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,