curves yet, but the more I play, the more this understanding will come. The images didn't get a whole lot better, I was being a bit brutal with the tools, going to extremes to see what effects they would have, in an effort to understand them more, so I'm not going to post them.

I'm still on the hunt for a suitable telescope mount, still trying to sort out the negotiations with the accountant, still trying to decide which of the Hyperions will be the next one added to my collection, when I've completed the negotiations that is. Nothing changes in that respect.

At least no more huge amounts of doubt over what I have or haven't seen, that's something.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Shape of the ISS and some doubts

Tuesdays are not good observing nights for me. Last night put me at a bit of a dilemma. The forecast is that last night might have been the last best night for a while to come, and yet, I have a class I attend on Tuesdays. So I missed out on what could be the last best observing night for some time, and went to my Tai Chi class instead. I've been studying Practical Tai Chi Chuan for about 4 years now, and it's a surprisingly tough workout, considering that you only move in what amounts to slow motion. But wait, this isn't a Tai Chi Blog I hear you say. You're right.

So, anyway, I happened to be near the back door at 1740 (convenient eh ?) when the ISS pass was due. I thought tonight, instead of trying to capture it on film (well in pixels anyway) I'd watch the pass in my bins. I dashed off to get them. Got back (only takes about 20 seconds, as I keep them convenient, just as well really) and after a couple of seconds searching found the moving dot (rather than the stationary ones, stars, that surprisingly even with the sky so day coloured I could make out). I tracked the ISS for about a minute in the bins before it dropped behind the roofline of the house. Now, I could be wrong here, but I'm fairly certain that I was able to make out some form to the blob. More than I was expecting, given the ISS is 300 miles away. It looked almost to me, like there were some shadows behind the brightness of the reflected sunlight. I was really pleased with that.

A little, later, the sky had gona dark, Cassiopeia was high in the sky, so I decided to grab the scope and see if I could find me NGC7789. I looked and looked, went back to TL@O, looked again. I new I was in the right place, but nothing was there. Could a cluster take itself away and play hide and seek ? Then I spotted a small note. In a small telescope, about 3 inches, NGC7789 will only just be visible as a faint patch of light. I realised then, that I had about as much chance of seeing NGC7789 as that proverbial ball of compacted ice crystals in the glowing furnaces of the underworld, i.e. none. I'd given myself a window of 5 minutes, dark adaption, what dark adaption, the moon, approcahing first quarter was riding high in the sky (the previous night, she had conveniently decided to hide behind the trees at the end of the garden for me, most considerate) and everything was fairly awash with white light. And NGC7789, Mag 11, right at the limit of my scope under dark conditions.

Then, I had a quick look at la luna and whilst I wasn't using a high power eyepiece, 17mm Hyperion (it's just so much easier to use than the plossls, gotta get me more!!!) the view was completly stunning. There were three very obvious craters in view, near the terminator, now if I can just ID them, I can tick them off on my Lunar 100 (only got 3, the easy two... The Moon, and Earthshine, and one I got purely by accident looking at someone elses images). Tis done, I found them. Of course, all three are only one in the Lunar 100, never mind.

Then off to my class. At the end of the class, I was chatting to a friend, and he'd been to the Chichester Planetarium, it's on my list of places to visit. They'd seen a number of things, and he'd somehow left with the impression that Mars was not visible as a naked eye object. Well, I soon cured him of this misconception. As we left the sports hall, Mars was perched just above the roof. It was nigh on impossible to view any stars near him to point out the constellations as the car park was lit like a football stadium and only the brightest stars were burning through, but he saw Mars.

Then, when I got home, after my failure with NGC7789, I started to doubt my previous nights observations. Had I really found all those clusters ? Had I seen something in about the right sort of place give or take a few degrees and falsely decided that obviously that must be it ? Was yesterdays report, a total sham ? Was it even possible with my little scope to see some of those objects ? Had I only thought I'd seen them because I wanted to ? I tossed and turned after I had gone to bed, worrying. I resolved to pull out TL@O and re-read all the info on the clusters and check the mag in Stellarium this morning.

Well, I've been through the exercise, compared the notes in TL@O and the Mags of the clusters in Stellarium. I've used this information from other nights and sightings of faint fuzzies to work out whether it's likely I saw them or not. The ones now in question, (from the long list, now 4) are:

NGC436 Mag 8.8
NGC637 Mag 8.2
NGC659 Mag 7.9
NGC654 Mag 6.5

I don't feel like I might be quite such a fraud now, that's a relief. Reading the descriptions in TL@O, I'm pretty certain that I did definitely get NGC654 and NGC637. NGC436 based on my Galactic searches is probably borderline and NGC659, was possible, so I'll leave it as found. I'm relieved looking at this, I was feeling pretty rotten at the thought that I might have invented seeing all these clusters and publishing, only to find that I'd gotten it all wrong.

I'm gonna chalk up NGC436 as imaginary, not the cluster, but that I actually saw it the other night, and will have another go at it, the next time the moon is in hiding and the clouds have left us alone. And this time, I'll make sure that if I can find it, I definitely saw it and nail the thing.

The forecast for tonight is mist and cloud, so I'm not sure there'll be any observing, just have to see what actually turns up.

On the kit front, I now have a set of tube rings. I can just about squeeze the rear one onto the outer rim of the focusser, which probably isn't the best of places, but the rear of the RDF gets in the way for any other part of the tube. It seems to be pretty sturdy clamped on there, so I think it'll work, and the scope isn't really all that heavy. Now all I need is a dovetail, probably have to go for a medium length one, so that I can balance the scope, there's no chance of moving the scope in the rings to balance, there's just no play. And of course, a mount to put it on. I have yet to hear back from the man with the eq2, the heavier mount, being a seben, I have learned isn't worth going for.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

ISS Again.... Undressing Cassiopeia - Feb 11th

This is truly unbelievable. In the words of a well known TV character "I Don't Believe It!!" Another clear and sparkly night. Well, I certainly wasn't going to argue that's for sure. After checking on Heavens above for the time of the ISS pass (due to pass very near the moon), I set up the camera and scope. Again with my youngest, I ducked outside at about 1845, aligned the camera up with the moon in the bottom of the frame (no need for an alignment shot in advance here) ready for the ISS to pass by the moon. I figured that whilst we waited, my boy could take a look at the moon through the scope. I dropped in the 5mm Ortho (80x) and lined up on the limb. Firstly, let me just say thanks to everyone that advised me to get the fringe killer. Oh boy does it make a real difference (a slight yellowish cast instead of all the blue/purple, but as it's all over the view and doesn't interfere in any way, it's not a problem).

My son thought looking at the moon was great, his description was superb. "It looks like someone's been biting at it". Quite apt I thought.

I'd spotted that there was another satellite Rosat due to pass a couple of minutes before the ISS, but it was much dimmer and I think too low down in the sky, we didn't see this one. Then the ISS flew past. We watched it climb the sky, looking dim and red when we first sighted it, low to the west, and climbing and brightening as it went. It past over the moon and faded out towards Orion. I managed to catch two shots of it on the camera.

ISS Leaps over the moon:

jgs001 / Photos / ISS Jumps over the moon

ISS fades into Orion, passing the Hyades and Pleiades:

jgs001 / Photos / ISS fades away

I can't decide which of these two images I prefer. I like the first one, as it looks great, and the second one because of the unexpected backdrop.

After the ISS had passed, I swung the scope around to Orion, and then swung the bench around, that he was standing on to view the eyepiece. He was a little excited at this point, and kept jumping up and down on the bench, which as it was touching the scope tripod, kept jiggling the view, made it kinda hard to line up and focus. We saw M42 and three of the Trapezium stars, then tried to show him the Castor main double, my scope is too small for the third. Then we had a look at Mars, as it was there lurking above us. No change in my little scope, a very small orange/red disk. But that's ok. Then it was time to go in for a while.

Time passed, 2 hours to be precise. I'd decided that tonight I'd try and find the clusters around Cassiopeia. What I hadn't realised before I started was just how many there were, nor in the time it took me how close to the trees Cassi was going to get.

I started out at the highest point, and worked my way down. This was probably a mistake as will be seen shortly. I started by finding Kembles Cascade. I'd seen this before in Bins, but decided I'd have a go with the scope. The FOV is smaller about half, using the Hyperion, so I couldn't see all of the cascade, but with a small nudge, was able to find the rest. I counted the stars in the cascade and could see 15. There were others, nearly lined up with the cascade, that were brighter, but I'm not certain whether or not they are part of the cascade, so didn't count them. The cascade emptied into the pool of NGC1502, which I thought I'd try and sketch. Here's my big mistake for the night. Don't try and sketch using a biro on lined paper under red light. It just doesn't work very well, and I'm not sure I could translate my sketch into something anyone would want to see. I will give this another go at some point, and use pencil on plain paper.

Moving on downwards, well actually, going back to Cassi and hopping outwards again, but it'll get a little dull if I put down all the instructions. I found SU/RZ Cass. I didn't hand around long enough to observe any changes in these stars, it's something else I will go back to and spend some time on at a future point, but tonights objective was finding clusters. So onwards. I found NGC559 then moved onto NGC663 and M103. I got myself confused around here. In the Hyperion the FOV was just about large enough to cover both in one go, not a problem I'd anticipated, but it meant that I kept bumping into the Perseus double, and on one of these occasions, I'm pretty sure I found Stock 2. Anyway. it took me about 10 minutes to work out what was going on, odd that it took me that long, but I was engrossed in what I was looking at. I found NGC654 and NGC659, whilst in the same area, but they were really tough to spot, nothing to see here in that little scope, move along, either call me persistent or stupid, I worked at it anyway, and I'm pretty certain I got them.

Then onto NGC457, this looked quite pretty, (note to self, write a short description of what can be seen when something is found) if I remember correctly, this was a small double line of stars. Of course, I can't really remember and that might be a different cluster oops. I managed to pick up NGC436 nearby too. Then onto NGC637, although if I'm honest,I might have found NGC559.

I managed to muddle myself up here, and went in the wrong direction to find NGC225, and couldn't figure out why the small pic in TL@O was different from what I was looking. It took me 10 minutes of puzzling to realise what I'd done wrong and that actually I was looking at NGC129. Ho hum, still, mistakes are a good teaching/learning tool. Gotta remember to follow the instructions more carefully. I then worked out the correct directions and found NGC225. Then on to M52 again (I'd seen this the other night, but figured I'd hunt it up again for completeness). It was now I realised my mistake in starting at the highest point and working downwards. In trying to find NGC7789 I found it was lurking and playing hide and seek in amongst the branches of the trees at the end of the gardens. Ah phooey. Gonna have to try this one again another night.

I turned the page in TL@O and discovered that I'd reached the end. Excellent, nearly all of them. As Ursa Major was getting higher up in the sky now, and hopefully pulling out of the Gatwick glow, I thought I'd have another try and a galaxy hunt (sticking to the higher ones). I tracked up from Phecda, through Dubhe to the location of M81 and M82. Hmm, thought I, these are supposed to be here, are they in hiding ? After some careful viewing, and a little jiggling, I found them as 2 very faint smudges. This isn't good thought I, given that M81 should be visible in Bins (according to NW). I thought I'd have a go at a couple of others, M108 and M106, but no chance, these are both dimmer than M81 and M82 and both a bit lower down. I think the limit to the north from here is about Mag 8.

Ah well. Gonna have to give up on hunting for Galactic smudges for a while, but that's ok, there's still loads of other things to see. And one of the most stunning, was just pocking her head above the roof of the house. I looked up and there was the question mark of Leo. Drifting serenely below that, Saturn. Excellent, thought I and bought the scope to bear. I stayed here for a fair while, definitely saw two moons (Rhea and Titan), possibly a third, although I can't be sure on that one, but if I did it was Tethys.

Then, realised, I hadn't eaten anything since lunchtime and as it was now nearly 2300 I was a little peckish, so I finished the session off with the usual Favs. The Sisters and The Beehive.

Lessons learned:

1) Write a brief description of what is seen
2) For a sketch use a soft pencil
3) Follow the instructions properly (you'd think I'd have learnt this one by now)

A most enjoyable evenings viewing.

Monday, 11 February 2008

ISS part 2 and a short session

Didn't get a lot of observing done last night. After two long sessions with the scope, I figured I probably ought to spend some time with the OH as I don't want jealousy to set in. However, I got outside with my youngest for a look at the ISS. Got outside about 10 minutes early, setup the camera and took a couple of alignment shots, Astonishing amount of detail really considering, so here's the image of Perseus.

I'll be doing some processing on it later, but I can't do that on this PC. Anyway, I had a good look around using the old fashioned mark 1 eyeball. Identifying constellations to my youngest as we went. Cassiopeia, Perseus, Andromeda, Orion, Gemini, Taurus and others, and also pointing out the Pleiades and Hyades. As we waited, he asked if every passing plane was it, but no. Then, we saw something drifting across the sky from the South East into the North West. I believe it was a satellite, probably UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite). A couple of moments later, there was the ISS. A brilliant point of light. We watched from in the west, across Andromeda, Perseus (I missed the shot here, but to trigger happy), Auriga and on through Gemini, where I managed to capture it on the camera.

Then we could both here the voice of the beehive calling to us. I'd said that I'd like to show this to him, and he was desperate to see it. So I popped indoors, grabbed the scope and the Hyperion, set it all up so that we could see around the house (as it was hiding behind the roof). I got the scope pointed at M44, and then had to grab a chair so that he could stand on it to look in the EP. He was impressed by the beehive. Then time to go in. Only about 20 to 25 minutes last night, but still enjoyable and at least one of the children saw a few things.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

A great night out ...

A second night in a row and not a cloud in sight. What's going on ? This doesn't make any sense. Well, I'm certainly not going to argue. In town today, I picked me up a copy of Night Watch, it's on sale in Bookends at 30% of cover price which I thought was a good deal. I used Night Watch (NW) and Turn Left at Orion (TL@O) together to find a number of objects tonight.

I had a quick check on Heavens Above as I wanted to take a peek at the ISS as it flew over. Popped out with the camera about 1810 to get it setup and the moon was a real treat to see, low in the sky to the south. Just a thin sliver visible at first glance, but, look again, and there's the entire disk, lit in the faint glow of Earthshine. Very nice.

Turned back to the north, tried to line up the camera where I though the ISS would show, and then, whilst I was waiting, I saw a high level moving dot that looked like a star. Aha thought I, here we go. I forget that the ISS would appear in the North and head out to the East. This one appeared in the North and headed South. So I watched it until it faded, thinking that was it, I'd seen the ISS and could chalk it up. But no. A couple of minutes later, a much brighter moving star appeared. This time heading in the correct direction. I watched for a moment, tried to line up the camera (and of course missed, ho hum) and took a picture of some stars but no bright line. I went back inside, as I had some things to do and posted in a couple of places to try and find out what the first object was. There's a couple of possibilities been raised, the Cosmos 2098 Rocket, or Iridium 26.

Time passed...

I got back outside with the scope at about 2055 and using the Hyperion, started out on the usual suspects (with the new one from last night). The Sisters, the Orion Nebula and the Beehive. Very nice. Carlos had provided me with a useful guide to Auriga after last nights report, where I couldn't find Mr Happy (the smiley face). Using this, I found the Leaping Minnow and near that NGC1893. In 1893 I think, and I might be making this up, but I thought I saw hints of wisps using averted vision which is IC410, it's so hard to tell. The, I found the smiley face. Finding the Minnow made it clear, that I had actually seen both the Minnow and the Smiley face last night. I'd of course forgotten about the effects of the mirrors and lenses in the scope, oops. It was only after comparing with the guide and rotating it to the how I was seeing it did I realise. Gotta pay more attention (sounds like a school report - Could Do Better!!). I spotted the little blob of NGC1907 in Mr Happy, is that a tear near his eye ? Is he crying with laughter ?

Then the three clusters in Auriga, M38, M36 and M37. As I was near Mars, I thought I'd check in, and Mars was in his usual state in my scope, a very small yellow blob. I think the fringe killer I have has improved his view (thanks for the recommendation) as it's a much tighter looking blob.

I then decided I'd have a hunt for M1. I figured that this was gonna be a toughy, but combining NW and TL@O put me in the right vicinity. I stared. I stared some more, I stared in an averted way. Was I imagining it, there was an odd tiny gray splodge in the middle of the FOV. I jiggled the scope a little. Odd thought I, it's not on my scope or my eye, it stayed put in the star field. That must be it. I was really pleased. Not that I could see much of it mind, just that I'd managed to locate it. Carrying on through Taurus, I passed through NGC1746, NGC1647 and NGC2244.

By this point Sirius was beginning to show his head above the horizon. For me the Horizon to the east is firmed by the roof line of all the houses along my road. I hopped from Sirius to M50. By moving back a way and raising the tripod up, I was able to to get low enough to the roof line, that I could find M41, very nice little cluster, just peeking out from behind one of my Neighbours TV aerial. Back to Sirius and tried to get M46 and M47. No luck on M46, but M47 I could see. I carried on up and picked out M48 as well.

I then popped up to Cor Caroli to take another peek and see if I could spot the colours. I'd been asked after yesterdays report. I'd have to say, that they looked very similar to me, both Blue/White. From Here I moved across to Coma Berenices to take a look at the Coma Cluster (Mel 111). Very nice, probably should have taken the Binos out with me as I had to move the scope around to see the cluster, but I'll save that for another time.

I spotted that Leo had made his presence known over the top of the house, and there shining in the night was Saturn. How could I resist. There she was haloed by those rings. And there were a couple of accompanying bodies, I could just make out. According to Sky and Telescopes Saturn Moon Calculator, probably Enceladus and Titan.

I then thought I'd have a hunt for some galaxies in and around Leo and Ursa Major. This was a total flop. I couldn't pick them out at all. I guess that at around magnitude 8 and 9, the light pollution from Gatwick, to the North, is just a little much. Never mind, I'll manage it at some point. Maybe later in the year when the sky has rotated and put Ursa Major more overhead.

At this point, whilst I was studying NW to figure out what to find next, someone turned on the kitchen light in the house, right by where I was studying the book. Luckily my head as down, and it didn't totally muck up my dark adaption. I pulled my hat down over one eye to protect my night vision and hung on for a few minutes until whatever was required from the kitchen had been purloined. Then the lights went out again. Phew!!

I figured I'd have a look around Perseus and Cassiopeia. First off I went to the Double Cluster (NGC869 and NGC884). After hunting around Cassiopeia for a while, I finally found M5, I missed the others somehow. I think some of them had slipped secretly into the trees without letting on, just so they could hide. Oh well, another night, I'll get them yet. Then I went back to Perseus to find M34.

To round off the evenings viewing, I went back to the Sisters and the Beehive for one last long glance at each. A most enjoyable evenings viewing, and I think I must have got lucky, as I picked up quite a list of new objects, most of which I didn't have a clue where they were when I started out this evening.

I can only hope that tomorrow's forecast holds true, another clear night, as I have already, in writing this, found more objects to try and find.

Tinkering with the Sisters

I had another play with my M45 stacked image again this morning. I do believe I'm beginning to get to grips with his a little. Possibly still a tad heavy handed, but it's certainly got more detail pulled out. Here it is:

jgs001 / Photos / Pleaides

Friday, 8 February 2008

New Gear and Clear Skies... What more can you ask for

Well, here was I, expecting heavy cloud tonight, given that the Hyperion arrived today. But no. Clear skies. In fact probably the best I've been out looking at the stars in. Where to start. The beginning I spose...

As usual, I started out with the firm favourites, but this time I used the 17mm Hyperion. It took me a little while to get to grips with the best viewing distance on the ep. The plossls and the ortho I have all have quite short eye relief. However, the Hyperion is almost a sit back and watch from a distance by comparison. I got the hang of it eventually though, I'm pleased to say.

So I started with The Sisters (M45), in all their usual beauty, spread out in glorious detail. After spending a while I moved onto M42. Not quite so spectacular in the 17mm Hyperion, my scope is too short, but in a longer scope, this would be brilliant. Still an amazing view. Then a quick look at the Hyades. A little too large for the FOV, but still nice to look at. Then my neighbour turned on the upstairs lights. Not nice...

So I turned around and put all that light behind me. Had a look at the Polaris engagement ring. First using the 17mm Hyperion, then changed to the 20mm Plossl for comparison. Now the Plossl is a pretty good ep, but the Hyperion is real good. The FOV compares well, not a lot in it between the Hyperion and the Plossl. The Hyperion has higher magnification, ok not a lot, but it's there. The view in the Hyperion is easier to see and from a greater distance and seems somehow flatter. Anyway, suffice to say, I'm very pleased with the Hyperion, and now want more of them even more than I did earlier. Damn this is gonna cost.

Anyway, where was I, oh yes, the Polaris engagement ring. A very nice view of this and Im sure I saw more stars than I had before. I then moved onto the Dipper and had a look at the Horse and Rider (Mizar and Alcor). A nice double, very easy to see. The the lights went off next door. I swung back around and went back to my original plan. Yes for once I had a planned list of targets. As you'll see I didn't get them all, not by a long shot. Some of them I think are just too faint for my little scope and some I had no guide for, I spotted them on Stellarium and they just aren't in Turn Left at Orion ah well.

Anyway, back to the plot. I went up to Auriga and found M36, M37 and M38 and had a look around there. Afterwards, I moved past Gemini and whilst I was swinging the scope around, very easy to do, I lift it up, move the entire thing tripod and all, and put it back down again. I noticed what look like a smal fuzzy path to the left and slightly below Gemini. Hmm, thought I, not noticed that before. Lined up the scope and there was M44 the Beehive cluster. It was a great sight briefly as the kitchen light in my house got turned on right in front of me. That nearly hurt. And I decided I'd leave my session for now, head back inside for a while (as it was still quite early) and spend a little time with the rest of the family, who had just got in.

About an hour later, and the clouds still hadn't arrived. I figured I was observing on borrowed time, so I'd better get on with it. All set up again. Start with Saturn this time, and as spectacular and well formed, if small, sight as ever. After watching for a while, I spotted a couple of moons (Rhea and Titan, according to theSky and Telescope Saturn moon calculator). Excellent. I then hunted down M47, but M46 eluded me, I think my scope just hasn't got the light gathering for some of these objects. I moved on and found Cor Caroli, I could very clearly see the double split nicely. The gap was pretty small in the Hyperion, but it was there (no need for a mind the gap here).

I went back to M44 next, as I was using this as a starting point for another object. This time I got to study it for a while without lights coming on. I think I've found me a new favourite. This cluster is a real stunner an I'll put it up there with the Sisters. (hmm, now there's a thought, the Sisters in the Beehive...probably best to not go there). From M44, I found M67 not an easy target to find. Oddly, I couldn't find VZ Cancri which is a Binocular object, but hey. Maybe I should have been using my Bins.

I then went back to the Dipper and had another hunt around for M81 and M82. I do believe I found them, either that or I had too many tears in my eyes from the cold, but as I kept wiping my eyes, I think I can chalk them up. Very faint and only just discernible as a couple of smudges. The smudges stayed put on the background when I moved the scope, rather than coming with me, I took this as a good sign.

I then moved back to Sirius, and hopped across to M93. A faint little cluster, again I think I only just about managed to get this one. Figured from here, I ought to go try and estimate the magnitude of Epsilon Aurigae, and I reckon it was about 3.3 again. Given that I only checked it a couple of night ago, I think this is probably fair. I then had another look at M37 and M38 whilst trying to find a smiley face of stars that was mentioned on one of the forums. No such luck. Back to M45 to see the Sisters again, onto Perseus for the Double, and I figured it was time for a drink and my toes were getting cold.

A very enjoyable evening, with a great new eyepiece. Just gotta rustle up some more pennies for at least one more... A new favourite object, and a fair number of Messiers added to the collection, gonna have to start me a list. The forecast is good for the next few days, so fingers crossed, and hope to get at least a couple more good sessions in. Gonna enjoy my drink.

The Hyperion cometh

The Hyperion has just arrived. Holy smoke what an eyepiece. Firstly it's huge, compared to my little Konus it's almost a scope in it's own right. Secondly, I just ran a quick test onto the fence and the image is crisp, clear, sharp and as far as I can tell free of defects. The field of view is nearly the same as my 20mm Plossl (actually, probably wider, I'll try and get a proper test done on this tonight, if the weather holds), and the magnification is greater. I think it's going to get a lot of use. The only problem is, now I regret buying it. I thought this would happen. I want lots more of them.... DAMN!!!!!

Despite how big the thing is, I've managed to squeeze it into my Maplin flight case. It's getting a bit cramped in there now. I'm not sure I could squeeze another Hyperion in without having to remove at least one of my Plossls.

Here's a picture:

jgs001 / Photos / Konus and Hyperion

I'm looking forward to testing it out under the stars, might get lucky later.

Another night goes by

Here we are again. Another night has gone by under a heavy layer of cloud. The patina of light patterns on the underside of the cloud layer was almost pretty, patches of yellow and white, interspersed in the overall glare from the floodlights at the local football pitch. Couldn't be bothered trying to photo it to be honest, I don't think it would have worked anyway.

So I spent the evening, by the puter, working on my image processing. I must say, that I do seem to be getting better at it, learning my way around Elements whilst I'm at it. I redid my Perseus shot and I've pulled more information up out of the original and it looks like you can even see the Alpha Persei (Mirphak) association now. This was done with tweaking levels and curves (possibly, it's not labeled that as far as I can tell) and sharpneing and using noiseware (superb bit of software) to remove the extra noise created in the image. Here's the results:

jgs001 / Photos / Perseus

Onto the mount question. I've ordered a second hand set of tube rings so that I can mount the scope on top. I'll still need a dovetail, probably quite long to balance the scope on an eq mount, so this might need a hole or two drilling to fit the tube rings but we'll see. I think I'm gonna go with the Skywatcher EQ2 mount rather than the Seben. The man with the Seben hasn't responded on my extra questions, and I know that the Skywatcher mount is at least a known quantity.

The Baader Hyperion should arrive in the post this morning, almost guaranteed to drum up some clouds of course, although at the moment the sun is shining. I can but hope.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

A brief session - Clouds again

Well, I got outside with the scope again last night. The evening started with the promise of being crisp and clear. Whilst I was out earlier in the evening, I managed a little by eye, seeing, Mars, Orion, Auriga, Gemini, and others, the usual suspects of a winters night sky. I got home again, sorted out a number of things that needed doing, and collected my gear together, including the planned session from a few nights ago.

On this occasion, I'd grabbed my laptop and webcam with the new nosepiece fitted as I'd intended to give it a try out. Well, first off, once outside about 2100 the sky was nice and clear all around. I aligned the scope on M45, fired up the laptop, plugged in the webcam and tried to focus. Nothing but noise on the screen. Blast it. I went through the entire range of focus travel, removed and put back the extension tube, tried the 45 prism diagonal, all to no avail. Ah well, tis not to be. Have to rethink and revisist this one at some point, when I've got a more up to date webcam with a ccd instead of a cmos sensor.

I popped in my 10mm Plossl instead and started work on the variable star epsilon aurigae that I'd agreed to try and do. After moving the scope backwards and forwards between Auriga B and C (these two are just either side of the magnitude range of epsilon) I went to epsilon, and decided that I couldn't really tell which it was nearer and hopped between the three for some time more. I then decided it was about mid way between the two. Now if B is 3.9 and C 2.6, I'd guess that 3.3 would seem fair. It's probably way out, but I guess you gotta start somewhere.

I had a look at the old favourites M42/M43 in Orion. I'm definitely getting better at seeing what's there. I could see the stars in the trapezium. Then onto the Pleiades for a look. It was now that I spotted the dark looming shapes sweeping in from the west, blotting out the stars as they came, of those pesky blighted clouds again. Oh phuey. As they were moving in from the west, I moved the scope and lined up on Saturn (in the east), thinking this would give me a while at least before the sky was covered. After a few minutes watching this wonderful sight (I'm sure I could see some shadow on the surface from the rings, or is that on the rings from the planet. Hmm hard to tell), someone indoors turned on the kitchen light almost in the mouth of my scope tube. Given how quickly the clouds were coming in, it wasn't really too much of a problem, but it certainly ruined my adapted eyes. Ah well, packed up and took it all back in again.

Later that evening, reading the forums, I decided I'd invest in a Baader Hyperion eyepiece (that's on sale on a forum) that will fill a hole in my collection, probably make a very good afocal photography eyepiece, and that I'm probably going to regret doing. Not regret from the point of view that the eyepiece is bad in anyway, oh no, more that am I going to end up replacing my entire collection. That's gonna cost ...

I now have the option on two eq mounts second hand. One a skywatcher eq2. Well known make, should take my little Konus for visual use without any problems. The other a Seben that in theory could take the weight of a 4" frac (my Konus is a 3). Ah decisions, decisions. They are both the same price. I think I'll probably go for the skywatcher, at least that way, I know there'll be plenty of people who have similar mounts and can advise on how to use it. The Seben mount, may well be made by Synta also and therefore not be an issue. I almost wish that only one was available.

Watch this space for a decision on the mount shortly. I'll also post my thoughts and impressions on the Hyperion once it's arrived.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008


My webcam nose piece adapter arrived today. This was delivered from China in under a week. I'm impressed by that. It was also half the price of buying here and is a good quality piece, made of metal. I've run a quick test, and with some fiddling with various attachments, tube extenders and stuff, I was able to get focused on my usual test subject during the day. A fence. The image was pretty good displayed on the PC screen, but I'm not sure the software was the best. Just got to work out the best way of displaying/capturing this. The word is out on the forums... Stargazers Lounge and AstroChat.

Of course, to use this for proper astro imaging will require that the clunky photo tripod I'm currently using get swapped for a nice and smooth eq mount. Ho hum, back to this question again.

Nowt much to report

Cloudy and rainy all day and this continued into the night. There was no observing done at all. Still, I found a rather nice photo of a Puma that surprised us on holiday last year. It was a little out of focus, so I thought I'd give Focus Magic a try on it, and that made a big difference.

I'm going to produce an Astro Wishlist and I'll put it in the links section. I need to do some negotiation with the accountant to work out how to get these items.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

All set up and nowhere to view

Well, what can I say. The weather has done it again. A fine and sparkling day, only the odd cloud ambling across the sky to spoil the view. By the time the sun had set and the sky had grown dark enough, about 6pm, I could see it was a really crisp and clear night and the sky was truly spectacular. Unfortunately, I had a number of things to get done around the house, so couldn't go out and gaze through the scope. Still, whilst putting the bins (rubbish, not optical, although some might argue about my optical ones being rubbish ;o)) I perused the sky with the old Mk 1 eyeball.

I had agreed that I would attempt to guesstimate the magnitude of Epsilon Auriga for the Variable Star section of the SPA. Whilst I was out I worked out which star to check (always best to know which one you're looking at) and had a quick gaze at the Pleiades, Orion and Cassiopeia. Still I thought I'd be ok in an hours time after dinner, more fool me. Anyway, for the first time, I figured I'd try and plan out what targets I was going to aim at and pulled Turn Left at Orion off the shelf. I produced a list of about 10 or 15 targets all ready for a night outside under the stars.

Little did I know at the time or anticipate that this was not to be. After dinner was done and cleared away, I grabbed my scope, flightcase of gear, coat, gloves, hat and scarf and got ready, turning the lights in the house off as I went. I got all the gear outside (it's not really that tricky with my little scope) looked up, to find.... Yes you guessed it. CLOUDS!!!! lots and lots of CLOUDS!!!!. I could see a grand total of 2 stars somewhere near the zenith. I've no idea what even those two were as they were blotted out within about 30 seconds.

Dejected but still very warm (I'd wrapped up before going into the garden) I carried all the gear back in. Ever the optimist I kept going back to the window and checking... A couple of hours later, I checked and there was a break in the clouds and a crisp view overhead. Aha... Grab the jumper, put on the boots, grab the Binocular's. This took all of 2 minutes... By the time I'd got back outside the gap had gone. So I packed it all away again (this took even less time). I tinkered with a couple of pictures in Elements again (still no better at this, but I figure keep playing and maybe one day I'll have an epiphany).

Anyway, I removed the noise from the sunset image I'd taken on Jan 26th. Here it is.

jgs001 / Photos / Sunset

A brief mount update

I've made no progress at all. The accountant won't authorise any expense, it's not needed apparently, so the HEQ5 isn't gonna happen, the EQ5 that was on offer second hand has been withdrawn and I still haven't heard anything on the EQ2. There is a Vixen Porta Mount on Astro buy and sell which looks quite interesting.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Odd Moon and Friendly Viewing

I woke up really early on Saturday morning and after tossing and turning for an hour, I decided to take a look out the window. Just to see if there was heavy cloud cover or anything interesting up above to see. Sitting low, just above the horizon and only visible from the upstairs window was a large, waning sliver of moon with a noticeable orange tint. I decided I ought to try and take a few photo's of this (to me at least) unusual sight. I hadn't realised at the time, that there was a tree waving spindly branches in just the wrong place, I only spotted this after downloading the pictures later in the day and stacking them. Still I've tried to process it anyway and here's what I could manage.

jgs001 / Photos / Crescent Moon

We had some friends coming to visit us, and they had expressed an interest in taking a peek through the telescope. I kept a close eye on the sky and forecast throughout Saturday. As you would expect, the day started brilliant, no clouds, bright sunshine and gradually deteriorated throughout the day. To the point that, as soon as the sky had got dark enough at about 1830 I grabbed the Bins and the Scope and ducked out in the garden with my Friend.

The sky was not great most objects and dimmer stars were hiding behind what I can only describe as high level mist. The viewing was not helped by the house being lit up like a Christmas tree but What we did see was worth it. Firstly, I located the Pleiades, naked eye, so that he could get an idea of what we were looking at. Then I checked through the bins (to be honest, given what I normally see, I was a tad disappointed but this soon changed) to be sure that something was visible. I then handed them over to my friend, who soon found the sisters and started the oh wows!!!. Then I focused the Konus with the 20mm eyepiece and this made things a little clearer. Then using a combination of Bins and scope, we looked at the Hyades Betelgeuse and M42. We only got in about 30 minutes of viewing, but in that time my Friend uttered oh wow or various equivalents about half a dozen times.

I couldn't show him any of the clusters like the double in Perseus, they just couldn't be seen through the murk, and there was absolutely no chance on Saturn. By the time Saturn was up high enough, there was no sign of anything behind a thick layer of cloud. (Note to self, must perfect that cloud transparency filter one of these days). (note to self again, must get around to figuring out how to make a cloud transparency filter). Still a successful 30 minutes all told, and perhaps a new observer in the making. He already possesses the minimum requirements, a pair of eyes, and to aid them, a pair of Bins. So we shall see.

Tonight (Sunday) is a total wash. Heavy clouds. So I've settled, instead on a nice glass of wine, and trying to learn Photoshop Elements a little better. Of course the wine may be hampering this aim, but hey, such is the way of these things.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Clear Skies Tonight - Some Observing

Ah.. Clear Skies tonight. Thought I'd get out first off with the Camera and try and capture Perseus. After receiving some advice to take some flats and darks and puzzling as to what that actually meant for quite some time, I managed to work it out. This basically means taking some pictures using the camera with the lens cap on. Flats are taken at the shortest exposure but with the same ISO settings and Darks are taken at the same settings the picture was taken at. Ok, Now I know. So off I went. Got set up, took a few test shots to work out the alignment as I can't actually see any stars on the screen or in the view finder of my Z2. So all setup. I snapper off 30x30 second shots at ISO200, then 6 darks and 10 flats. Pushed them through Deep Sky Stacker which decided it didn't like my input files and complained that as they were jpg files it couldn't do something, which I ignored as I wasn't sure what it meant anyway and DSS carried out the processing. I then played with the image in Photoshop Elements to try and improve the image. I use the word play deliberately, as if you've read my previous posts, I don't really have a clue what I'm doing with it. And here is the image I produced :

jgs001 / Photos / Perseus

I'm quite pleased with it, I got the Pleiades in there as well. Not sure I got the colours right, possibly overdid something in Elements.

Anyway, whilst I was taking these 30 pictures, which actually took nearer 90 seconds per 30 second shot... I got out my Binoculars and had a good look around.

I started with M45 - The pleaides, I love looking at the sisters such a sharp and pretty cluster to look at. Moved onto look the Hyades then at M42 in Orion, M41, M35 in Gemini, M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga, turned around and had a look at the Mizar and Alcor double that I caught in the picture of the big dipper. Then had a look at the double cluster in Perseus and the Alpha Persei association. Then whilst taking the Darks and Flats had a go at Saturn through the Binoculars. I could definitely see that this wasn't a star, but I couldn't keep them still, hand held, and my tripod still had my camera attached.

At this point, I popped back indoors, swapped the camera for the scope with a 5mm Ortho and a 32mm Plossly in pocket went back for a further look around. I started with Saturn with the 5mm Ortho. As it's there and clear how could I resist. There was at least one moon that I could make out and I make it Titan. I had a good thorough look at the Orion nebula, I could clearly make out M42 and the Trapezium, and just about pick out M43, another lovely sight. Then time for a nice widefield look with the 32mm Plossl at the Sisters again before coming in to start work on processing the Perseus image above.

A most enjoyable evening's astro fun. Just got to defrost a little more now and I feel a drink is in order.

Pulling out my hair!! (Image editing and more mount noise)

After I'd posted my Saturn pic on the Stargazers Lounge, one of the kind gents on there kindly improved the image dramatically. I asked how the hell he'd managed to do what he had done. He replied with a list of tasks in Photoshop, that to be honest looked a lot like double dutch to me. Still, thought I, nothing ventured and all that.

So when I had some time last night, I sat down at the 'puter, fired up photoshop elements and loaded the image. So far so good. Right thought I, firstly ... let's see, hmm the burn tool. Where on earth is that ? So I looked an searched for a while. Tried the help. Searched on Google. Eventually I found it (thanks to google) buried under another tool in the tool panel. Turns out this has nothing to do with a blowtorch and in fact has a little hand for an icon. Still, onwards. I selected the burn tool, and clicked on the image. This certainly got rid of the noise around the edge, and half the image.

Damn, thought I and reverted back to the original file. I tried again. I managed to burn away all the noisy bits around the edge. Aha, maybe if I reduce the intensity of the burn, I thought, I could do the same across the surface. Hmm, worth a go. It got rid of the noisy bits, and left interesting streaks all across the image. Revert!!! Tried again. removed all the bits around the edge, then left it alone. I figured I'd done enough damage with the burn tool, and time to move onto the next tool on the list. Despeckle. This was easy. I dragged the despeckle tool onto the image. It did it's stuff. I wish I knew what it had done, because I couldn't really see much difference. Oh well.

Moving on. Gaussian blur. I know that's here somewhere... Eventually I found it, hoping it would work in the same way as despeckle, I dragged the tool to the image. So far so good, then disaster, Gaussian blur popped up a new tool input box and was asking me what I wanted it to do. Oh no!!!. Thought I, I'm scuppered now. Ah well, in for a penny in for a pound, I started moving the sliders up and down to see what they would do. After operating the sliders like a monkey conducting a symphony orchestra (which is probably quite an apt analogy here) I was no closer to figuring out the best settings, other than a certain range seemed to make things a little better prior to the image disappearing in a cloud of yellow mist.

I figured I'd best start over again, as I couldn't get any better, and I was just making things worse. Needless to say this went on for over an hour until frustration got the better of me. I just closed elements and aborted all changes. My little picture would have to do as is for now, and I'd try again another day. So I had a drink instead. This I could manage easily without all the aggravation and no need for a burn tool. I'll chalk this one up to experience, and next time I won't make all the same mistakes, I'm bound to make different ones instead and I might have a drink to start with, help focus the faculties.

As for the mount. The Supatrak has been withdrawn. I have no way to mount my scope on the AZ3 using the normal suggested method of the tube rings, not that I have any anyway, and would need me to put together something to make it work. The EQ2 may or may not be sold, the current owner is waiting to hear from someone else before he can let me know. So, I've moved target completely. I'm now looking at an Astro Engineeering AC562 AZTech on a wooden tripod. It's cheaper than a new AZ3 (which I'd have to spend more money on to make my scope fit), and only a little more expensive than a second hand AZ3 after I'd bought the bits to allow my scope to fit. And I wouldn't need to buy anymore bits for it (A bonus!!)