Better luck up in Scotland

Tim had much better luck with the eclipse up in Scotland. He managed to get a nice set of shots of the event.

Oh, and now everything's over, it's starting to clear up here.

File Under: Partial Eclipse, Scotland.

Clouded out at the last moment

I managed as long as this (about 10:00 UT):

and then cloud totally took over.

Still, at least I got to see something.

File Under: Partial Eclipse.

Fingers crossed

Unlike last time this morning is starting out clear. There's a few wispy, high-level clouds around but nothing to be too concerned about.

At the moment, it's looking good for the eclipse.

File Under: Partial Eclipse.


Antares 905: First Impressions

Despite the forecast saying cloud and rain I managed to get outside last Friday night for a very brief test of the Antares 905.

As you'll see from the log entry, I didn't really get to look at much (20 mins isn't really much of an observing session) but the brief time I was out with it didn't offer any "oh no, I've made a bad choice here" moments. Quite the opposite in fact, even in that brief time I had quite a lot of fun with the 'scope.

The current 5 day forecast from the Met Office shows no clear nights so, unless things improve, I'm probably not going to get to have a proper play with the 905 this week.

Worse yet, the 5 day forecast is also suggesting that, once again, I'm going to miss a partial eclipse.

File Under: Antares 905, Partial Eclipse, British Weather.



A couple of days ago, when I wrote about the arrival of the 905, I mentioned in passing that the book that was advertised as being included with the 905 wasn't in the package:

No sign of the free copy of Robin's book that they advertise as coming with the setup but I'm really not going to complain about that, partly because I think I'm a bit beyond needing that particular book but mostly because they did me a nice favour in swapping the eyepieces.
I was serious, it wasn't a complaint and I wouldn't complain. S'n'S had been more than accommodating as it was.

Well, I had a package turn up today (actually, it turned up yesterday, but I didn't get it until today thanks to the fun that is the Royal Mail and recorded delivery) and, inside was... yes, you guessed it, the book, along with a cover note that says:
Dave, Sorry we missed this off your order
You really didn't need to do that! But thanks anyway.

File Under: Good Customer Service, Scopes'n'Skies.

M64 with the BRT

© Bradford University

Inspired by this gallery entry over on the SPA BB I decided to have a go at imaging M64 using the Bradford Robotic Telescope. As before, the image above is simply an jpeg export from AVIS, I've not done anything else to the image other than shrink it so it fits well in this post.

© Bradford University

File Under: Bradford Robotic Telescope, M64.

Still didn't get to test the 905

Yesterday I said:

Perhaps I'll get lucky and we'll have a few hours of dark before the cloud rolls in...
I didn't get lucky. By the time it was dark the sky was totally overcast. I'm not seeing a clear night on the five day Met Office forecast for my area so it looks like I won't get to try the 'scope out for a while yet.

File Under: Bloody British Weather.


Didn't get to test the 905

Sadly I didn't get to test the 905 last night because the skies were pretty awful all evening. By the time I finished work it was almost clear, but with some haze and thin cloud (and quite a lot of spread out contrails too from what I could tell). The darker it got that evening, the thicker the haze seemed to be.

By about 21:30 I pretty much gave up on the idea of getting the 'scope out for its first test. I'd like to test it with reasonable skies.

Now, the forecast for tonight is cloud but, at the moment, the sky outside is really clear. According to the Met Office it's going to be cloud from now until at least next Monday (that's as far as the forecast goes). Perhaps I'll get lucky and we'll have a few hours of dark before the cloud rolls in...

File Under: Antares 905, Telescope Testing.


905 arrives — or does it?

The delivery from Scopes'n'Skies turned up this morning, before I was even out of bed! Pretty good going I think, less than 24 hours from placing an order to getting the delivery.

A short while later I take the parcel over to the office. I open the end of the outer box and, inside, see a box for a Bresser 700. My heart sinks. They've sent me the wrong bloody 'scope!


At that point I decide to give them a call. I can't see much point in unpacking anything because it's all going to have to go back and you never manage to pack things up the same as the supplier does. I call but just get their recorded message that suggests you call back later or send them an email.


Now what? Keep calling? Send them an email? Do both? At that point I decide I'll call back again in around 5mins and, in the mean time, I'll slide the 700 box out of the packing and have a quick look inside anyway, being careful not to remove much so I'll get it all back in.

Sure enough, the only thing in the main box is the box for the 700. I open it and, right away, find an envelope with instructions and extras — all of which relate to the 700.


Thinking that they might have recycled the box and perhaps left some bits in I have a look inside the biggest box in the 700 box. A tripod, but exactly the sort of tripod that is shown with the 700. Next I find the mount, same mount as the 700. Finally I find the OTA.

It's an Antares 905!

Lots of swearing at myself follows.

It's only then that I notice a handful of little stickers on the outside of the 700 box that say "Antares 905".

So, there we go, I do have my Antares 905 but it didn't come with the mount and tripod that appear on the S'n'S website, instead it came with the mount and tripod from a Bresser 700. To be honest, at the moment, I'm not really sure if that's a good, bad or neutral thing. I've put the tripod and mount together and it seems reasonable enough, at least reasonable enough to carry the weight of something like the 905. I really wish they'd warned me to expect this though, if only to avoid the "oh crap" moment when I opened the main packaging.

As for everything else, it's all there. The swapped eyepiece and the red-dot finder I ordered to replace the finder that comes with the 905 (which looks pretty rubbish and, in all fairness, S'n'S did warn me that it was pretty bad and I'd probably want an upgrade for it) were both in there. On top of that I found what's got to be the worst lunar map I've ever seen (which appears to be in German, I think) and also the smallest planisphere I've ever seen — although, to be fair, the planisphere is quite a handy size).

No sign of the free copy of Robin's book that they advertise as coming with the setup but I'm really not going to complain about that, partly because I think I'm a bit beyond needing that particular book but mostly because they did me a nice favour in swapping the eyepieces.

The good news is that the forecast at the moment is for clear skies tonight. So, fingers crossed, I might actually get to give the 905 a try. Of course, nothing is that simple is it? For the past few days I've had what can best be described as an annoying feeling in my right eye and, this morning, I woke up with a swollen eyelid. Yes, in the eye I use most at the eyepiece.


File Under: Antares 905, Scopes'n'Skies.


New telescope on order

It's a year ago this month that I took delivery of the 130M and started to get back into observational astronomy and, in that time, I've been surprised to find how often I use a binocular to observe along side, or instead of, the 130M. There's something to be said for the wide-field views and the simple joy there is to be had from sweeping large areas of sky and getting big views of big objects.

The main problem, as many people find, is that a binocular isn't a very comfortable observing tool. While I know that there are some solutions — dedicated binocular brackets or mirror mounts for example — they've always tended to appear a little on the expensive side for my taste (the prices are understandable but I'm not yet at the point where I've got the sort of equipment that warrants spending that sort of money on just mounts — yes, yes, I know, the mount is important, but...).

With this experience in mind, for the past couple of months or so, I've been toying with the idea of getting a small 'scope that will more or less do the job of a binocular; the sort of 'scope that I can drag out into the garden in no time and which is portable enough that I can take it along to astronomical society meetings without having to drag along something that takes up a large part of the boot of the car.

While having a good look around to see what my options were (I'd set a budget somewhere around £100, a tight budget but not impossible, around the price of an acceptable binocular) I stumbled on the Antares 905 over at Scopes'n'Skies. I then spent some time searching around on Google to see if I could find any reviews of the 'scope but it seems it's pretty new so I couldn't find anything (well, apart from a boat with the same name but that didn't really help much).

After a short email exchange with the people at S'n'S I decided that I'd give it a go. So, this morning, I gave them a call and placed an order. All being well it should be with me tomorrow (here's where I should insert the usual thing about how it'll be cloudy for the next couple of weeks, but that's hardly a big deal given that it's been cloudy for the last couple of weeks anyway).

At this point, I'd like to praise the customer service of S'n'S (no, really, I don't have any connection with them other than being a very satisfied customer). The 905, as advertised on their site, comes with K9 and K25 eyepieces. I've already got 10mm and 25mm eyepieces in my collection (along with a 6mm and 15mm). In other words, the supplied eyepieces would pretty much clash with what I've already got. I asked if it would be possible to opt for something different, either of equal value or of different value and I'd pay the difference — I had my eye on a 32mm Plössl. Without any hesitation they said they'd be happy to do a straight swap. That's what I call great customer service! It's also fully in keeping with my past experiences of them, I've purchased a few items off them and I've yet to be disappointed — every time the delivery is swift and, the one time they made a mistake, they were quick and efficient when correcting it.

So, fingers crossed for a swift delivery and some clear skies real soon. I'll post a report of my first impressions once I get the 'scope and have a chance to drag it outside.

File Under: Antares 905, Scopes'n'Skies, Telescope.


"It was 20 years ago...."

...yesterday, apparently. If it weren't for Tim noticing I probably wouldn't have noticed either — which is kind of terrible really.

Giotto was such an amazing mission, there was something about it that was quite different from anything else I'd watched before (sorry, I'm too young to have watched and appreciated the first Apollo landing — besides, I was on holiday in Scarborough at the time, with no TV). As a child, reading all I could about astronomy, comets came over as such "mystical" objects while at the same time seeming to be almost in our grasp. Halley held a special place too because it's the comet that I read about the most and it was going to return "soon". The wait for Halley seemed to take ages (the 20 years that have passed seem to have flown) and the excitement of seeing something, anything, was incredible.

I spent that night watching it on TV, I think it was a Sky at Night special, along with a few other friends and fellow members of the York Astronomical Society.

Interestingly, from what I can gather, the craft is still out there and it last flew by Earth back in 1999.

File Under: Giotto, ESA, Comet Halley.


M53 with the BRT

© Bradford University

Over the weekend I had my second successful result back from the Bradford Robotic Telescope. This time an image of M53.

This took a couple of attempts. I used the cluster camera for the first attempt but the field of view was far too wide and M53 was simply a small smudge in a large field. I then submitted three new jobs for M53 using the galaxy camera and with exposure times of 120,000ms, 60,000ms and 30,000ms. The 120,000ms job didn't work and was marked "Err: h/w problem" (not sure what that means, I'll have to go and read up), the 60,000ms job is the one shown above. The 30,000ms job looks more or less the same as the above except, oddly, it has the appearance of having had a longer exposure time.

I've not made any changes to the image other than to export it as a JPEG from the FITS image using AVIS.

File Under: Bradford Robotic Telescope, M53, Globular Cluster.

Google Mars

First they did the Earth. Then they (sort of) did the Moon. And, now, they've added Mars.

I hope they go back and do the Moon map with the same level of detail that they've given the Mars map.

Thanks to Rich Daley for the heads-up.

File Under: Google, Mars, Google Mars.


Sir Patrick in hospital

According to the BBC:

Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, host of The Sky at Night, is being treated in hospital for heart problems.

The 83-year-old was taken to St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, West Sussex, on Tuesday evening.

File Under: Patrick Moore, The Sky at Night.

By 'eck! Tha' were quick!

Yesterday morning I submitted a job to the Bradford Robotic Telescope. This morning I had an email sat waiting for me that said:

Hello, Telescope.org would like to inform you that an observation request you submitted has been completed!
That happened a lot sooner than I expected.

I've grabbed the image but haven't done anything with it yet. Here's a shrunk version:

© Bradford University

If you look at the full sized version of the image you'll see some trailing so I'm guessing that the tracking of the 'scope is off a little. Still, can't complain, as the email I received says:
Please be aware that the telescope is currently in beta testing - we are still working on the automatic focussing, tracking and cloud sensors to optimise the images. Please let us know if you think that your image could be improved - that helps us a great deal and put your request in again to get a better one! Thank you.
I think I'll have to have some more of a play with this. So far I'm rather impressed.

File Under: Bradford Robotic Telescope, M101, Pinwheel Galaxy.


All Things Solar

Seems I'm having a bit of a Solar-oriented period at the moment. First I join the SPA Solar section, then I start trying to observe the Sun each day and do (at the very least) a sunspot count, then I create a section on my site for showing the results.

To top it off, last night on BBC4, I enjoyed a couple of programmes about the Sun — the edition of The Sky At Night was one of the most interesting I've seen in a long time, in particular I really liked Pete Lawrence's broken CD, screwdriver and cardboard box based device for observing the Sun's spectrum; I quite fancy building one myself.

And, finally, I read Ian Musgrave's blog entry about the solar minimum (which links to this article over at NASA). Although I knew it anyway it's still sort of nice to see that my current run of 0 sunspot counts is zero for a reason. I'm going to really enjoy starting at the bottom of the dip and working my way up.

No observation today though. I woke up to overcast skies and it's been raining since around 12:30. From the forecasts I've seen it'll be pretty much like this for the rest of the week.

File Under: Solar Observing, Sunspot Counts, Solar Minimum.

Bradford Robotic Telescope

I've just done something I've been meaning to do for a while now: create an account with the Bradford Robotic Telescope. I've been meaning to do it for about a month now, ever since I saw the results that Jeff managed to get when he had a play.

This morning Tim happened to mention to me that he was having a play and that finally pushed me over the edge.

I've just submitted my first job request. I think I've started out easy by submitting a job to image M101.

File Under: Bradford Robotic Telescope, M101.


Crater discovered in the Sahara?

From here:

Researchers from Boston University have discovered the remnants of the largest crater of the Great Sahara of North Africa which may have been formed by a meteorite impact tens of millions of years ago. Dr. Farouk El-Baz made the discovery while studying satellite images of the Western Desert of Egypt with his colleague, Dr. Eman Ghoneim, at BU's Center for Remote Sensing. The crater was named Kebira, meaning "large" in Arabic.
File Under: Great Sahara, Remote Sensing, Crater.

Spot Counts

As I pointed out a few days back, I'm now trying to make a point of observing the Sun at least once a day so that I can do active area and sunspot counts which can then be submitted to the SPA solar section.

Although I'm writing up my observations in my log I also wanted to keep some sort of tabular form of the counts — partly because it'll make it easier to fill in the monthly observation report, but also because I wanted the values in a form that I can manipulate without too much effort (perhaps graphing the values, or injecting them into a database or something).

Last week I quickly threw together a simple XML format for holding the data and, from now on, I'm adding my counts to files in this format. I'll be creating one file per month — you can see this month's file here.

This morning I added a new page to my astronomy site which displays the counts. It still needs a little more work, mostly just a case of adding links from each of the days listed to the related logs, but it's pretty much done and working. Probably not that useful to anyone but, as with other additions to the site, fun to work on and it gets a copy of the data "off site".

File Under: Sun, Solar Observing, Sunspot Counts.


First attempt at Comet Pojmanski

Just had my first attempt at seeing Comet Pojmanski this morning. Very cold, down to -6.6°C at one point (although, to be fair, that's nothing compared to the -14°C Tom had to cope with), very murky on the eastern horizon.

I popped out a couple of times with the Meade 10x50 binocular to scan the right area of sky but failed to find any hint of the comet.

Still, it wasn't a total waste. It was a nice sky anyway (sort of odd seeing summer constellations in winter, kind of the reverse of when I was looking at winter skies at the tail-end of summer) and I did manage to get a look at Venus and Jupiter (whose moons were nicely visible in the 10x50s).

File Under: Comet, Comet Pojmanski, Venus, Jupiter.


A much better night

Tonight has been much better than last night. It was clear at sunset (and what a view of the Moon!) and stayed clear (and still is clear).

I didn't stay out as long as I would have liked as it was very cold (by my standards anyway) and the 'scope and other items were starting to frost up. What made it worth it was the view of Saturn I had — the best view I've had since I first got the 'scope.

Unlike all other observations, this time I looked at it with the 6mm eyepiece and all the detail leapt out at me (crisp rings, shadows, Cassini Division) and pretty much stayed visible all the time. In the past those crisp and detailed moments have been the exception that I had to keep looking for; this time around they were the rule.

I've not typed up the notes yet — they should appear in today's log some time tomorrow.

File Under: Cold Night, Saturn.


After finally getting some sort of observing done yesterday afternoon I had high hopes for getting out with the 'scope in the evening. Right up until sunset the sky was pretty clear.

I finished up in the office around 18:30 or so and stepped outside to find — yes, that's right, cloud.

I then wandered into the house mumbling all sorts of things under by breath. About 1½ hours later (after an episode of Stargate Atlantis so not a dead loss <g>) I had another look out and it was nice and clear. So, I went and dragged the 'scope out into the garden, headed back into the house and layered up (it was already below 0°C), had a quick cuppa while giving the 'scope time to cool and then went back out....

....to find more cloud.


Dragged the 'scope back into the office and gave it up as a bad job.

File Under: Annoying Weather.


Finally, an observation! (albeit a small one)

After over a month without a single recorded observation (the last was on 2006-01-24) I've finally had the time and the weather to look at something and record it! Okay, in this case, it was a very brief look at the Sun, but at least it was an observation and I recorded something.

Actually, this sort of fits in well with something I did recently. I've been meaning, for a long while now, to hook up with one of the SPA observing sections. Last week I dropped a line to the director of the solar section and I've now got a bunch of information and some observing sheets sat here. From now on I want to observe the Sun at least once a day (time and weather permitting, obviously) so that, at the very least, I can do a sunspot count via my Solarscope.

Totally unrelated to the above, I notice that Megan has spotted some strange happenings over at Jodrell Bank. Perhaps the explanation is that Jupiter got knocked out of place when JB was dragged back in from the North Sea? ;)

File Under: Solar Observing, Jodrell Bank.