Martian dust-storms

I met up with the Wolverhampton astronomers last night in the hopes of seeing the lunar eclipse, but no luck, we were clouded out (again). But it was at least a very pleasant evening, chatting about ‘scopes and stars and getting excited about the new observatory project.
But never mind, there’s been a great run of clear skies whilst the UK has been having a heat wave. I spent a few days in Somerset and saw a fantastic sunset from Glastonbury Tor. A sunset, is astronomy, y’know.

G22And so to Mars. I was so set on getting a decent Mars photo that I set the 8″ scope up by the side of the road, and got a quite disappointing image, showing a large disc, but no markings on the planet at all!

I felt better after visiting the Stargazer’s Lounge Planetary Imaging forum, (which usually makes me want to hang up my telescope), where they’re moaning about a great dust-storm on Mars, obliterating most surface features. So there’s hope yet of capturing some detail. I’d even be happy with a sketch, (I’ve got some good sketches from a previous close encounter with Mars in the early 90’s).
I also took some film of Saturn, which is playing see-saw with Jupiter at the moment. At 11pm Jupiter is highest, then, a couple of hours later, Saturn is higher.

As mentioned previously, with Saturn in Sagittarius it makes an excellent signpost for finding deep space objects. M23, M25 and M28 were ticked off, and M10 and M12 in Ophiuchus were also noticeably brighter than a few months ago from the same vantage point, when the constellation was lower and lost in the red haze of the Wolverhampton city lights. It’s a fantastic area of the sky, and one I hope to re-visit under darker skies soon.
And lastly, a Moon shot through the 4″ Heritage, from around ten days ago.


Saturn and Sagittarius

Saturn is in Sagittarius now, and a wonderful sight it is. It’s a great time for planets, with Mars, Saturn and Jupiter in the sky towards the south/southwest. I’m hoping to get an image of Mars later tonight. But first, a few things from an observing session earlier this week.
Sagittarius has more Messier objects than any other, fifteen according to my Universe From Your backyard book. I took my new 52mm Canon lens out to Boscabel House and managed to capture a few Sagittarius deep-sky objects with an 8 second exposure. It’s a fantastic constellation to do a binocular sweep on, and I also saw M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. Naughtily, I didn’t make notes, so, clear skies permitting, I’ll re-visit them tonight. I also used the 4″ Heritage on M8, M20 and M11 and had fine views of all of them. I’m pretty sure I haven’t studied M8 before, and certainly not in recent years.


Before leaving Sagittarius, here’s a more natural-looking picture of Saturn from almost a month ago, from the same spot.

Despite not having astronomical darkness, I also tried some long exposure shots of the area around Deneb, in Cygnus. On this quite badly-coloured shot, I can make out the North American Nebula.

And lastly, M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. How sad to think that under a truly dark sky, this isn’t far away from what you’d see with the naked eye. This took an eight second exposure.


Planets and open clusters

We’ve had a great run of clear skies. The night doesn’t get truly dark till after midnight, so I’ve not been arranging observing sessions for the club. I did take my Skywatcher out for a rare ‘roadside session’ the other night, because I particularly wanted to image Saturn. I took a minute film and did the usual Pipp/Autostakkert/Registrax thing, though I’m still not convinced I’m using the things right. But I got an identifiable shot, that is better than what I’ve got before of this planet. I think it’s a little over-sharpened.

The planets are putting on a fine display at the moment. Venus the brightest in the West, dipping below the horizon about 11.40. Jupiter is quite high, with Saturn to the left, lower, dimmer, and Mars to the left of Saturn, rising around idnight, very bright and red (though I didn’t capture the ruddiness in my shot from Pattingham below).


The photo of Saturn above was taken on the 23rd June, as was this photo of Jupiter.

Last night I was out again, and once again hooray for the table-top dob. That little 4″ reflector is really so much fun. Through my 9mm eyepiece I can easily see the cloud-bands of Jupiter, and the rings of Saturn. And last night I took in a lovey view of M39, an open cluster in Cygnus. The sky was full of summer haze even in the countryside, but still I managed some deep-sky work. Hercules was overhead, and the great cluster of M13 was surprisingly bright. Back in the early 90’s, I used a 4.5″ mirror a lot, and I’ve forgotten just how useful a small mirror can be.
The Wolverhampton Society has been really busy lately, I’m really pleased. Last month we had a trip to the Spaceguard Center in Knigton, and there’s an observatory project in the pipeline that’s very exciting indeed. I’ll post more about that later, but in the meantime here’s us at the Spaceguard Center, and here’s the observatory, on its way to Wolverhampton.