Thursday, 4 December 2014

New page! - Telescope Bits and Bobs

Hi all,

I just started a new page in my blog, Telescope bits and bobs

You will find this page listed in the left hand column too in the 'pages' heading.

Here I will post pictures of my telescopes, modifications I make to them, and sources of inspiration from other telescope makers that are wonderful ideas.

My first posting their is up, and answers a focusing problem when your instrument's focusing knob is small in diameter.  Please have a look and enjoy.


2 Lunar 'X's!

Poor weather and work continue to conspire against me to have time with a telescope and pencil & paper.

This week I've posted my sketch of the chance find of not one but two Lunar X's, one an imposter that I found first, and then the better known Real McCoy from out of an artistic flourish.

You will find a more in-depth account of the sketch in the Gallery of astronomy art pieces.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Jewel Box and Coal Sack

Small rich field telescopes can be too easily overlooked for larger apertures.  The problem with this is the larger picture of the way individual objects relate to their immediate neighbours can be lost.

This sketch was done back in April during the Ice In Space Astro Camp.  It is one of my all time favourite areas of the sky, and it requires the right instrument to take in the enormous area of sky.

A more extensive write up of this piece can be found in the blog page Gallery of astronomy art pieces.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Omega Centauri - Behold the King

I have not had an opportunity recently to make a new piece recently.  This sketch of Omega Centauri was created in 2011.  A write up on Omega can be found in the Gallery of astronomy art pieces

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus and Arzachel revisited - again

The Moon – the target that keeps on giving.

This sketch is the third time I’ve visited the magnificent trio of craters Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus & Arzachel.  Each and every time this trio has given incredible new details & stories.

Much of the Moon’s details are readily visible – they just requires patience to identify.  Other details are fine & require not just patience, but a co-incidence with good stable atmospheric conditions.

The exercise in producing this piece revealed more about the forces that formed the lunar surface.  Many of these forces spell cataclysmic results if they are visited on Earth now.  Others are currently in play on Earth today, though extinguished on the Moon long, long ago.  My last examination of this trio show me how the appearance of craters can show the age of their features, thereby giving a time-line to their relative age/history.

Brief history in the rocks – The more a crater is lava filled/flooded, the older it is as the impact occurred when the Moon was hotter and its crust was thinner, so lava flowed readily to fill the resulting hole.  As the Moon cooled, and the crusted thickened, the lava flowed less readily, so these craters show less filling/flooding, with their central peaks still visible.  The latest age of the of the Moon sees craters with no lava flooding as the crust is too thick to allow lava to flow to the surface.  Today, the Moon is a nearly totally cold rock, so every impact is a ‘simple’ impact  – very recent research by Japanese scientists has revealed the very core of the Moon still maintains a small amount of residual heat.

Now, the really exciting part of this ancient lava activity is that these partially filled craters hold a bucket load of other details such as extinct volcanos, pyroclastic deposits (ash and dust fallout deposits), rilles that are river beds of lava flows, and other rilles that are extensive fracture lines produced by the massive subterranean magma pressure pushing up from below the solidified flooded crater floor, causing the solid lava floor to dome and fracture.  This is a common characteristic of these middle age craters.  Older craters like Ptolemaeus, rarely show this type of rille system.

This trio of craters show all these classic characteristics:  Ptolemaeus is a very ancient crater where the entire crater is flooded, with only a shallow rim remaining.  

Alphonsus is younger than Ptolemaeus.  It’s floor is considerably flooded with just a small amount to the central peak visible.  As volcanic activity was still a common occurrence, Alphonsus has several volcanic peaks and pyroclastic deposits.  Its floor was also subjected to the subterranean magma pressures that  have created a series of rilles in its floor.  

Arzachel is the youngest of the trio.  It is still a very old impact crater as its floor is flooded, but by the least amount of the three.  Volcanism was already not as active on the lunar surface so there are not volcanos in it.  However, subterranean magma pressure was still very much in play and these significant forces, and having no place to go such as volcanic vents, pushed very hard on the partially flooded floor and fractured it too.

There is another set of crater features that are really special as they do not occur too often on the Moon.  ‘Catena’ is the Latin name for chain, and on the Moon these refers to a string or chain of craters.  These chains are formed by an asteroid or comet that has been smashed and its component fragments orbit the sun in a line following each other.  When they encounter the Moon, their impact is seen as a dotted line.  On either side of Ptolemaeus there are two such catena.  One on the left of the Ptolemaeus is Catena Davy, named after the crater Davy.  It is a challenging thin string of beads going east to west.  This chain can be a tease to find as the constituent craters are small, going from 1km to 3km.  The second set of catena is on the right side of Ptolemaeus, though I cannot find this catena’s name in the atlas’s at my disposal.

The area surrounding this trio also has several fault lines and rifts that are not expressly named.  Two of these sets of fault lines also straddle the left and right sides of Ptolemaeus, running parallel down to the north west.  Curious that these should not be named as they are quite striking and bold features.

This visit to this prominent trio was one of my most exciting pieces to produce.  So much more detail was found this time than the previous two.  It is also the most expansive of the three sketches.  And a wonderful time was had.

Object:  craters Ptolemaeus, Alphonus & Arzachel and surrounds
Telescope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  8mm LVW, 250X
Date:  2nd October 2014
Location:  Sydney, Australia

Media:  Soft pastels, charcoal & white ink on A4 black paper

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Spider's Web - the mighty Tarantula Nebula, NGC 2070

This piece so far has been the most challenging for me.  The level of complexity is just an extraordinary thing.  From bright nebulosity, through to angle's-breath faint.  Intense bright clusters, through to vast space between stars.  This piece I ended up working on over two nights as it required me to develop new techniques to depict certain details.

The Tarantula is so named for its somewhat arachnid appearance.  Tendrils of nebulosity, fashioned from the extraordinary push and pull of stellar radiation and strong gravitation influences, give this nebula its spridery appearance.  It sits on the edge of the Large Magellanic Cloud closest to the Milky Way galaxy.  The gravitational tidal pull between the Milky Way and that of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), has acted to create a massive compression front at this point of the LMC.  The compression front has triggered an enormous amount of stellar formation activity.  Such stellar formation activity is also witnessed in other galaxies that have also experience massive gravitational tidal influence by the interaction with another galaxy.

What cannot be forgotten is the clusters of super massive stars that powers' the glowing mass of gas and dust.  These same stars were born from this gas and dust.  The radiation that they blow of creates new compression fronts within the gas cloud.  These compression fronts within the gas cloud creates concentrations of this gas and dust.  This increase in the mass density results in a localized increase in gravity.  Over the course of millions of years, this ever so slight localized gravitational pull attracts more material onto itself, and this slowly builds and builds until a star is born out of this dust and gas.  Many of the super massive stars that are inside these huge clusters are burning their hydrogen fuel at such a staggering rate that their life span is short - tens of millions of years as opposed to several billion for our Sun.  Finally, when their hydrogen fuel is exhausted, they undergo a cataclysmic explosion, spewing themselves back into the space that they were formed from, and from their ashes new stars will be born.

From a dark site, the Tarantula is also a naked eye object, seen  as a large dot off one of the general bar-like appearance ends of the LMC.  And it is a massive structure.  The LMC is some 160,000 light years away from us, and the Tarantula is still visible as a unique solitary item in the sky.  It is some 100 times larger than the Great Orion Nebula.  Were the Tarantula at the same distance to us as the Great Orion Nebula, its brilliance would be enough to cast shadows on Earth.

This nebula has presented a great creative challenge for me.  I spent two and a half hours on it the first night.  The details within the tendrils confounded my capabilities to depict accurately that night.  I ended up exhausted and frustrated.  The following day I experimented with techniques to achieve the effects I was after.  Last Saturday night I paid another visit to the Tarantula, armed with the new techniques.  This time around, not only was I less daunted, but it afforded me greater freedom to more critically examine the fainter details.  I was surprised at how much more detail I was able to detect now not being so concerned with details I was struggling to depict in a satisfactory manner.

All up I spent close to 5 hours at the eyepiece with this piece.  The Tarantula has proven to be a fantastic challenge, and a wonderful inspiration.  Again, it is through the time taken in developing a sketch that the full splendor that the Tarantula was revealed.

Object:  The Tarantula Nebula, NGC 2070
Telescope:  17.5" push-pull Karee dob
Gear:  13mm LVW - 158X, NPB & OIII Filters
Location:  Katoomba Airfield, Australia
Date:  28th September, 2014
Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A4 size black paper

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Galaxy NGC 1566 - a hidden treasure deep in the southern sky

Hello folks,

This last Saturday ended up being a non-event sadly.  When we arrived we were greeted with a magnificent clear sky.  Some 13 people turned up to the Airfield in hope of some photons.  Then, no sooner had we set up out telescopes the wind changed to come from the east, and with that the clouds rolled in… so very disappointing.  We are hoping for better skies this coming Saturday.

I did manage a mid-week sojourn to the Airfield, seeing that the forecast was favourable.  The current forecast for the coming Saturday wasn’t too promising at the time, so I took the chance in case the worst came about (the forecast now is much more promising though!).

A recent supernova in the galaxy NGC 1566 made me curious about it and Seyfert type galaxies.  I ended up getting one of the most spectacular surprises I’ve encountered for some time!  It also brought to mind something I had read about exit pupil when observing galaxies.

What a magnificent, beautiful galaxy NGC 1566 is!  Low magnification does not do justice to it.  It really requires some grunt to see the wealth of details it contains.  Seeing this night was very stable, so I was able to take things to 200X in my 17.5” Karee dob.  Low magnification showed nothing more than a small bright oval.  Increasing the magnification and a gorgeous pair of arms became starkly evident.  A bright stellar like core too.  The increased contrast offered by the increase magnification also  showed a gossamer faint extension beyond that of the arms only visible with averted vision.

The ultimate treasure 1566 held was still to be surrendered.  Carefully studying the arm structure for while sketching, I noticed that one of the arms has a ‘string of pearls’ along its leading edge of strong star forming regions.  The other arm has similar regions, but not as many nor as bright.  This string of star formation regions was most unexpected, and absolutely exquisite to view.

In so far as the supernova is concerned, while it was still visible, it was not bright enough for me to distinguish it from the bright core and a bright foreground star that it sat between.  The separation between the core and this foreground star was just too tight.

If you have the opportunity to view this little galaxy, please do.  While small, it is bright and takes high magnification very well to reveal a large amount of detail.  If it were not for that this galaxy sits in the same constellation as the Large Magellanic Cloud it would most likely be much more well known.

Object:  galaxy NGC 1566
Telescope:  17.5” Karee push-pull dob
Gear:  10mm Pentax XW, 200X
Location:  Katoomba Airfield, NSW, Australia
Date:  23rd September, 2014

Media:  Soft pastel and charcoal on A4 size black paper.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Heading out to Katoomba Airfield this weekend, and maybe next too

Hello folks,

With the September new Moon sitting mid-week, we have the chance of getting two good dark sky weekends this month, one either side of the new Moon.

It's been an abysmal year this one so far for using Katoomba Airfield.  We have not had one single new Moon weekend fall in our favour!  Dreadful weather has befallen each and every new Moon weekend for us this year.  There are some regular visitors to the Airfield who have not had their scopes out for over a year with work also conspiring against them.  Very sad state of affairs this one.

This weekend is looking very promising though.  I'm hoping it will be a very productive one for me too.

If ever you do come down to Sydney, see if you can manage to pair it up with a new Moon weekend.  This makes for the best opportunity to get out under a southern dark sky.  Maybe even look into meeting up with us fellows who make the trek to Katoomba Airfield once a month or so.  It would be great to meet you.

The Airfield its 1000m above sea level, making it one of the highest observation points within 2 hours of Sydney's centre.  This helps so much in toning down the light dome coming from Sydney as the majority of it sits in a natural basin below the Blue Mountains.  When conditions have been at their best, I've managed to see the Pinwheel galaxy, M33, as a naked eye object.

I'll be taking along a 12" Marana dob and a 17.5" Karee dob, both from Gondwana Telescopes.  I'm happy for people to come and use both these fine instruments.  Lots of photon collecting power between these two scopes :) 

Fingers crossed for a good couple of dark sky weekends.

The picture below is from one of our summer nights a couple of years ago.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

New Gallery page

One part of my intention to start this blog is to also make it a place where I can also put up works that I completed prior to starting the blog, and a place to showcase newer pieces as they fall into the blog's archive.

So here is the Gallery of Astronomy Art.

You can also access the Gallery from the link in the left hand margin.

Tonight I'm adding my sketch of M16, the Eagle Nebula

This was my first ever view of the dark pillars that form this famous avian celestial apparition.  It was a fortunate viewing too as only a short time after I completed the sketch conditions deteriorated and the dark pillars were no longer visible in my 17.5" scope.

Even to see this Eagle is not an easy task.  Averted vision is a must, and patience.  Yet the reward is fabulous as it is possible to make out a brighter leading edge on one side of the pillars, making for a fantastic 3D effect.

Object:  M16, the Eagle Nebula
Telescope:  17.5" Karee push-pull dobsonian
Gear:  16mm Konig, 125X, OIII filter
Date:  2nd July, 2011
Location:  Ilford, Australia
Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A4 size black paper

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Thrashed on the Western Shore of Mare Nectaris

Hello everyone,

Local weather has been abysmal over the last three weeks.  Rain and heavy overcast conditions killing off any chance of scope time.  This last Sunday saw a break in this weather pattern, and I had an opportunity to visit the Moon again.

First inspection of the Moon threw up a wonderful trio combination of craters formed by Theophilus, Cyrillus & Catharina (south is to the top of the work).  The image they presented close to the terminator was most striking.  Little did I know of what lay ahead of me.  What I thought would be an ‘easy’ cruise was to turn into a marathon effort at the eyepiece.

These three large craters are very busy places.  They are riddled with younger imapacts, criss-crossed with rilles, damaged and worn with age.  The actual amount of detail only slowly became apparent as the sketch developed and the observation time increased.

All three craters are very ancient.  All three have flooded floors, with Catharina’s  (the oldest) central peak completely covered over, Cyrillus’ central peak just managing to poke through, and Theophilus’ being the least flooded.  The ghostly image of the ray system radiating out from Theophilus is still visible across the plains of Mare Nectaris, and Sinus Asperitatus to the north.  These plains are heavily pock-marked with thousands of small craters

The longer the sketch when on, the more detail I saw, and the longer the process went on.  What I had anticipated as a two hour sketch went on for more than three hours.  The level of detail is astounding, and beautiful.  While I was cramping up, and my seat becoming less comfortable, I just could not stop nor reduce the amount of detail I was putting down.

Then, a little surprise popped up.  I spotted a curious looking little ‘crater’ just off the northern rim of Catharina.  The trailing shadow of the rim of this little crater looked way too long for it to be a normal crater.  The length of the shadow implied a much taller rim wall.  It just could not be a crater.  The only thing it could be was a volcano.  I always examine my Moon atlas’s after completing a piece to check names and features.  Principle of the atlas’s I use is “Virtual Moon Atlas” (VMA).  VMA confirmed my suspicion of the unusual nature of this ‘crater’ as being a volcano!  Woo-hoo!  ‘Catharina 2’ is its official designation.  Catharina 1 is to the south east of Catharina, but it is not as prominent as ‘2’, and in the sketch is lost in the noise of the surrounding small craters.

Another surprise presented itself along the terminator, with the lesser known brother to ‘The Straight Wall’ escarpment made its presence known with the brilliantly illuminated eastern facing wall of Rupes Altai.  Unlike The Straight Wall, Rupes Altai is serpentine in nature.  Rupes Altai is close to 500km long, nearly five times longer than its straight brother, and has an average height three times taller too.

This piece was an exquisite exercise for me.  The amount of detail revealed to me was fabulous.  Detail that is just not visible without extensive observation time spent on the area.  I ended up being dashed on the rocky shore line of Mare Nectaris, beaten up due to my complacency.  And now all the happier for it.

I really hope you enjoy this piece as much as I’ve enjoyed producing it!

Object:  Western Shore of Mare Nectaris: Theophilus, Cyrillus & Catharina
Telescope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  8mm LVW, 250X
Date:  31st August, 2014
Location:  Sydney, Australia

Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal & white ink on black paper

My original art work and prints of them can be purchased through Gondwana Telescopes,

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Mare Humorum (Sea of Moisture) & Gassendi

Hello again,

This is the third sketch completed over three consecutive nights.  And as often happens, the best was saved for last.

In November last year I did a sketch of Rimae Hippalus.  This area shows a series of what looks like co-centric riles.   When I did some research on this area after this Rimae Hippalus area, I came so see that there is a ‘mirror image’ set of riles to the north-west of Rimae Hippalus, Rimae Mersenius.  All of this happens along the shores of Mare Humorum.

As it turns out, this is no coincidence.   Both sets of riles are all related.  They are the resulting massive fracture lines that were formed when an enormous rock slammed into the Moon that formed Mare Humorum.  Both these rile systems are the fracture lines formed when the thin crust was smashed, much like the fracturing that forms when a stone or bullet slams into reinforced glass.  The terrible destructive force of that collision not only resulted in the crater being flooded by lava, but much of the resulting riles were also partially flooded.

Mare Humorum also has other treasures within its lava fields.  A pyroclastic deposit sits on the southern edge.  These areas are ancient remains of volcanic activity on the Moon!  And just west of this long extinct volcano is another volcanic anomaly, a dome.  Domes are volcanos that force their way to the surface, but not quite rupturing through.  Instead there is a ‘dome’ formed as the pressure from underneath pushed up causing a blister-like effect.  While doing this sketch, I noticed an odd ‘mountian’ close to the south western shore, very much out of place as it is well inside the lava fields.  It turns out that this ‘mountain’ is one such dome!

This entire area makes for magnificent examination.  This particular night turned out to have sensational seeing conditions.  This allowed me so reach the best resolution I’ve been able to achieve for over a year, with details as small as 2km in diameter.

However, the sensation that is this area is not limited to the history of rile system.  The crater Gassendi contains an astonishing series of riles within its floor.  The floor of Gassendi is a partially flooded one as the central peak of the crater is still visible.  But the resulting lava field is criss-crossed with a maze of riles.  Their curious structure could well be the result of collapsed lava tunnels.  However I am not convinced as yet that this is the case as these riles are over 3km wide.

Whatever the origin of this valley system, it makes for a very pretty filigree pattern inside Gassendi.

Object:  Mare Humorum & crater Gassendi.
Telescope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  8mm Celestron Ultima LX, 250X
Date:  7th August, 2014
Location:  Sydney, Australia

Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal & white ink on A4 size black paper.

Below is the sketch of Rimae Hippalus, done in November last year, which is off the south-east edge of Mare Humorum, showing the rile system that reciprocates those pictured above.  You will see the crater Hippalus in both sketches that gives the reference point between both pieces.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Dawn over Gassendi

Hello again,

This night, while conditions didn’t allow for too high magnification, one striking feature demanded attention.  Very little of it was in illumination, but what was sunlit, made for a gorgeous subject.

Gassendi is a large crater on the northern shore of Mare Humorum.    Being dawn, its eastern face is brilliantly lit.  The crater floor is still in shadow and inky black.  Then, appearing as fragments of a shattered Moon, the highest peaks of its western rim and its central peak reaching out from the depths with fingertips to touch the first rays of the sun.

It was a challenge to depict the strong shadows.  And over the course of the two hours at the eyepiece, it was wonderful to witness the shadows and highlights change as the sun rose higher and higher.   For all the challenges, there is always something beautiful to behold.

Object:  “Dawn over Gassendi”
Telescope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  8mm LVW, 250X
Date:  6th August, 2014
Location:  Sydney, Australia

Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A5 size black paper.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Early morning Copernicus

Hi all,

We had a great spell of clear nights last week that allowed me to do three sketches of the Moon over three consecutive nights.  The first was a revisit of Copernicus that I had sketched the month before but on a more advanced phase.

On this particular night, the phase was two days after Copernicus’ appearance on the terminator.  This made for a shallower angle of incidence of sunlight so many more of the smaller secondary craters to be visible.  Conditions on the night were not brilliant, and magnification at 250X still saw a lot of atmospheric thermal current distortion to the image, limiting how small the details I could see.  With a bit of perservierence a lot of these secondary craters could be made out.  You will find information on the formation of these ‘secondary impacts’ in my earlier write up on Copernicus below.

Being sooner after sunrise over Copernicus, the shadow structure made for a more dramatic lunarscape.  Longer shadows, greater contrast, and a visual feast.  The surrounding craters that accompany Copernicus also adding to the drama with there illumination.

Object:  “Early morning Copernicus”
Telescope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  8mm LVW, 250X
Date:  5th August, 2014
Location:  Sydney, Australia
Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A4 black paper

Friday, 8 August 2014

M22 Globular Cluster - the magnificent little brother

Hi all,
This was the second sketch I completed at this year’s Astrofest.

M22 is a true jewel of the night sky.  This giant globular cluster from a dark site can be a naked eye object as well.  It is large enough for even smaller telescopes to resolve its multitude of component stars, to reveal its large and intense core.

M22 is beautiful in my 17.5” scope.  It is very different from Omega Centauri and 47Tuc – could even describe it as the ‘runt’ of the giant globulars as its core is not as busy as its bigger brothers.  But the component stars of its core are absolutely brilliant, arranged in so many signature patterns.  It is slowly turning into a favourite of mine with its understated brilliance, loud without being overbearing presence, and sitting on a magnificent carpet of the Milky Way glow.

I won’t say much here.  I’ll let M22 do its own quite whispering of its magnificence.  Yeah, I think one firm fav of mine now…

Object:  M22 globular cluster
Scope:  17.5” push-pull Karee dobsonian
Gear:  22mm LVW, 91X
Location:  Linville, Queensland, Australia
Date:  24th July, 2014
Media:  Soft pastel and white ink on A4 size black paper

Duration:  approx. 2.5hrs

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Ink Spot - Light vs Dark

Hi all,

This was the first sketch I completed at Astrofest.  I've been wanting to sketch this beautiful dark nebula ever since I first laid eye on it some three years ago.  This dark nebula, B86, goes by the popular name of "The Ink Spot".  It sits smack bang in the centre of the densest star cloud in the whole sky, the Cloud of Sagittarius.  And what sets it off even more is B86 has a gorgeous bright open cluster right next to it, NGC 6570.  Both objects are more-or-less the same size as each other, even though both are not very large themselves.  But it is the juxtaposition of these two very different objects against the blaze of the Milky Way that makes this pair a spectacular pairing.

Dark nebulae are clouds of dust and gas that are drifting through the Milky Way galaxy.  Many of these conglomerations of dust and gas do end up being formed into stars and planets, but most just end up forming the fabric of the galaxy.  In fact, the stars that we see actually only form a small percentage of the actual mass of galaxies.  By far the greatest amount of a galaxy's mass comes from this very dust and gas.  The Ink Spot is a small patch of cloud.  It is a very opaque nebula too.  Dark nebulae are categorised according to their opacity, or how dark they are.  The scale of opacity goes from 1 (very tenuous) through to 6 (very opaque).  While the opacity of The Ink Spot may be a 5, it is because that it sits in the Cloud of Sagittarius that makes is a striking object.

The little open cluster NGC 6520 really works very well in setting off B86.  Open clusters are groupings of stars that are all related to each other having been formed out of the same parent cloud of gas and dust.  Evidence for this is seen in the spectra of the stars displaying the same chemical make up.  The brothers and sisters of our own Sun have been identified this way, with the same chemical signature as our Sun having been identified in several close by stars even though the Sun's 'siblings' have long drifted off away from each other.  Open clusters are loose groupings too, so even though they formed from the same source, their gravitational connection to each other is not strong enough to keep the group together for too long.

For me, this tiny patch of sky is one of my most favourite.  Tiny and oh so precious.  Brilliant, dark, stark, ghostly.  All in one.  Gorgeous.

Object:  The Ink Spot, B86 & NGC 6570
Telescope:  17.5" push-pull Karee dob
Gear:  13mm LVW, 154X
Location:  Linville, Queensland, Australia
Date:  24th July, 2014
Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A4 size black paper.
Duration:  approx. 3hrs

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Astrofest - a fantastic experience!

Hi all,

The trip up to this year's Queensland Astrofest was a marvelous one!  I drove up with a mate to share the driving.  We made the trip over two days, and saw some amazing country along the way.  We took three of my telescopes with us, two 12" dobs (both Marana instruments from Gondwana Telescopes) and the 17.5" (a Karee model also from Gondwana Telescopes) - all packed into the one car along with all our camping gear.  That is something you just don't see, but you will in the pictures below :)

I did a presentation of Gondwana Telescopes and held two workshops.  The sketching workshop proved so unique and special that I was asked to do another one.  Along with my sketching portfolio, a lot of interest in astronomical sketching was created, and this encouraged me immensely.

Astrofest is organised between 6 different Queensland astronomy clubs and goes for longer than a week, spanning across two weekends.  The entire event for me was a pleasure to experience, getting to meet an extraordinary lot of people all passionate about astronomy and life.  If you haven't been to an Astrofest event, I certainly can wholeheartedly recommend you do so.

The grounds on which Astrofest is held also houses its own observatory which contains a beautiful 9.25" Celestron SCT.  Accommodation was a choice between camping and bunk houses, and lunch and dinner were available, along with unlimited amounts of tea and coffee to get one through the cold nights.  Astrofest is also geared towards families with many people taking the chance to make astronomy a whole family experience.

I ended up completing three sketches, two of which were of targets that I've long been wanting to sketch for a long time.  The first two nights we were up there through up brilliantly clear skies.  Fog rolled in around 2am, but that was fine by me as I had had enough by then anyway. 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Apollo 11 land site area - revisited

With the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing coming up, I thought I’d post my sketch of the landing site area for some revision of my original thoughts on some formations.

I used to think that these fissures formed as a result of shrinkage.  This was as a result of my confusing the tiny appearance of these riles through the eyepiece to cooling shrinkage.  But these riles can be over 10km wide, and lava does not shrink this much!  I’m now thinking that these fractures formed when the Moon’s crust was very thin and experienced a massive impact.  The thin crust then would fracture, and in some instances, like the impact site itself, fill with lava, like Rile Hypatia.  Another recent sketch of mine shows a series of co-centric fractures – these are more likely also to be the crazing pattern due to a big impact, not shrinkage.  Examination of the area round Rimae Hippalus makes the likely impact that formed these fractures as being the one that formed the flooded area of Mare Humorum.  Looks like I’ve changed my thinking on how these riles form!

One part of science is to be flexible in accepting new ideas when older ones have been disproved or shown to be mistaken.  Likewise, old ideas also need to be challenged to double check their voracity.  Here is one case where my original think was incorrect, and I've come to a new conclusion following new evidence and correction of original observations.

Object: Apollo 11 landing site area
Scope: C8, 8” SCT
Gear: 8mm LVW, 250X & 5mm Hyperion, 400X
Date: 3rd July, 2014
Location: Sydney, Australia
Media: White and grey soft pastel, charcoal & white ink on A5 size black paper.
Duration: 2hrs.

Alexander Massey.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

I'm off to the Queensland Astrofest this July!

Hi folks,

This coming July new Moon the annual Queensland Astrofest is on from July 18 to July 27:

Link to Queensland Astrofest 2014

I'll be heading north of the border for three nights under Queensland skies.  Will be my longest stay in Queensland and I'm really looking forward to it.

I'll be presenting two workshops on the afternoon of Friday 25.  One on Observing Tips and the second on astronomical sketching.  In the Observing Tips I'll be covering items starting from the anatomy of the human eye and how to make the most of it, telescope types and focal ratio and its significance to observing, eyepieces and their influence, matching telescope design to eyepiece design, filters and how to make the most of them, and practical telescope observing tips.

In the sketching workshop I'll be doing practical demonstrations on using the Mellish Technique, covering globular clusters, galaxies and nebulae.  I'll be showing how to exploit layering to achieve distinct effects and to develop form and volume.  I'll also do a demonstration on how I use the same media I use for the Mellish Technique to produce my Lunar sketches, and how quick and forgiving these materials are.

I'll then switch hats on the Saturday to give a presentation for Gondwana Telescopes, demonstrating how these compact and robust instruments assemble into fine, balanced and practical instruments.  I hand craft these instruments individually to each primary mirror.  I am very proud of these instruments, as much as my sketches.

If you are heading to Astrofest this July, I look forward to getting to meet you there.


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Copernicus and ejecta ring

Hi all,

A second sketch in less than a week!  An absolute flood compared to the previous 12 months!

I have sketched the crater Copernicus on other occasions.  I enjoy sketching this magnificent ray crater as it has so much to offer no matter the phase of the Moon.  Since my last Copernican sketch, I’ve come to find out more about this 95km diameter hole on the Moon.

The area around the crater Copernicus is fascinating, with so much lunar history on display – from amongst the oldest to the newest lunar formations.  From ‘ghost craters’ nearly totally lost in lava flows from long ago, to relatively recent, terrifying massive impacts whose devastating power is very much still visible.

Copernicus sits isolated surrounded by Seas and an Ocean.  These large areas of lava flows occurred a very long time ago.  The ghost crater is Stadius is nearly as large as Copernicus.  But all we see today is barely the barely visible rim of its crater, the result of an ancient impact with a very hot Moon that readily flooded the impact hole with lava.

A newer impact is the crater Erastothenes.  In structure it closely resembles Coperniucs with clear features of large impacts such as central peaks, terraced internal and external walls (the result of landslides of the steep walls).  But it is an older impact than Copernicus because the rays of ejecta material have been covered over by those of Copernicus.

The rock that created Copernicus was a massive one.  The impact through up an enormous amount much material.  Much was vaporized and pulverzied that blew way out from the impact zone, being deposited as the rays that we see today.  There are even ‘shadow zones’.  These formed when the cloud of polverised rock raced over a mountain range  and eddie currents were created depositing material behind the ledge.

Another great feature of Copernicus is another set of ejecta.  Rock was not only pulverised but also ejected out from the impact as huge bolders.  These rocks inturn created their own set of craterlets.  These craterlets surround Copernicus, even forming strings of impacts.  But these are not considered Chain Craters as they are the result of secondary impacts from a larger impact.  Chain Craters are a string of primary impacts.  In the sketch you will see one of the more prominent strings of secondary impacts.  These secondary impacts are not trivial ones either.  Some of these craterlets are over 5km in diameter which would have taken a substantially big rock to have been thrown out to make such a large crater.  Conditions on the night were not perfect.  If conditions were better a whole lot more of these secondary impacts would have been visible.

This night I also took a photo of myself at the eyepiece with all the gear I use while sketching.  The white box is a polystyrene box I use as a dew hutch to protect my materials from dew during the evening.  I also made a video of the sketch.  I’ll be looking at making a time lapse video of this as a 3hour video of the sketch is not gripping viewing…

Object:  Copernicus and surrounds
Telescope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  8mm LVW, 250X
Date:  7th July 2014
Location:  Sydney, Australia
Media:  White and grey soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A5 size black paper

Duration:  approx. 3hrs

Friday, 4 July 2014

Apollo 11 landing site area

Hi all,

Last night I had a chance to sketch a part of the Moon I’ve been wanting to for a very long time – the landing site area of Apollo 11.  While the site itself is invisible to us here on Earth, there are three craters close to the site that are significant to the site.  These three craters are the ones named after the three Apollo 11 astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins.

This particular area of the Moon is sensational!   The shallow angle that the Sun’s light is illuminating the field reveals dozens of ancient lava flows.  These flows reveal themselves with the shadow of their leading edge.  There is also a rile to the north.  Riles are typically as a result of shrinkage of the lava flows. 

Rile Hypatia is a very ancient valley.  It was formed while the Moon still had lava flowing freely.  Evidence for this is the flooded valley floor.  The surface lava field fractured due to cooling and subsurface lava pressure.  The freshly opened gash filled with lava from underneath.

The craters Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins are very recent impacts compared to the surrounding  lava field.  These three craters are challenging to spot being so small.  The smallest is Collins with a diameter of 3km, Aldrin at 4 and Armstrong at close to 5km.  Due to their size, they are visible only for a short time when the angle of the incident sunlight is shallow enough to make their shadows prominent enough.  Collins is the most challenging to see, and requires a combination of good and stable atmospheric conditions and a minimum aperture of 8” to spot it.

This sketch was a joy to lay down.  Mare Tranquillitatis’ lava fields are full of an intricate filigree network of lava flows.  The lunarscape is also pockmarked with dozens upon dozens of tiny craters, three of which are named after three most important explorers.

Object:  Apollo 11 landing site area
Scope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  8mm LVW, 250X & 5mm Hyperion, 400X
Date:  3rd July, 2014
Location:  Sydney, Australia
Media:  White and grey soft pastel, charcoal & white ink on A5 size black paper.

Duration:  2hrs.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The pleasure and pain of astronomy

Hello all,

There is one thing about astronomy that is most challenging - the weather!

We are left totally to the mercy of the vagary and fickleness of the weather.

I have been wanting to do a sketch of the Moon for the last fortnight.  Before the full Moon, persistent overcast conditions curtailed any chance.  The four days around the full Moon were fine, but this phase though very challenging coincided with work commitments.  This last week has been an exercise in sheer frustration - the days have been beautiful, clear ones, with little cloud.  Yet each and every single night has seen cloud roll in either right on sunset, or at the very time I've planned to set up a telescope.  This morning I got up at 3am, being confident that this wretched cloud would cease to be problematic as cloud had not appeared when I turned in for the night.  At 3am, I looked out the window, and cloud was solid horizon to horizon!!!  AAHHH, so frustrating!

Today I am presenting one of my most satisfying sketches, that of the giant globular cluster Omega Centauri.

Globular clusters present real challenges to illustrate.  More orthodox illustration techniques struggle to overcome the texture of the paper, and lack the depth of density that is visible.  Even more challenging with large globulars using large apertures of telescope is the sheer complexity of form and numbers of stars, and not extending the sketch far enough to give a surrounding context.

But, if a good technique is found, a sketch can produce an image that is not just vivid, but can reveal detail that is burnt out in photographs.  With Omega Centauri, this burnt out feature is one of its signature markings "The Eye".  Each globular cluster has what I like to describe as 'a unique fingerprint' - unique markings, strings of stars, patterns depth, and details.  Omega's Eye is a coincidence of line of sight where a hollow appears formed by an apparent lack of bight stars in this spot at its core.  Long exposure photographs reveal that there is no real lack of stars, and is purely a coincidence.

One thing about that makes Omega Centauri unique among the globular clusters that orbit the Milky Way is it if far from being 'normal' globular cluster.  Omega is considered to be the remnant core of a smaller galaxy swallowed up by the Milky Way long, long ago.  Evidence of this is more than its immense size.  Its very size makes it too big to be normal globular.  The only way that such a large number of stars can be stably maintained so tightly is if a black hole is at its core.  Further evidence that Omega is not a typical globular cluster is the variation in age of the component stars.  Typical globular clusters are made up of very old stars, evidenced by the absence of heavier elements in the spectrum of these stars.  The stars of Omega vary in age, as the spectrum of the stars reveal heavier elements that are only formed from later stellar evolution.

This particular sketch was done using my 17.5" push-pull dobsonian from my home in Sydney.

Object:  Omega Centauri, NGC 5139
Telescope:  17.5" push-pull dobsonian
Gear:  16mm Unitro Konig, 125X
Location:  Sydney, Australia
Date:  24th March, 2012
Media:  White pastel, charcoal and white ink on A4 size black paper
Duration:  approx. 2.5hrs.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Problems with Poll

Hi folks,

There appears to be a problem with the Poll gadget.  It is being experienced by other Blogger subscribers.  Google has asked that we not use the Poll gadget until a solution to the problem is provided.

I apologize if you had contributed to the Poll.  I too was experiencing problems with it, and found the Google request.

As soon as the Poll bug is fixed I'll restart it.

In the mean time, you are welcome to post a comment, and make suggestions sketching targets you might have.

Clear skies and sharp pencils,


Thursday, 5 June 2014

What would you like to see sketched?

While I have my own set of objects and targets I have put in a "must sketch" list, the wider audience who may read my blog could have their own idea of what would make a good sketch target, or would like just to see what a particular target looks like through a telescope as sketching is as true-to-life as an image can be, or they may have a particular favourite astronomical object that they would like to see rendered as a sketch.

I've started a poll that you will find in the left-hand column.  This will be a preliminary poll to see what specific object types you would like to see sketched by me.  Once the poll is concluded, I will compile a list of objects from the poll statistics.  Once this poll is concluded, I will look to produce a sketch of the selected object.

If you have a very specific astronomical object/target that you would like me to sketch, you are also welcome to let me know directly by emailing me or making a post on my blog.

Keep in mind that different objects/targets will have an optimal window of opportunity to be sketched due to their seasonal track around the sky or due to their orbit.  The weather is another unpredictable factor.  But the selected objects will be sketched when the best opportunity presents.


A Little Fat Owl on the Moon

The Moon is one of my favourite sketching subjects.  It is always bright to make it an easy telescopic target from my home in Sydney.  Another aspect is the occurrence of alphanumeric along the terminator, caused by the shallow incidence of sunlight provoking shadows on the cratered surface that to our eyes resemble letters and numbers.  Another type of lunar apparition caused by incidental shadows is the appearance of other recognisable shapes and even animals.

My latest lunar sketch is one such shadow apparition.

I don't often have a particular target in mind.  I typically start by scanning the length of the terminator looking for features that catch my attention as a sketching subject.  The "terminator" is the junction line between the lit and dark edge of the lunar surface.  On this occasion, a lovely set of flooded crater shadows forming the shape of 'A Little Fat Owl'.

The crater Fra Mauro forms the body, Parry the right eye, and Bonpland the left eye.  The contours of the flooded Fra Mauro give the effect of plumage to the body.

Later while researching this area, I came to find out that the Apollo 14 landing site happens to be just below where the owl's feet would be.

Object:  "A Little Fat Owl", craters Fra Mauro, Paddy and Bonpland
Telescope:  1980's Orange Tube Celestron C8, 8" SCT
Gear:  5mm Baader Hyperion, 400X
Date:  8th May, 2014
Location:  Sydney, Australia
Media:  White and grey soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A5 size black paper
Duration:  approx. 2hrs.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


Alexander's Astronomy Sketching is the site where I share my astronomical sketching, ideas, inspirations and motivations.

It is a place where the niche of astronomical sketching can be explored and learnt.  Where techniques are examined and expanded, where the strengths of each and every instrument is celebrated, and where art and science meet.

I intend to share my experiences and work with you.  Works that I have just completed.  Places I travel to.  People I meet.  And hopefully inspire you to share your own thoughts, and even inspire you to put pencil to paper!

From our closest neighbour the Moon, to roving visitors of comets, the majestic planets and the wonders of the expanding cosmos - all interpreted through the media of illustration - the oldest form of astronomical imaging.

Alexander Massey.