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.