3 Galaxies

Here are some sketches from my last outing with the 12.5″.  I observed the galaxies NGC 5055, 4594, and 4565.  Clicking the images will display the full resolution view.

NGC 5055, also known as M63, in Canis Vernatici

NGC 5055, also known as M63, in Canis Vernatici


NGC 4594, known as M104 in Virgo

NGC 4594, known as M104 in Virgo


NGC 4565, in Coma Bernices

NGC 4565, in Coma Bernices

Hope that you like the sketches, and just a reminder that you can download this log sheet free (check out the header of the blog).


March Astronomical Events

This month features a few rather important, exciting events to look out for.  March is a great time of year for checking out the winter stuff in the early evening and getting a taste of summer objects in the late night/early morning.

In the early evening, expect some nice views of the Orion Nebula, The Messier clusters M36, 37, and 38 in Auriga. Open cluster M35 is northeast of Orion constellation in Gemini.  Farther northeast near the main stars Castor and Pollux, have a look at the small, but luminescent planetary nebula NGC 2392.  It should be readily visible in a 6 inch telescope.

Credit: Celestronimages.com

NGC 2392
Credit: Celestronimages.com

Coming back to Orion, NGC 1999, 10th magnitude nebula faintly connected to M42 is just south of the Sword of Orion. Appears as a faintly glowing irregularly shaped disk with bright central star.  M78 is in Orion as well, relatively bright nebula with 2 stars involved in the main nebulosity, a faint fan shaped nebula is seen generally.  Of course there’s the Horsehead nebula complex, that requires dark skies and a larger telescope and much patience,  I wouldn’t bother with it in the city. However, on very clear nights here in La Verne, sometimes the Flame nebula (NGC 2024) can be glimpsed in the 12.5″ with low power and wide fields.  The Pleiades are a great target in most scopes, and for a clear night challenge try for the Merope nebula (NGC1435), faint nebula engulfing the brighter portions of the cluster.


NGC 1999 Finder Chart- From Sky Safari +

Jupiter will make for some nice observing for most of the night, until around midnight it gets lower in the horizon to where atmospheric conditions will detract from the views.  The great red spot is showing much more color than in previous years, if you know when it’s visible and what to be looking for, it’s visible even in a 60mm (2.4″) refractor telescope.

The M82 supernova, formally designated as SN2014J has passed it’s peak and is slowly fading. It’s brightness is a little fainter than 10th magnitude, still well within limits of amateur telescopes.

On March 20th the star Regulus, mag 1.4 in Leo will be occulted by asteroid (163) Erigone and will completely block out the light of the star for a maximum of 14 seconds.  If your on the east coast, your in luck.  It occurs around 2 AM EST.  I wish I could see it firsthand; it will be well documented I’m sure of that.  All the information is available here.

In the early morning, a multitude of objects will become visible. Mars will rise around 9PM and a steady view probably won’t be achieved until more than hour after.  Saturn rises at 11PM and a steady view will require more than an hour as well.  Ursa Major culminates a little after midnight, the best time to check out planetary nebula M97, and galaxy M108, visible together in a wide vield of view just south of the “bowl” of the big dipper.  Galaxies M51 and M63 are in prime spots for viewing, as well as M94 in Canis Vernatici.  From 1AM on is a great time for viewing the Coma-Virgo galaxy cluster, located in, you guessed it- Coma Bernices and Virgo. This area of sky is so rich with galaxies it becomes very difficult to identify galaxies within heavily light polluted skies.  Dark skies are highly recommended for this area.  If you can, have a look at Markarian’s Chain, a big “river” of galaxies including the bright Messiers M84 and M87. Many fainter galaxies are part of this and it makes for a wonderful low power view of galaxies. Other galaxies such as M64, M87 and NGC 4565 are all nice to see from this time on.  In the south, the famous Sombrero Galaxy, M104 culminates at 1:30AM in the south, located in Virgo about 15 degrees West of the bright star Spica.  Seen pretty easily in a 6 inch reflector.

Markarian's Chain Credit: Jim Thommes

Markarian’s Chain Credit: Jim Thommes

Early morning to dawn will give a taste of the summer objects, including the Ring Nebula in Lyra, the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. M13, the famous globular cluster in Hercules should be very good in this time of morning. Messier globular clusters M10, M12, and M14 in Ophiuchus.  Scorpio will be up, check out globs M4, M80, M62, M9.  Venus rises at 3:45 and is a bright mag -4.5.

Take note that as the month wears on the moon will be increasing in size, and most early evening objects can be seen undisturbed by even a first quarter moon. Anything past that and it starts to drown out DSO’s.  Which only can mean one thing… observe the moon!!! Hope this helps you out in planning your next outing.

A Home for My Eyepieces

A package was waiting at home for me today.  Inside it was something that I had made custom for me, a wood eyepiece case.  My last eyepiece case was the Orion Medium Accessory case, a metal and foam one that when I bought it a few years ago, it was $40. I’m not sure what it is now.  This eyepiece case served me well for that time, but recently, as you know, my eyepiece collection has grown a lot, and I have really out grown my case.

Why did I choose a wood case? While I know that there a lot of choices out there for safe methods of carrying my prized optical glass, I thought that this particular was excellent in that it is both a functional piece and an elegant one as well. There are some very protective cases out there, the one most talked about today is made by Pelican, they have several different models.  While they do their job very well, I wanted something that looked nice too.

Then I came across A Case For Astronomy. Take a look through Jamie’s website for a few minutes, he has some great stuff on there.  And for what you get, the prices are pretty good, having one myself I can say that with absolute certainty.  I thought that now was a good time to get one of these because eventually eyepieces are going to get damaged by taking them in and out of their little boxes.  Here is the case we ended up with.

Eyepiece Case

It is a Plywood case with Walnut top, inlayed with exotic woods with the constellation Scorpio. I chose Scorpio because it’s one of my favorite constellations, and my zodiac sign happens to be it as well. Everything is finished really nice and it has a gloss finish. The sides have leather handles.  Here is inside the case.

Inisde eyepiece caseIt has space for everything I need plus a little space.  I’m planning on picking up an Antares 1.6x barlow to round out my 2″ collection. I just put in my 21 Stratus for right now. Soon as I find a 1.6 for sale I’ll swap them out.  There is also an Orion Shorty 2x just below the ES30mm in the photo, that doesn’t necessarily need to be there.  Maybe one day I’ll pick up an ES 20mm 68*.  The rack on the left is mostly for smaller eyepieces, I have a few plossls, an Expanse and the 7mm Galoc Ortho up there right now.  That rack can be removed for storage of things underneath.

ep case 2In their I have 4 color 1.25″ filters, a Celestron UHC/LPR, 2 collimators, a few various tools and a red flashlight.  I’m planning on getting a 2 inch extension tube that is needed for some eyepieces in the 12.5″.  Here is one more photo – of the top of the case.

ep case detail

I lied, one more, of the side of case and leather handles.

ep case 4Overall I’m thrilled with how the case turned out in the end.  Everything was exactly what I had hoped for, a usable, quality eyepiece case, with a little growing room.  If you’re thinking about upgrading your eyepiece cases to something that’s just really nice, consider Jamie’s cases.  As seen on the website, it’s not just eyepieces that he makes.  There’s a really neat solar filter case with a working sun dial on top, which you should have seen because you looked at his website! In case you skipped it over, here it is again!

Sketch of the M82 Supernova

Here’s my sketch of the SN from the 19th of January with the RV-6.  I observed the SN in the same scope a few nights ago and it was noticeably brighter, as it was easily seen at a low power of only 39x with a GSO 32mm Plossl. Click on the image for a high resolution view.

M82 SN sketch RV-6

M82 Supernova!

M82-SN-panel-Guido-580x234 better

Credit: E. Guido, N. Howes, M. Nicolini

This has just happened today! Me and my Dad had set up out 14 inch Dob and observed the galaxy on Monday, and there  was certainly no star there.  The supernova is 12th magnitude and brightening.  This means it’s well within the range of amateur telescopes, a 4 inch should have no problem seeing it, weather permitting of course.

Looking at supernovas is looking into the past, and this particular star exploded about 11.5 million years ago.  That’s how it is when you look at any distant object in the night sky.  For example, whenever you look up at the moon, your actually seeing how it appeared just over a second ago.  That supernova is 11,420,000 light years away, so it had to travel that distance.  The light traveled all that way and took so long to get here.  That star is long gone and likely has formed a planetary nebula of some sort.

The galaxy M82 itself is an interesting object.  It is an edge on spiral galaxy, often called the Cigar Galaxy because of its appearance.  It is also designated as NGC 3034.  Through most telescopes it looks like a pale elongated smudge, and light and dark areas and rifts can be seen throughout, as seem in photographs.  M82 is a very active galaxy, with a bright “starburst” region, further information here

I’m setting up the RV-6 this evening to take a peek at it, should provide a great view of it, I’ll most likely make a sketch of it now, and maybe later too and compare the brightness of it.  Go on out and take a look!

Mar m8182

Some New Eyepieces!

I’ve recently upgraded my collection of eyepieces having some of the finest eyepiece  brand names make their way into my case, Tele Vue, and Explore Scientific.  I’ve been using them extensively for a month now.  They have proven to be extraordinary pieces of glass, and have definitely earned a permanent spot in my collection.

On December 20th, a package arrived at the door.



And inside…


Tele Vue Nagler 16mm Type 2.  This is my first and only Tele Vue eyepiece.  It is the Type 2 so it’s not the most current model but that doesn’t make others better.  This eyepiece has  an 82 degree apparent field of view.  What’s nice is that it is dual barreled, so it can be accepted with both types of focusers.  Build quality is top notch,  as well as optical quality.  The main scope it is used in is the Meade 12.5″.  It performs well as a mid power eyepiece providing 119x and a 0.68 degree true field.  It’s great for zooming in on objects found with lower power eyepieces.  The eyepiece has shorter eye relief than is tolerable for some, but if you don’t wear glasses its very easy to look through for anyone.

There really is something special about the Type 2 Naglers.  Here is a great article regarding the history about Nagler Eyepieces. Link here. The other Type 2’s were 20mm and 12mm. The best of the type 2’s were the 20mm, but also the heaviest eyepiece Tele Vue has ever made, but all three of these are hard working eyepieces.  Credit is due to someone who gave me this eyepiece, as I would not have been able to afford this, as I won it in a contest.  Thanks Randy!

Here’s the other eyepiece, big in every way:

photo 4 (2)


That’s an Explore Scientific 30mm 82 degree. Doesn’t look like other ES 30mm’s you’ve seen? It’s the older non water proof version, but optical quality is the same.  This beast is 3 inches wide at the top and weighs in at a whopping 3.06 pounds! That caused some serious balance problems, more on that later.  Why would I buy this eyepiece when I just wrote a great review for the Owl 30mm? The price one was available at was extremely low for how good this eyepiece is.  After reading review after review on ES 30mm, I just had to get it.  So how does it do? It’s like the 31mm Nagler, there have been many reviews directly comparing the 2, as the Nagler is the top of the line.  That being said, this eyepiece is outstanding in terms of the image it puts out.  That huge, expansive eyepiece is great and essential for low power viewing.

However, I have heard that the Nagler just barely edges out in terms of edge correction.  The edge correction in the ES is great, the last 15% or so the stars start to slightly soften.  This is in the 12.5″, at F/6.  It provides very sharp views throughout and high contrast images essential for finding and observing objects.  This eyepiece gave my scope several balance issues that are still being sorted out.  When I put it in the focuser, the scope just dropped at every position.  I had to completely change the balance and lower the counterweights, and add some ankle weights to the back of the tube. There already is a counterweight on a bar back there but it needed more.  I still think I could use one more on it.  The difficulty using this is that when I change eyepieces I have to remove on of the weights in the back.  This is tricky because sometimes I do that, and the scope starts to move.  By removing the eyepiece first seems to fix this for the most part, but at some positions it still moves around.

As nice as the Owl 30mm is the Explore Scientific really is on the next level.  But, it is still a nice eyepiece and very usable.  The views in the Explore Scientific are so nice that the balance issues still make it worth it for me.  One thing I’ve noticed is that the Owl is not truly an 80 degree field.  It’s more like 77 degrees.  If you ever get the chance to pick up an ES 82, do it, you won’t be disappointed.


New Finder Scope

The original finder scopes that came with the Meade Research Grade series was a 50mm straight-through type. It had a removable .965″ (sub-standard) crosshairs eyepiece which gave 8 power. Now for the 8″ version of the Research Grades, this would be a fine finder scope for it. The 8″ is equipped with the same finder but with s shorter tube for use of a diagonal. For the 12.5″, it just doesn’t seem right for a scope of this size to have the straight through system. It’s difficult to be up on a stepladder leaning over this huge telescope tube looking through the finder which is neck twisting to use. I thought its time to change that.

Initially, I thought it would be simple – buy a .965″ diagonal and be done. Problem is that there is insufficient back focus for this to work, so I thought I would have to cut the tube. Of course if doing this, it seems logical at the same time to convert it to 1.25″ eyepieces. Then also filters could be used to enhance large faint nebulae, which only look good (and usually only visible) in rich field telescopes like such.

Then Chuck Hards, an astronomer on Cloudy Nights, told me about a finder of his that would work for my scope, a right angle, 40mm finder equipped for 1.25″ eyepieces. It even fit the existing rings perfectly. Chuck sent me this finder and I have been thoroughly enjoying it.

I find that I am seeing more in the 40mm because I am more comfortable when using it. I’ve had some stunning views of the Orion Nebula / Orion’s Sword. It provides around
9 or 10 magnification and a very wide true field. I haven’t measured but its very adequate. The only drawback with this system is that things are reversed in the eyepiece. This is disorienting with star charts, but I’m sure in time I’ll have no problem with it. I’m still undecided whether to put a Telrad on the scope, but for right now it’s a no. Glad to have a great, quality finder, thanks Chuck!


OWL 30mm UW80 – Review

Since there is so much controversy over the performance of this particular eyepiece, I think it deserves a review from yet another point of view.  Googling this eyepiece will bring up many mixed reviews, some good, many bad.  I’ll try to show the eyepiece fairly in a range of different scopes and focal lengths.

First impressions of this eyepiece by holding it is that it is pretty heavy, I havent weighed it but it has a good bulk to it.  It’s about the size of a soda can.  The reason I got this eyepiece was to provide a very wide true field in my 12.5″ Newtonian, which is the main instrument of experimentation of the quality of the views.

In the 12.5″, it provides a magnification of 63.5x, and a true field of view of 1.2 degrees of sky.  For an instrument of this size and focal length (F/6), this is pretty good for finding objects.   I won’t go into a full lesson on how to find objects, but I’ll put it out briefly that having a large true field is necessary in finding objects by being able to “hop” to stars to get you to a particular object in the sky.   The larger the true field is the easier it will be when finding an object.

A Word on Focal Length Importance

I believe that to those who do not fully understand the importance of the focal length of the telescope, this review will be somewhat confusing, so bear with me here.  So all telescopes have a focal length, the length that the light travels to reach focus (in your eye).  This focal length varies by the design of the telescope.  Let’s take my RV-6 telescope for example.

The primary mirror has a diameter of 6 inches across.  The focal length (distance where the light comes to focus) is about 48″.  There are focal ratios that are also called the F-number.  An F/1  6″ telescope has a focal length of 6 inches.  An F/2 telescope has a focal length of 12 inches.  F/3 is 18 inches, and so on.  So the focal length of my RV-6 is 48 inches, or an F/8.

These ratios are important in the performance of the telescope.   Scopes with ratios from F/1 to about F/5 is considered short. F/6 to about 7 is considered mid focal ratio.  And theres long focus scopes with ratios from F/8 on up.  The longest ratios I have heard of are unique telescope designs called Schiefspieglers, check these out! Link here. Anyway scopes with a shorter F-ratio bring out aberrations that are naturally part of an eyepiece.  Naturally scopes with long focal length with a particular eyepiece will be sharp stars to the edge (thats what you really want and hope for) with little or no aberrations.

Eyepiece in Use – Meade 12.5″ F/6

As stated earlier this eyepiece provides a nice wide field of view for finding objects as well as having a nice 80 degree Apparent Field.  Many eyepieces are not their advertised AFOV, but this eyepiece looks just about to be 80 degrees.  The stars at F/6 in the center are very sharp, also moving out.  The outer parts of the field do show some abberations, but not nearly as bad as some have reported.  The last 25% stars dont seem as sharp as the central area but still not that bothersome.  The last 15% or so show field curvature, but really not that bad at all.  As far as the performance on actual objects, very, very good for showing off larger objects like the Orion Nebula, or M37.  The edges of the field are not perfect, but very usable I believe and I am not focused on how stars look.  The eye relief of the eyepiece is not that huge, but not uncomfortable at all.  Actually I find it to be great because some eyepieces with long eye relief suffer from blackouts, where your eye has to be positioned just right.  Short eye relief is where your eye is crammed up close to the glass, not good either. One complaint I had with this eyepiece is that it suffers from some reflections from bright objects in the eyepiece, where a ghost image of a bright star or planet appears in the field.  Sometimes bothersome, but not that big of a deal.  Overall this eyepiece is great and is currently my most used eyepiece in this scope.

Eyepiece in Use – Meade Lightbridge 16″ F/4.5

The use of this eyepiece in this scope is definitely not recommended put simply.  Much of the field suffers from aberrations and the inner 50% is very sharp.  I tested this during my Arizona trip and still used it to find the objects that night.  For this scope there are better alternatives for a finder eyepiece.

Eyepiece at F/12

To acheive an F/12 scope I simply barlowed the eyepiece in my Meade 12.5″, which changes the focal length from F/6 to F/12 (2x amplification).  This also changes the focal length of the eyepiece from 30mm to 15mm, magnification is not 127x and the field is now 0.62 degrees.  Here the eyepiece really shines even more. Image is very sharp throughout with very little aberrations at the extremes of the field.

Owl 30mm 80 degree eyepiece.  12mm AT Paradigm right.

Owl 30mm 80 degree eyepiece. 12mm AT Paradigm right.

So there it is.  My impressions through different focal length scopes.  The shortest focal ratio I would use it in would be F/6.  If you have a longer scope and find one of these pop up for sale definitely go for it.  Also let me say that this eyepiece was about $75 when it was first out for sale.  This is what some people would call a “knock off” of the 31mm Nagler which retails for about $600.   This means that these 2 eyepieces are in separate leagues altogether and should not be directly compared, as the Nagler would beat the OWL in probably every aspect.  However the OWL is a very nice eyepiece and worth it if you can get one, I really enjoy mine.

Observing Report: Prescott with BIG scopes

Well on November 8 we took a trip up to Prescott Arizona to visit my grandparents, and as I have mentioned before on here, my grandpa is an astronomer- at it for 59 years! Anyway, Saw a LOT of stuff but I posted it on Cloudy Nights.  So as not to repeat, here’s the thread.

One thing I don’t think I mentioned the thread, but the seeing (how steady the air is) was rated a 10/10.  I have never seen skies so still before.  One thing about going to dark skies is that I have found that you have to sort of re-learn the stars.  I remember when I got into the hobby I visited dark skies- it was stunning.  So stunning in fact, that I  could not stick to my observing list.  I found myself just looking up rather than through the telescope.  It was like the first trip or two.

Now when I visit the dark skies, I am still awestruck by the skies, but can get to work.  I don’t really make observing lists, rather, I look on star charts at a certain constellation at what’s in the area and for a while, I’ll sweep through the constellation, looking at everything there is to see.  When I have swept a few constellations of their most interesting targets, I go back and choose from the most interesting objects and sketch them.  While in Arizona, I made only three sketches, but that’s ok.  Generally, the sketches take time to do, but it does vary on the object.  I’ve sketched objects in 10 minutes and some objects take as long as an hour to do.  Even on the easier objects where I don’t think there will be much detail, I stick with it and find detail that often gets overlooked.

I’m not sure if I included this in the thread, but the last object I looked at up there was Jupiter.  It was getting pretty high by then (about 3:40 AM).  The seeing was just so good that I was able to put on a very high magnification and the image would hold up.  The highest magnification I went up to was 609x (this is with the 16″).  The image was still good, and could have definitely taken more.  The image was as good as in my 12.5″ reflector.  The Great Red Spot was out, and I could see white swirls in it.  The view that I had was one of the few times that it looks exactly like a photograph or better.  By this time the temperature had dropped to about 37 degrees F* and I went back in.

Hopefully I’ll be able to be making some sketches of Jupiter soon as I have not made one in a very long time, looking forward to it with the 6″ and 12.5″ especially!

Meade Lightbridge 16" F/4.5

Meade Lightbridge 16″ F/4.5