Thursday, 31 December 2015

Low magnification Copernicus

There is a trap we can fall into with the Moon – we want to push magnification as far as possible all the time.  And if conditions are not up to scratch, we abandon efforts.

A recent sketch I saw on an astro forum reminded me that any telescope is better than no telescope.  So if your scope is of a small aperture, it is still an exquisite asset.

So, what do the two above statements have to do with anything?  Well, it means that you make use of what scope and conditions present.

This forth straight night of clear skies, conditions were particularly poor.  Even at 100X, the image of the Moon was showing a shimmering boil.  At another time I would just have packed up the old orange tube C8.  But the memory of that earlier sketch done using a smaller aperture had me take courage at looking at using much lower magnification than I would typically use.

This night, magnification at under 100X showed a minimal amount of boil, and this was to be the magnification to sketch the Moon with.

Even 91X, the amount of detail is staggering to behold.  The image though smaller, is much more concentrated.  This night I chose to revisit an old friend, Copernicus, and the surrounding maria and mountain ranges.  For me, mountain ranges prove the most difficult to replicate.  The detail is frightfully complex, and my eye struggles to accept just one point of detail, instead trying to absorb a dozen!  Tonight was a chance to take up a mountain range challenge too.

Copernicus was staggering.  The mountain range Montes Carpatus to the north appearing from over the terminus into the morning light with spectacular shadows.  To the south is Reinhold, with its crater floor still in complete shade.  To the east is Erastothenes, another big crater that is surrounded by a ring of secondary impacts created by ejecta material, just like Copernicus has.  Erastothenes is located off the end of the western spur of Montes Apenninus mountain range.

Further north of Copernicus, the terminator is rolling over the middle of Mare Imbrium.  The terminator here has a lovely, smooth rolling appearance.

And of course, there is the ray system radiating out from Copernicus, spread out over the surrounding maria.

I hope you enjoy this piece.


Object:  Copernicus and surrounds
Scope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  22mm LVW, 91X
Date:  20th December, 2015
Location:  Sydney, Australia

Media:  Soft pastels, charcoal and white ink on black paper.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Maginus, and this time no clouds...

I had a fabulous run of clear skies and the chance to sketch.  Three nights in a row.

Conditions this night were the best for a very long time.  400X was showing some ‘boil’, but still very acceptable.

In scanning the terminator for a sketch subject, I came across Magnius.  I had attempted to sketch Maginus one time before – on that occasion clouds rolled in, killing off the sketch session early.

Maginus is a very ancient feature.  Its floor is flooded, with the tips of the central peaks just showing.  The peaks, and the sheer size of Maginus are the only features still keeping the semblance of the original crater.  Otherwise, it has been heavily altered by the successive impacts that are slowly obliterating the remains of Maginus.

It is these newer impacts superimposed onto the massive ancient crater that make this a very attractive sketching subject.  The floor of Maginus is surprisingly clear of particularly major impacts, with the major newer impacts doing their best to obliterate the ramparts (wall structures) of the underlying crater.  This grace of luck has left the remains of the central peaks visible, and the remainder of the floor peppered with smaller impacts.

Maginus makes for a fantastic telescopic target.  Highly tortured, and littered with hundreds of craters inside and surrounding Maginus, and the floor making for a good test of conditions to be able to spy out the mass of tiny impacts.   Curious to call these craterlets at ‘tiny’, as the ‘tiny’ craters still range from 500m to 2km in diameter!  Bloody big holes all the same!


Object:  Crater Maginus and surrounds
Telescope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  5mm Hyperion, 400X
Date:  19th December, 2015
Location:  Sydney, Australia
Media:  Soft pastels, charcoal and white ink on black paper.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Rima Hyginus - homage to my first telescope

 I got my first telescope when I was 13 years old.  A modest 50mm Tasco refractor.  At the time I thought it was the bee’s knees.

Though a modest little scope, I first saw Saturn with it, Halley’s Comet, and of cause, the Moon.

The little Tasco came with a map of the Moon, and I spent many hours studying it.  It also showed several rile systems, including Rima Hyginus, which I managed to see with it!  The thrill of seeing such a fine line traced on the lunar surface was one I have never forgotten.

Unlike the previous night, conditions were not as steady.  An 8mm eyepiece showed just too much ‘boil’ in the image.  My modest little 9mm TMB Type ii proved a better choice for the evening.  Might not seem like too much of a magnification difference, but it was sufficient to reduce the boil to a tolerable amount.

This night, while looking for a sketching target, I came across Rima Hyginus, and that happy memory of my first view of it came rushing back.  So, this night I sketched Rima Hyginus to commemorate my experiences with that little Tasco and what it showed me.

Rima Hyginus lies between Mare Vaporum & Sinus Medii, and carves a curious line that makes a turn about halfway through its ripping of the lunar surface, with a crater so very conveniently smack bang on the elbow of the bend, which also give the rile its name.

To the North (right of the rile) lies a dark and tortured series of lava mountains.  On other occasions when Rima Hyginus looked like a sketch candidate, this dark area looked too sinister and difficult to lay down.  No escaping this time.  I found it a lovely area to sketch!  Very detailed and intricate.

To the east of Hyginus, a second long rile system, Rima Ariadaeus.  Together the riles make for a spectacular area.

Object:  Rima Hyginus
Scope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  9mm TMB Type ii, 222X
Date:  18th December, 2015
Location:  Sydney, Australia

Media:  soft pastels, charcoal and white ink on black paper.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Posidonius et Lacus Somniorum - a volcanic paradise

Finally, a clear night, the Moon is up, and I have time for a sketch!  I’ve hit the jackpot!!

The feature I sketched tonight was one of the first features I sketched when I took up the pencil after many years, Posidonius.  I was not aware at the time that this was Posidonius – did not matter really as the features on offer were most exciting.

What was interesting for me once I found out the identity of the crater, was how much more I was able to identify and details I was able to pick out that previously made no sense to me.

Posidonius is not one of the oldest features.  In fact, it is really just middle aged.  For the oldest of features, a crater this size would have been totally flooded with lava, and only a ghost crater left – much smaller impacts than Posidonius can be seen close by which are totally flooded, making those features very, very ancient, much older than Posidonius (such as Le Monnier to the top left of Posidonius).  The youngest of features happened once the Moon’s crust was so thick that a crater this size on longer was able to punch through to the molten rock below.  Posidonius is one crater where the crust was punctured to allow for partial flooding, but the flooding was not complete, and now long extinct volcanos pot-mark its flooded floor and surrounds.

Posidonius is one extraordinary feature.  The partially flooded floor not only has many volcanic vent and domes, but it is also highly fractured, with several massive riles running through it.  Its walls are also very interesting.  Close examination shows what appears to be a second rim on the inside.  This is something I have not seen before.  There are a few co-centric craters on the Moon, but these all are on the small side.  Posidonius is some 100km in diameter – for a second concentric impact to happen of such a close size to the parent impact is just too much of a long shot.  The highly fractured crater floor may hold a clue to this apparent secondary crater – massive upheaval from subterranean magma forces pushing up.  Mind you, this is only speculation on my part.  There are other examples of magma lifted features on the Moon, which is why I suspect this may be the reason for the double rim.

Posidonius’ floor is not the only location of volcanism in this area.  Lacus Somniorum appears featureless, but is actually littered with domes all around Posidonius.  One clue to spotting the shield volcanoes is to look for totally isolated ‘mountains’ with no other mountain range within cooee of it, only an empty lava field.  This would make the chances of this solitary ‘mountain’ to actually be a shield volcano or Dome.


Object:  Posidonius et Lacus Somniorum
Scope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  8mm LVW, 250X
Date:  17th Dec. 2015
Location:  Sydney, Australia

Media:  Soft pastels, charcoal and white in on black paper.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

More Sun and more learning...

Hello everyone,

The opportunity arose for a session with the Sun this Sunday morning.  Today a sector of the Sun contained several prominence features and some sunspot and filament activity.

The prominences on show were particularly fast moving.  Their shape and patterns changed markedly over the half hour of sketching them.  Such were the changes that I just could not go back to the first lot I laid down as the structures were pretty much totally altered.  This surprized me, and lesson learned about not leaving proms to come back to them – you just don’t know how fast these features are changing.

Conditions were not great today.  Thermal haze was constantly having the image come in and out of focus.  The chromosphere features are particularly sensitive to thermal haze, and it took some stubborn persistence to get the detail I wanted.  A nice cluster of sunspots and a lot of plages around them made for a great challenge to lay down.  Oh, if that haze would just stop!!!

When close to finishing this piece, it occurred to me to stop down the aperture of the scope, essentially out of curiosity just to see what would happen.  I got a lovely surprise that this helped to increase the contrast and made features easier to see with the magnification taken really low down.  Second lesson learned today.

My kids came out for a look when I completed my sketch.  I quietly mention to be patient with the red & black image as our eyes are not accustomed to seeing in such colours, and that the details will reveal themselves as if by magic.  And they always come up with great questions that test my knowledge and ability to answer their questions in terms that make sense to them, and not overwhelm them with science jargon.  I have an outreach night coming up in April with the Girl Guides’ – my kids’ questions make for some good practice!


Object:  Sun – (left to right) broken detached pyramid, mound & anomalous prominences, sunspots, plages & filaments
Scope:  ED80 f/7.5
Gear:  Daystar Quark, 25mm Pl, 101X
Date:  6th December, 2015, 10:30 am AEST
Location:  Sydney, Australia.

Media:  Coloured soft pastels & charcoal on A5 size black paper.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Video - astronomical sketching using the Mellish Technique

Hi all,

Well, I have finally produced and uploaded a video on astronomical sketching using the Mellish Technique.

I was very fortunate to have been shown how to use this method to sketch astronomical objects by my late friend Scott Mellish.

Scott had developed this technique of soft pastel sketching over several years.  I have since been told that this method of sketching had been used by astronomers before the advent of photography.  Lost in time, Scott independently rediscovered this lost art, and gifted us a wonderfully simple but highly effective sketching technique for deep sky objects.

This video compliments my first article written on the Mellish Technique a few years ago.  Scott graciously reviewed the article before it was published:

DSO sketching using the Mellish Technique

All his friends were devastated when Scott passed away shortly afterwards.

This video is dedicated to Scott, who was so generous to me in sharing this sketching technique that came so close to been lost again.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Sol, 1st of November, 2015

Hi all,

If it were not for my Daystar Quark, I would have nothing to sketch and present on my blog.  It has been a miserable year so far, with all but two new Moon weekend Saturdays being washouts, and clouds and lousy seeing conditions making the Moon a no go either.  Very frustrating.

This morning I had a go at the Sun again – nothing ventured, nothing gained…  And I was in for a fantastic treat!  Most of the Sun’s disk presented a quiet & featureless ball.  But one quadrant was a dead-set lolly.  A gorgeous arch prominence with two sentinel straight pillars, one on either side, with material from the arch being stripped across to both pillars.  This stripped material being faint and demanding a patient eye to pick it up.  The arch also being beautifully detailed.

And as an added bonus, a wonderful loop of sunspots!  Something I had never seen before.  There were literally dozens of individual sunspots, in clusters, forming a ‘P’ shaped loop.  And the amount of plages was stunning, and a few soft filaments too.

This sketch was a joy to do.  So many details that I had to discipline myself to not be distracted by other features.  Just a wonderful thing to view and experience.

While photographing the sketch, I inadvertently selected an incorrect setting, and I rattled of a series of photos with different effects.  It surprized me to see some of the black and white effects actually served to accentuate the chromosphere details in the sketch better than the colour photo.  I’ve added these to make an interesting series of photos of the same sketch.

I hope you enjoy this series of photos.  The accidental sequence of effect photos being the cherry on top of a fabulous solar experience.

Object:  Sol
Scope:  ED80
Gear:  Daystar Quark (prom.), 25mm Pl, 101X
Date:  1st November, 2015
Location:  Sydney, Oz.

Media:  Soft Pastels & charcoal on A5 size black paper

Sunday, 25 October 2015

New use for old set of telescope fork mount

Hi all,

Many people who purchase a fork mounted Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope remove the optical tube from the fork and couple it to a german equatorial mount.  However, this then leaves a vacant set of forks.

I was given one of these fork mounts, & I recommissioned it into a fabulous outreach rig.

The article can be found in Telescope Bits & Bobs page of my blog.


I hope this article inspires you to undertake a similar recommissioning of a disused bit of gear.


Monday, 12 October 2015

Sol, 11th & 12th August, 2015

Hello everyone,

Time, weather, work and family have been making time at the eyepiece very scarce of late.  Very slim pickings so far this year.  The forecast for the next month isn’t too crash hot either.  But, that’s astronomy for you…

I am very glad to have picked up a Daystar Quark solar filter now.  It allows me to indulge a little in astro sketching while the Moon and DSO’s are off limits.  Now it takes me some 5min to set up my solar kit, half hour the whole sketch process, and pack up in another 5min, and all done.  Yesterday and today I had the opportunity to do a sketch each day.

I am in constant awe at the variety and detail offered by prominences.  These can be rampaging monsters, through to gossamer soft ghostly extensions.  And always intricate and complex in detailed structures.  All powered by screaming hot gases channelled through enormous magnetic fields.

The structures I was able to sketch these two days are wonderfully varied.  On the 11th there were two ‘eruptive’ prominences, one twisted (most likely an arch or broken arch seen close to sagittally) and the other described as ‘tree’ (a type of fork prom.)  Today, the hedgerow prom had extraordinary surging bulges of plasma, whisper thin streamers, and pillars that are being torn apart by terrifyingly powerful magnetic fields.  And by way of contrast, a couple of diminutive inclined prom’s, and a small cluster of sunspots.

Object:  Solar prominences
Telescope:  ED80 f/7.5
Gear:  Daystar Quark, Prominence model, 25mm Pl, 101X
Dates:  11th & 12th August, 2015
Location:  Sydney, Australia

Media:  Soft pastel & charcoal on A5 size black paper.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Spicing up the process - a video of me sketching the Moon

Hi all,

I've been wanting to make a video of me sketching at the scope, and of the Mellish Technique I use in sketching Deep Sky Objects.  Well, I've finally started the process!

This first video is of me sketching the Moon.  A video that is two hours long where not too much happens makes for very boring viewing.  So I've sped up the video and added a track that I am very fond of.

You will see the entire process of a lunar sketch done at the eyepiece.  The many, many changes between pastels, charcoal and blending stump.  The constant sharpening with a knife and shaping of the pastels and charcoal pencils on sandpaper.  The way I work one area at a time after having planned the layout of the sketch, and finish it of with little touch ups here and there.  And then finally the moment when I am satisfied that things are complete.

The first picture below shows me all rugged up ready for a sketch session with my lovely old C8.  The white box you see in front of me is used to shield my materials from dew.

I hope the video succeeds in giving you an insight to my sketching process.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Our Wonderful Sun

Hello all,

I’ve been able to steal a few moments over the last couple of weeks to sketch Sol.

This is turning into a wonderful journey for me with the Sun.  I am not just marvelling at its ever changing surface.  It has also spurred me onto learning about our parent star.  I never thought nuclear fusion could be such a spectacular topic!!!

August 18 gave me a very active limb and chromosphere quarter section.  The chromosphere (surface of the Sun) was riddled with fine filaments (prominences seen over the surface), plages and sunspots.  The limb had an assortment of prominence types – arch, platform arches, & a pyramid.  Also a lovely long spicule.

Yesterday was a race to beat the approaching clouds and rain.  The race became more intense as the Sun had two wonderful areas of activity on the go, but on opposite sides of the disk.  As things turned out, I was only able to complete only one of the two sketches I hoped to accomplish.  Better something than nothing…

The second sketch presented here shows two different stages of prominence development.  The brighter part on the lower right shows mature platform prominences.  They are called platform as they exhibit a flat, table like roof where high energy plasma is racing through the magnetic fields on the surface of the Sun.  There are two platform prominences here, with a smaller & brighter one underneath the taller but thinner one above it.  The larger top prominence stretched out into an ever diminishing ribbon, to then frazzle out into shredded pieces.  A really lovely spectacle to follow through off fine details.

Plasma, for folks who may not be familiar, is a gas that has been heated to such a high temperature that its outter layer of an electron (in the case of Hydrogen) or electrons (for Helium), have been ripped off.  The result is a gas that is electrically charged, and so is affected by the strong magnetic fields that develop on the Sun’s hot surface.  These magnetic fields channel these plasma gases through what we see as tube like arches – prominences!  These magnetic fields are not stable and permanent features on the Sun, appearing and disappearing all the time, that can last between hours through to weeks.  And as these magnetic fields fluctuate, the prominences change in shape.

Large prominences, when they finally collapse, can create magnificent and enormous plume of plasma that billow out from the sun out into space.  We commonly know these as flares.  I’ll describe how these flares manifest themselves here on Earth another time, and how they can knock out electrical networks.

But be they large or smaller prominences, when they do collapse, the material that is released is known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).  There is an intermediate step in prominence evolution, but we’ll deal with these later when I am able to sketch on of these.

It is the disintegrating stages of one of these coronal mass ejections that we see on the upper left.  We see just the remaining columns of plasma that is being held in place by the weakening magnetic fields.  When I started this sketch I had been able to spot some of the plume of escaping plasma being launched off into space.  I should have sketched this section first, rather than the platform prominences, for when I returned to the CME, that plume was too faint to see through the incoming thin cloud.  Oh, well, lesson learnt…

Both sketches were done using the same equipment:
Scope:  ED80 f7.5 refractor
Gear:  Daystar Quark, 25mm plossl, 101X
Dates:  18th August & 3rd September, 2015

Location:  Sydney, Australia.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Unveiling the Veil - part II

The Veil Nebula really starts coming into its own as aperture increases.  With the 17.5” scope, the filamentary structures within the nebulosity begin to resolve.  Mottling, or variations in density of illumination, are easier to pick up.  And wispy, soft extensions of the ends of the nebulous cloud seem to keep extending on and on.

The Veil looked to be ablaze!  The filament structures give movement to it, as they twist and wind, streak and surge through the cloud.  The true bubble nature of the object begins to achieve a 3D look to it as the fainter and softer less dense material of the ‘inside’ of the ring starts to show itself with its own set of concentrations of material.  It really beings to show itself as the smoky bubble it is as the aftermath of the cataclysmic explosion that created it.

I am sure that it would be even more splendid when it is higher up in the sky.  I can only feel that this first look at the Veil is really just a tease of promise to what it can totally show – just like a veil serves to tease us with its haunting semi transparency…

I hope I have succeeded in giving a good depiction of this majestic structure.  I felt like an adolescent, with their quirky physical awkwardness, and handling a precious and mercurial gift, and not being sure just how to handle it.  The Veil really left me awestruck.


Object:  Easter section of the Veil Nebula
Scope:  17.5” Karee push-pull dob
Gear:  23mm Celestron Axiom LX, 87X, & NPB filter
Date:  15th August, 2015
Location:  Linville, Queensland, Australia
Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal & white ink on A4 size black paper

Duration:  Approx. 2.5 hrs.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Unveiling the Veil Nebula, Part I

Hello all,

This last week I attended the Queensland Astrofest, held outside the village of Linville, some two hours west of Brisbane.  We were blessed with cloudless skies, and with fantastic transparency.  The quality of the transparency meant that objects that objects much easier to see and with better clarity.  And for objects that are close to the northern horizon, this is very significant for us located under our southern skies.

I was armed to the teeth with telescopes this time around.  The heat I packed included a 17.5” f/4, a 12” f/5, and 8” f/4 – all push-pull dobs.  I considered my 4” refractor, but really, how many scopes does a man need…  LOL!

During the first night, I was pointed to the direction of the Veil nebula, which I had never seen, and in all honesty, had never considered as a plausible target from my southern location.  The first set of directions for the Veil Nebula proved to be a stunningly fortunate mistake.  In scanning for the Veil Nebula, I chanced upon the North America Nebula!  I was using my brand new 8” f/4 Kulali dob, which when coupled with an Explore Scientific 30mm 82° eyepiece, yields a sensational 3° True Field of View!  The entire North America nebula just managed to fit inside the field of view!  As tempted as I was to sketch it, and knowing that I would take around 2 hours to complete a sketch of it, I thought better of it as it would be disappearing behind some trees in around an hour’s time.

A better set of instructions was uttered to me to find the Veil, and then there was no mistak.

It was so bright and so detailed for an object very close to the northern horizon!  And it is so BIG!  The entire Veil circle just fit inside the True Field of View of this little scope.  The first sketch below depicts the view of the entire Veil as seen through this eyepiece/scope combination.

Again, the advantage of having a manual push-pull dob came into its own.  The amount of detail just kept getting richer and richer as the constant push-pull action keeps refreshing my vision and so allowing my eye to see fainter and fainter detail.  The remaining ‘gunsmoke-like’ of the cataclysmic supernova explosion is such an exquisite image.  Being so close to my northern horizon, the Veil must reveal so much more detail when it is viewed from a more favourable northern location.

It must also be kept in mind that the Veil Nebula sits smack bang in the middle of the band of the Milky Way galaxy.  The entire nebula is set upon a background carpet of the glow of the Milky Way.  A really exciting and exquisite view.

Object:  Veil Nebula, supernova remnant
Telescope:  8” f/4 Kulali push-pull dob
Gear:  Explore Scientific 30mm 82°, 3° TFOV, and NPB filter
Location:  Linville, Queensland, Australia
Date:  14th August, 2015
Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A4 size black paper

Duration:  approx. 1.5hrs

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

5 Day old Moon

Hi all,

I have wanted to sketch the crescent Moon for a few years now.  But the timing of the phase during the day is rarely ever a good one for me.  Today, after such a long wait, the 5 day old Moon beckoned, and all the ducks lined up !

One aspect of the crescent Moon that has appealed to me is that when it is high in the sky, it is set within the blue of the daytime sky.  I’ve had blue coloured paper for some time now in patient anticipation that one day I would get the chance to use it.

What a magnificent scene greeted my eyes.  The amount of detail took me by surprise.  I used low magnification, and this served to concentrate the quality of the image.  And it took me a little while to figure out that there was no way I was going to replicate the level of detail I would normally put into lunar sketch – it is just impossible.

It was a joy to produce this sketch.  As a whole, the finished piece impressed me too!  It was such a delicious treat to see not a smooth lunar limb, but a textured and rippled limb with mountains, ridges and valley breaking up the hard edge.  The terminator was beaded with isolated peaks catching the first rays of the sun.  And details that are normally washed out when I typically get to sketch the Moon, tonight were on show.

But the magic of the night held another precious moment for me after I completed the sketch.  My young son joined me in the backyard.  He was keen to see the Moon through the telescope I had just sketched.  He was mesmerized by the detail, and when I explained the flat plains he could see were fields of lava flows, his curiosity really picked up.  As a final treat I showed him Saturn.  He was amazed to learn that gap that is Casini’s Division is larger than Australia!  And we finished with a view of the streaky clouds on the disk which he ran inside to tell his mum about!  “Mum, mum, I just saw clouds on another planet!”

I came in a very happy dad.

Object:  5 day old Moon
Scope:  C8, 8” SCT
Gear:  30mm Superview, 67X
Date:  21st July, 2015
Location:  Sydney, Australia

Media:  white and blue soft pastel & white ink on blue paper.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Article: Cooling of Newtonian optics - an insight

I've just posted an article in the Telescope Bits and Bobs page about the cooling of Newtonian optics.  

While we have professional observatories to give us all the clues on how to best deal with cooling and dew prevention, it is all too often an area that is misunderstood and poorly implemented in amateur instruments.  In this article I look at several way of dealing with cooling with there being distinct requirements depending on telescope structure and with visual vs photo applications, and dew prevention and how this can be applied to our scopes, and where we often go wrong.  And often, poorly implemented cooling systems are also found on commercially made instruments, and while done with the best of intentions, can create more problems than solve.

This is not a 'how to' article, but one geared to helping understand the thermodynamics at play and things to avoid.  How these strategies are applied to individual instruments then very much depends on each scope, the application of the instrument and how the scope's owner can implement these.

I hope you find this article I've written helpful.

Clear skies and sharp pencils,


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

"Here comes the Sun"... and it is so detailed!

Hi all,

I had not seen through a dedicated Hydrogen alpha solar scope until May last year.  That was an extraordinary experience for me too.  I had that scope all to myself for half an hour, and to see prominences on the Sun change so quickly in that time was staggering to behold.  To think that the Sun's diameter is roughly 300,000km and to see those prominences move so quickly, those jets of plasma must be moving soooo fast!!!!

I have been considering getting a dedicated solar scope since then.  But they are so expensive, and it means getting ANOTHER scope.  The solution presented itself when I came across an article on the Daystar Quark solar filter - I will post a review of this device in the Bits and Bobs page in the next couple of days as this is not the page for this right now.

I've also been experimenting with different techniques of sketching the Sun.  I'v wanted to keep using black paper as the substrate, so soft pastels were a must for the vibrancy of their colours.  And as it turns out, the method I've come up with for solar sketching is a happy mix of the Mellish Technique and the technique I use for sketching the Moon!  Brilliant!

Below is the sketch I did today using the Daystar Quark.  A spectacular spicule on the solar limb made for a perfect subject.  The base of the spicule was very detailed with a small bright jet of plasma shooting up beside the long spicule, and smaller jets around it too.  The spicule itself was very details, with two distinct branches that slowly feathered out and arced back down  - maybe this was a faint prominence instead.  Either way, it made for a lovely vista.  Another spicule was visible a little further up along the limb too.  A little artistic license here too as I added a sunspot and its associated plages - these features were present on the Sun, but a little beyond the scope of the sketch, but I added them to the sketch to make a record of the view and to gain more experience with sketching these.

I am sure that this piece will be the first of many more solar sketches I will do.  Such a fabulous subject, the Sun.


Object:  Solar spicule
Telescope:  100mm f/5 refractor stopped down to 50mm f/10
Gear:  Daystar Quark prominence filter, 25mm plossl, 84X
Date:  3rd March, 2015
Location:  Sydney, Australia
Media:  Soft pastels

Friday, 23 January 2015

Thor's Helmet - a magnificent apparition

This was the second sketch I completed the night of January 18.

It is amazing how sometimes, while you may perceive a night to be very good, the full quality of the night is not totally realised until you examine an object you visited on another night.  In this case, it was my first sighting of Thor’s Helmet back in 2011.

That night I viewed Thor’s Helmet from inside a valley in the middle of dairy country.  There was a lot of moisture in the air, and transparency fluctuated during the night.  Then I thought I had pretty nice view of NGC 2359, and so inspired I was by the image I saw through my 17.5” scope I sketched it.  Later on back at home, I examined photos of the Helmet, and was surprised to see how extensive the nebulosity was, and how little of it I could see.  All that changed four years later.

This new observation of the Helmet was such a revelation!  It taught me that even if seeing is not the most stable, if transparency is excellent, you will still be granted the most magnificent image quality if you keep the magnification down.  Oh my word!  What a magnificent night we had.

Nebulosity extended out in four directions, two more than my first view.  So much more structure could also be seen, and so many more stars.

This piece, and the one of M42, done on the same night are for me my most satisfying.  The culmination of many years of viewing and sketching all came together to teach me new things, just when I thought I had seen it all, sky quality wise.  I night I will remember for a very long time.

Object:  Thor’s Helmet, NGC 2359
Scope:  17.5” push-pull Karee dob
Gear:  22mm LVW, 91X, OIII filter
Date:  18th January, 2015
Location:  Katoomba Airfield, Australia

Media:  White soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A4 size black paper.

By way of comparison, below is the sketch i did of Thor's Helmet in 2011, using the same telescope, but with a 16mm Konig eyepiece.  Pretty, but the difference is striking.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A magic night reveals the full glory of a celestial giant

I was not expecting to be able to get to my customary dark site this month.  And as chance would have it, the day that would have been best for such a sojourn was a splendid one.  Yet the hero of the moment is my beautiful wife.  I mentioned to her that morning that this evening promised to be a spectacular one up at the Mountians.  The very next thing she says to me is:  “So why don’t you go.” !!!  You could have knocked me over with a feather.

The two hour road trip gave hints to the quality of the evening ahead.  It is currently the middle of the Australian summer.  Normally a hot and humid Sydney day like this day sees dreadful heat haze and poor transparency.  Yet this day was the clearest I can remember!  As I approached the Airfield, Venus and Mercury greeted me on the western horizon.  When I arrived at the Airfield, the quality of the night was set in concrete when my companions and myself witnessed Mercury set with just the slightest twinkle.  Best of all, we also saw Mercury flutter its final night’s light through the very distant trees.  A truly marvellous sight.

The transparency of the night was the best I can remember.  While seeing was challenged to a maximum of 150X.  Yet by keeping magnification down, with the extraordinary transparency, the quality of the image thrown up was just exquisite.

There was one main prize for the night, the celestial giant M42.  I’ve sketched M42 on several occasions, but never from a dark site.  And this night’s special conditions revealed more detail, subtlety, and extension of nebulosity than I have seen previously.  After two hours I was beginning to think to myself “Good grief!  When is this going to stop!”.

One of my favourite parts of this nebula is M42’s little companion M43.  Its somewhat spiral shape, and faint streamers of material connecting the two is a delight to see and a challenge to depict.

This piece has been a most satisfying one.  I hope you enjoy it too.

Object:  The Great Orion Nebula, M42 & M43
Scope:  17.5” Karee push-pull dob
Gear:  30mm 82° Explore Scientific , 67X, OIII filter
Date:  18th January, 2015

Location:  Katoomba Airfield, Australia.

Friday, 2 January 2015

New Year's Eve treat - Comet Lovejoy

Hello everyone,

I had the opportunity of going bush with my son for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s day.  We spent the day busy with trekking and helping out with farm duties.  So while each night was crystal clear, only one night was practical to take out the telescope.

We had gone to an uncle’s property some 4 hours’ drive from my home in Sydney, close to the tiny village of Hill End in New South Wales.  We were fortunate with the weather too.  In summer, the normal maximum temperature here is over 36°C.  But the weather over these few days, the day time temperature was a very comfortable 23° thanks to a strong dry wind.  This made for evenings that were stunningly clear.  And the wind calmed down during the night, so made conditions even better.

I took my 100mm f/5 refractor, and a single eyepiece, an Explore Scientific 30mm 82°, my favourite wide field combination.  The one night I was able to use this little refractor was the last one, New Year’s Eve.  With the Moon setting around 1:30am, after a few hours’ sleep I was greeted with a magnificent sky.  A friend had made me aware that comet Lovejoy was in the constellation Lepus over these few days.  As it turns out, Lovejoy was a very easy naked eye object to spot between β & ε Lep..

My first look at Lovejoy was sensational.  The comet’s coma was so big and bright with an intense nucleus.  Then I spotted something odd - a next to invisible tail!  I was not convinced on what I was seeing as every other sketch of Lovejoy I had seen, including those with larger apertures than I was using, showed no tail.  I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.  So I moved onto other objects to consider sketching.  After an hour of indecision, I was drawn back to Lovejoy.  Again, the tail became visible, and now I was beginning to see structure within it.  Now I was convinced at what I was seeing.  The tail was not uniform, with a sudden widening after a long even shaft of a tail coming off the coma.

It is curious how sometimes indecision can lead to an unexpected outcome.  And that so much detail was visible using such a modest little telescope, and a nice eyepiece can reveal.  This sketch was most satisfying for me.  I was very contented to have just the one sketch from this time away.  And what a vista I was treated to at the very end of the year!

Object:  Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2
Telescope:  100mm f/5 refractor
Gear:  ES 30mm 82°, 16.7X
Location:  Hill End, NSW, Australia
Date:  31st December, 2014

Materials:  Soft pastel & white ink on A3 size black paper.