What happened to the last year

It’s been a long time hasn’t it, and honestly observational astronomy has taken a back seat. This is a post to fill in what has been happening.


Health issues with my shoulder and, more importantly last year, with my leg have meant that I couldn’t shift my usual heavy kit. That limited the kind of observing I could do. So it was mostly lunar and double star sight-seeing with small scopes and a manual alt-az mount on a photographic tripod.

In addition to that the same underlying issues mean that my eyesight was a little suspect (blurred and lacking in focus) which generally curtailed observing, but especially variable stars estimation. I certainly wasn’t trusting enough of my judgement to submit those results!


As an amateur in the U.K. will know this 2019-20 observing season weather has been truly awful. Almost constant cloud with plenty of rain thrown in for good (or bad) measure. The end of 2019 was shockingly bad in terms of the weather and my health, but as my health problems started to clear up this year we were presented with a run of good observing nights around the New Moon in March and April.


For many it was strangely disappointing that it coincided with the Spring Kelling Star Party, an event that is normally rain-soaked. The reason for their frustration? I don’t think there are many people around the globe that don’t know about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and its effects on the social calendar. Big scopes for deep-sky need dark skies to be really effective, and few could get at them being under lock-down.


I observe from home under less than great skies, so I could have taken more advantage instead of opting to sleep now and again. Nevertheless, I managed to collect 45 of those galaxies for my H400 project with my Bresser Messier 10-inch scope (I could finally move it).

These galaxies have been around Ursa Major and for the most part pretty underwhelming, I’m just glad to have been able to track them down and see something. I must admit that I actually enjoyed the hunt.

A handful eluded me, including NGC 3792 which has a bright core that I feel I should have been able to see, and a couple are never going to be possible without a better sky.

On the other hand I also marked a handful for a revisit so that I can take more time over the observation, vary the magnification and see what I can pull out of that light smudge. The pair of NGC 3893 and NGC 3896, one an H400 the other not, spring to mind.

Lunar and a Planet

I should note that lunar and planetary observing this winter has been hampered not just by the clouds but by some of the worst Seeing I’ve encountered. I have to assume that this is jetstream related, though there could certainly be a local effect at work with a large industrial estate to the west.

I’m trying my Skywatcher 150PDS newtonian for lunar observing as I’ve made modifications to reduce light scatter and improve cooling. The view is obviously apochromatic but the resolution is a marked improvement over the smaller refractors under good conditions, yet the scope is easy to handle.

Finally we come to the only accessible planet from my garden: Venus. I’ve enjoyed a few good views of the gibbous and then crescent phases of Venus as it’s grown in size.

I observe in daylight wherever possible as it’s the best way to control the glare and kaleidoscope colours, but without Go-To finding it is tricky and a little dangerous, so just before sunset it’s been.

The phase has been clear but I can’t honestly report any detail that I can’t put down to atmospheric optical effects. It’s been fun all the same.

Progress on the Herschel 400

It’s been a while hasn’t it, so I’ve decided that a short update on my progress with the Herschel 400 – or 281 since I can’t see anything below 0ΒΊ declination – is in order now that the season’s drawn to a close with the approach of Summer Solstice.

Sadly it seems that I’m down to only fifteen more open clusters, three globular clusters, a pair of emission nebulae and a solitary planetary nebula to observe. That’s just twenty-one more of my favoured celestial deep-sky objects. I say sadly because that means there a colossal one hundred and sixty more galaxies to hunt down and this is bad news for a couple of reasons.

I’ve discovered galaxy hunting isn’t as much fun as you might suppose.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with galaxies; I live in one and many of my favourite observations have been made of objects in it; also there are some fantastic galaxies to observe, it just turns out that many of the H400 galaxies aren’t.

And mostly it’s my observing location: bright suburban skies in a very damp climate.

No doubt the weather this observing season has been bad, and even on the few ‘clear’ nights I’ve experienced this Spring (prime time for galaxy hunting) I’ve noticed very poor transparency.

The problem is moisture in the atmosphere which is never helpful, but I’ve learned that for the galaxies it’s terrible. The extra scattered light strips them of any contrast against an already bright background sky, and on the worst occasion I spent four hours barely observing just three galaxies!

May be next season will be galaxy season…

I’m hoping for better skies next season. I found from my notes that some of the galaxies I could see reasonably well in my six inch newtonian a year ago were much worse in my new ten inch this time. That shouldn’t be, and yes, I have checked the new scope on other targets and there’s nothing wrong with it.

So whilst I’m now 100 for 281 in my Herschel quest it’s safe to say that I’m not very excited about most of the rest of it. I’ll do it damn it! Just don’t expect me to be happy about it πŸ˜‰