Monthly Archives: March 2012

I know it’s bad for me


It was like eating a bag of crisps – all that fat and salt, but you just fancy one more crisp.  This is the ultimate exercise in name-dropping, and using Aubrey’s title is plain cheek (but Johnson knows that).  I read it, and enjoyed it, but it made me thirsty and in need of real nourishment.



No streetlights here (lucky).  But there is some intrusive light  (grrr).  It doesn’t make much difference if the moon is up, but at the dark of the moon it is maddening. The solution has to be inoffensive – these are very good neighbours, and I can’t expect them to go to bed at 8pm. So I have taken to washing line technology.

On the right side of my observing site there is a tall hedge, and a blanket hung on a line over it deals with the worst of a porch light next door.

On the left, a sitting room window is kept curtained but still affects night vision for faint things.  Another washing line goes to a hook in the car port.

I can just remove the blankets and unhook one end of each line when I have finished.  Should have done this two years ago.

Blocking lightspill from their porch (doesn't help with their bathroom light though!)

Working prototype

That night. Slight exaggeration as I couldn't be bothered to set long exposure timings, but it really worked.

These NGCs are NBG …


… I muttered, as I searched high and low for NGC 3593.

I knew it was there, down and right a bit from the Leo Triplet.  Or alternatively, up and left a bit in the eyepiece.  Was it the dusty eyepiece?  Was it my rotten eyesight?  Was it the collimation?  Was it senility setting in?

Then my next door neighbours went to bed and turned the light off.  A moment later NGC 3593 crept surreptitiously into the sky.  Point taken.  I scribbled a sketch while I had the chance.

The other kind of seed


And Sir P. has scattered more than most.  This one was planted in 1961 when I was still pre-literate.  Interestingly, most of the practical advice for a child beginning to observe is still usable, most of the information seems to be correct, and the snippets which are definitely wrong are almost always prefaced with ‘we think but we don’t really know’.  I tip my hat to you, sir.

Very small star party


Party of two, in fact.  On the night of 24th-25th March, to our surprise, we had another decent night.  On this occasion my astro-buddy wanted to try imaging through my 10″ to see what could be extracted from a primitive set-up, requiring a long series of experiments with focus and exposure, so I didn’t do much observing myself, being a mere Handmaiden of Art (or should that be Handmaiden of Techne?)

The Skywatcher was emphatically NOT designed for this purpose and the mount could not cope with the extra equipment attached at the sharp end, sagging decisively towards the concrete.  We obviously needed to counterbalance the weight of the DSLR and Barlow by adding something at the blunt end.  Purists might like to look away now:

I’m afraid that the handy counterweight is a kilo of light muscovado sugar strapped on with the belt from my jeans.

The drive in the scope mount is not as smooth as it was, which is fair enough considering its initial price and considerable use, and we are not expecting great things.  This was one of the raw images – I’m waiting with interest to see the post-processing result.  (I may say that through an actual eyepiece Saturn looked great, with Titan + 4 teeny moons as sharp as tacks.)

The late bed time felt even worse as the clocks changed to BST.  I think I’m getting too old for this…

Sharing the sky


Usually I have the small hours to myself but on the night of 23rd – 24th March I had a companion.  The sky is large enough to share, and so is the giant battery, but the observing site is tiny, as well as being right under the windows of the house next door.  We spent the night hours demonstrating, drinking tea, pointing, swapping equipment, negotiating changes of position, dropping things, bickering, consulting, eating toast, tripping over each other’s wires, and comparing notes in what we hoped were unvoiced whispers, occasionally betrayed into smothered laughter or small cries of pain.

Mars was not at its best and later nor was Saturn.  My telescope is the larger of the two, and I located a few Messiers to show the benefits of increased light gathering.  The seeing was not at all good, but at least there was no Moon, and we looked at the Leo Triplet, M13 and M92 in Hercules, and the Ring Nebula, M57, in Lyra.  I was particularly smug about the Ring Nebula, as I don’t have a goto on the 10″ and the sky was so hazy we could barely see the constellation naked eye except for Vega, but I got the right location by memory, first pop, which made me look a lot cleverer than I really am.

The air was mild and still, and we stayed out until 3.  It was a good night.

Three manky pots


After throwing nothing for four months (too cold) it is like being back in week 2 of beginners’ class.  And I’m always surprised when the ancient wheel consents to turn after a winter’s inaction.

So here are the beginner’s pots again.  The only design is to get one hole in the top and none in the bottom, and to deliberately push some of them to to the point of no return.  The duff pots which survive will let me revise the gestures of finishing and firing and glazing – and smashing into the bin – until my hands remember how to conduct a sensory negotiation with a handful of mud.

What’s in the long grass?


The first few grass cuts of the year induce anxiety.  The grass is long and damp and concealing.  In previous years, I have cut slow-worms in half, and one year the grass was suddenly scrambling with tiny toadlets as I mowed.  ‘The toad beneath the harrow’ indeed.  I tried to persuade myself that they were small enough to pass safely below the blade…

It is too early in the year for those particular animals to be at risk.  I mowed and scarified.  Did it look better?  No, not really, as raking the thatch out left the lawn looking bruised and scrubbed.  I said to the grass as I worked, ‘It Will Be Good For You Later’.  That’s the trouble with gardening, you find yourself reading little moral lessons into things, just like Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Oh bother.  Now I’ve had that thought I will have to read The Secret Garden again.  So that’s what was waiting in the long grass this year – a pious Victorian novelist.  At least I couldn’t cut her in half with the mower.

Very Hodgson-Burnett, very Secret Garden.