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About BiggarDigger

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    Astronomy (obviously!), IT (work - ugh), electronics and radio engineering, meteorology, fresh air and wide open spaces.
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    Biggar, Scotland
  1. BiggarDigger

    Astronomical Darkness

    Same here in Biggar, Mark. The night sky to the North this time of year seems as bright as overcast daylight in winter. Even looking South last night, I could only see the moon and Jupiter by naked eye. I love the long summer evenings for spending time with the family or sitting out in the garden with a beer, but this past month my twitchy focus fingers have been getting really bad and won't get any better until mid to late August.
  2. BiggarDigger

    The benefits of planning for the Bowl of Virgo

    Still being relatively new to the hobby (at least in a serious way), I'm probably not qualified enough to comment in a meaningful manner on the performance of the 8 inch dob. What I can say is it is significantly better than my previous Astromaster 130eq and under clear skies I'm mightily impressed. Many of the galaxies observed on Saturday night were fuzzy blobs, but reading comments from more experienced stargazers, this is completely normal. Pausing on each target for a few minutes often pulled out additional fuzzy details. What pleased me so much though was the ability to pull all the reference material together and have a mind map of push here or pull there with the dob. So much easier and more satisfying than randomly wafting the scope about and getting lost in the sheer number of objects in Virgo.
  3. Hi everyone, last month I had my first brush with The Bowl of Virgo and I was taken aback with the number and different categories of galaxy that were observable through my 200P Dob. So much so that although very satisfied, I felt I needed much better planning to be able to enjoy the session to its maximum. So, I studied the star charts, reviewed Turn Left at Orion and cross checked against Stellarium. It must be the curse of observing in Scotland, because since then every night has been blocked out with (even more) snow, low dense cloud or been a work nigh making it difficult to get out. Last night was different however. The Clear Outside App promised clear skies from abut 10pm through to dawn, so I made my excuses and took the scope out into the back garden to cool down while I retreated to back inside to kit up with thermals. Back out at 10:30pm to mostly clear skies, and only traces of high altitude cirrus. While letting my eyes adapt, I took in M13, experimenting with different eyepieces and getting some fantastic views with the stock 25mm plus a 2x Barlow. The cluster was clearly defined with many individual stars visible. Next onto my target for the night and over to the Bowl of Virgo. Last month, I vaguely wafted the scope about starting from a line extending from the rump of Leo. This time, I had decided a much more structured approach was needed, so starting at Vindemiatrix as Turn Left at Orion suggested and cross checking against mobile Stellarium, I hopped slowly by steadily from NGC 4762 and NGC 4754 to NGC 4660 and up to M60 and M59. From there, again star hopping to M58. Next on the bucket list was NGC 4550, though I'm not certain about bagging NGC 4551, even with averted vision. Then up to M89 and South to M87, which was a fair hop, taking me a few goes getting back and forth and making sure I had the right stars in the field of view to jump form one to the next. As I approached Markarian's Chain, I looked for, but not certain of observing NGC 4440. Not to worry, for next in the list was the Chain, starting with NGC 4388, M84 and M86, then back towards the East to The Eyes NGC 4438 and NGC 4435. The latter two objects fuzzing into what seemed like one object with two brighter cores close by each other. Walking further along the chain taking in NGC 4461 NGC 4473, NGC 4477, NGC 4459, and NGC 4474 pausing for a while on M88. Feeling more confident now star hopping, I decide that I would navigate across to M99 and M98, taking in NGC 4419 and maybe NGC 4377 along the way. From there it was a couple of bright stars back to M100 and North to NGC 4350 and NGC 4340 before ending up at M85. Again pausing there to catch my bearings, I pitched South to NGC 4450 and a big jump to M88 followed by M91 and another big hop to M90. Continuing South, I picked up on M58 again and further on NGC 4564. From there further South still to NGC 4567 and NGC 4568. My eventual target by now was M61, so continuing down through the Bowl taking in NGC 4578 (just observable with averted vision), onto the enigmatically named McLeish's Object and the Lost Galaxy, NGC 4535 and NGC 4526 respectively. From there a short hop to M49 really bright and distinctive. At this point my star hopping let me down and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't make the jump to M61, the gaps between identifiable stars was just too great and no amount of resetting on M49 could get me close to my quarry. No matter, looking at the charts, I was able to manually align on an imaginary right angle between Auva and Zaniah (comprising the bottom of the Bowl). Using that method and a bit of nudging left and right M61 came into view and my quest for the night was satisfied. But the night was't over. Jupiter was up and by now clear of the ridge of our shed roof. It was getting late and even though much warmer than of late, I was starting to feel the chill in my fingers through the thermal gloves, but it was too good an opportunity to miss. Viewing Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto plus the cloud bands of Jupiter itself through various eyepieces was the icing on the cake. I packed up at 01:30, tired and cold but very satisfied that proper planning had allowed me to tick off so many objects that I had probably observed previously, but not been able to be sure about. The season is almost over at this latitude as the nights get lighter and lighter. The forecast is not good for the rest of this week and by then moon will be wiping out most DSO's for another two weeks. That will take me to early to mid May by which time it won't be dark enough until perhaps midnight or beyond. If this is indeed my last DSO session until late August/September, it was a nice way to go out. Richard.
  4. BiggarDigger

    Stallarium question

    Take a look at this article on the Apple Support pages: https://support.apple.com/kb/PH25088?locale=en_US That should give you the detail. Good luck - I use Stellarium on Windows and Android and wouldn't be without it. Richard
  5. BiggarDigger

    I couldn't feel my fingers but

    A nice report Mark! Sounds like a really good session. I can sympathise with the numb fingers - try some thermal gloves: they work for me. Richard
  6. BiggarDigger

    New scope: A great session and two surprises

    Thanks guys...yes it was a great evening. I learnt a lot about the capabilities of the scope too. I'm very fortunate: skies here can be very dark, especially in the southern half of the sky. Tomorrow night is forecast to be clear again. We do have a forecast of snow on and off through the day, but clearing by mid afternoon. However, that also means temperatures well below freezing again. If I've got the energy after work and the weather is kind, I might nip outside for an hour or two to see if I can locate those mysterious blobs in Ursa Major again. This time I'll take some detailed notes and sketches.
  7. So, Santa was kind enough to me to upgrade from my introductory Celestron 130eq to a Skyliner 200p Dob. The skies here have been awful for weeks, with rain, sleet and snow. Two weeks ago I was knee deep in snow, but last night it all come together in a nice little session that I really enjoyed. I've made a water-butt base base for the dob after experiencing difficulties with the height in previous session over the holiday season and this was the first time out since building it. Boy, what a difference the base and the 8" dob was over the 130eq! Managed to get out around 8pm to sparkling clear and very dark skies. Moon won't be up for at least 2 or maybe 3 hours, so let's get to it I thought. Took the dob and the new base out to let it cool down while I went back in to change into thermals (standard issue here in winter!). Well, 20 minutes later I'm frustrated, so much so that I'm thinking of calling it a night - low cloud rolled up the valley and obscured all but the brightest objects. Checked my clear outside app and it told me to have patience, and I'm glad that I did. The clouds rolled back and revealed the crystal clear sky that I had earlier. The milky way clearly visible stretching from horizon to horizon. So, I took aim with the sighting scope on Mirach and followed the line along to M31 and M32, plus M110 too. Much brighter than previously and nudging the dob up and down I could make out the broad expanse of the galaxy far wider than the field of view. The companions beside it really stood out . Cool, I thought, this looks good. So, how about back to the ubiquitous M42 and M43. This time however with the addition of an O-III filter - bam! Absolutley stunning! I could have spent ages on them, but I wanted more. OK, next easy target, M45 and some nebulosity around Merope. I wasn't sure if it was dew at first, but putting the filter back on the eyepiece made certain. Now I think I'm up for a challenge. Take out the filter, swing back toward Andromeda and line up on Mirach again. This time swing the dob toward the South West hoping for a glimpse of M33. I think I had maybe seen this before in the 103eq, but never quite sure even with averted vision and tapping the scope. In the 200p however it just jumped out at me. I can hardly describe how surprised I was. Most moonless nights when M33 has been up, I've tried for it, but this was awesome. OK, so maybe I'm being a bit over the top with the hyperbole, but it really was very surprising. Stayed on M33 for a good 10 minutes soaking it in before I realised I was wasting time before the moon came up. Back round to Orion and a good long look at Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka for signs of nebulosity. Maybe some around Alnitak, but not sure even with the filter. Time to move on up to M78. Bright as a button with and without filter and I'm getting increasingly impressed by the scope. Next up, literally: M1. Alderbaran is really bright. Look along to what Stellarium calls Sigma Tau (if my Greek alphabet hasn't embarrassed me!) which is brightly visible to the naked eye. Align on that and then nudge the dob north a bit and there it is. Clearly defined with hints of tendrils to the north. At this stage, I'm beginning to thing I need to take some photos somehow, but that's for another scope and another budget! What next - well, the Behive Cluster M44 is visible to the naked eye, so let's have a look. Almost as dazzling as M45. Next I look north to Ursa Major and thinking about a difficult alignment on M81 and M82 which should be high in the sky. Now the clouds start appearing again and I'm wondering if I've run out of time before the moon, but no the clouds dissipate and I start the alignment. It's difficult with the elevation and twisting around the scope to get to the finder scope - I start on Dubhe and move up toward what Sterllarium tells me is Alhaud IV. OK, I got it I think, try swing to the North West to the targets and get nothing. Align on a line from Alhaud VI and try again, still nothing. Hmm, this is tough at these high elevations. So I try a swept pattern directly through the eyepiece over where they should be and two separate objects appear, but not M81 or M82. What are they? Very feint fuzzy blobs, maybe one of the NGC galaxies in the area I think. After I came in I think I identified one as NGC2976 but not sure as it's close to the targets and I would have found them much easier. They were real and not cloud trails as they were moving in sync with the stars and I stumbled over both of them twice each. Note to self: take a notebook and pencil next time to take some sketches. One object was close to three low magnitude stars aligned in a row and the other was in the north east quadrant of a trapezoidal alignment of 4 stars. Both fairly small and fuzzy in the stock 20mm eyepiece. One more tenous and blurred than the other which may have had a brighter core. Both almost disappearing in a 10mm EP. Scratch the head, shrug of the shoulders and carry on looking the M81 and M82. Eventually located them adjacent to eachother and much brighter than in my 130eq. The cigar shape of M82 really standing out. By now the moon is making it's presence known just below the horizon and my toes are hurting in the cold. Bright stars are starting to become fuzzy. I need to be up early for work and the scope is covered in frost. It's time to call it a night. I come in, get the scope set up to dry off, change out of my thermals and start looking up what those blobs in Ursa Major may have been. Still not sure now, but almost certainly galaxies in the NGC series, though from images found on the web, maybe the more diffuse one might have been Coddington's Nebula. I am really impressed by the 200p: with my diy stand almost all alignment targets are achievable in the finder scope, though I may mount a telrad next to it to make it a bit easier for star hopping and high elevations. Can't wait for the next clear skies!
  8. No problem Daz, as noted it wasn't my work; a lucky find from a few years ago. I built my Telrad heater as per the guide mentioned earlier and it works a treat. Enough to get fairly warm to the finger and it clears the mist on the Telrad within minutes. For my heater I used a 3v LED with a 100Ohm resister as an indicator, but it's still a bit too bright, so I might increase that to 180Ohms. The glass viewing window on the Telrad slides out (after a bit of judicious pulling) making insertion of the heater resistor pretty straightforward. The black insulating tape is just there to give a little protection t the soldered joints. Hopefully tho photos show the arrangement reasonably well. I went out on Sunday evening and like several recent sessions everything pretty much was covered in dew within an hour and an hour later heavy frost was forming. The camping mat dew shield for the secondary mirror worked very well, but unbalanced the scope a bit so that needed some extra thought. The main problem I had on Sunday was the moon: it was so bright that it was very hard to locate any deep space objects. I tried a few Messier objects to the north, but it was getting late and cold on a work night, and that story is for another time. Well worth the cold and frustration with the moon to see the heater and shield working well and learning new tricks all the time. Just need to find a solution for the eye piece misting up.
  9. Hi Daz, it's one I found in the DIY Astronomy section on this forum, described by M110 several years ago: It's a simple 10 Ohm 2 Watt resistor, plus a diffused red LED and a small SPST switch to take power from the batteries of the Telrad. I've got a stack of Lithium AA cells in the garage so they should be able to supply plenty of current drain. The LED indicates when it's powered preventing undue drain. What appeals to me about this one is it's fully self contained running off the internal battery. Richard
  10. BiggarDigger

    Hi From Biggar

    Haha, that's just the weekend job!
  11. The bits for the dew shield and the Telrad heater should arrive this week. I need a little more little more thought about the power source and controller for the eyepiece heater, but that shouldn't be too far behind. Looks like the weather here will be closed in the for the next week, so I've got plenty of time to get stuff built.
  12. Thanks guys! I think I'll put together a DIY shield for the secondary mirror using some camping mat material to extend the tube. I read that it should be between 2 and 3 times the aperture, so that should be quite easy. I'm not certain about a heater for the secondary just yet - I probably need to have a think how to mount so that it effectively delivers the heat to the mirror and not the mount, but also not to deliver too much heat in the tube. I saw a few ideas for a Telrad dew heater using a resistor and powered from the internal batteries; that looks pretty straightforward and should make quite a difference. Along with that, I think I'll be getting some nichrome wire and velcro to build an eyepiece heater. I do like the idea of hand warmers too! That should keep me going for now, fingers crossed!
  13. I'm very much aware that I'm new to this and the more I read, the more I know I need to think about about practicalities, not just theory. Last week, I had a really successful evening with my shiny new AstroMaster 130-EQM. The sky was crystal clear, the air temperature was well below freezing and frost was everywhere. After a couple of hours dew (and ice) became a real problem. I've read a lot about DIY and manufactured heaters and shields, most of which should be within my abilities but I'm not 100% sure where the best place would be to start in combating the problem. Should I knock up a shield extending the length of the tube, or is a heater a better method to protect the secondary optics? If a heater is considered better, how is that fixed to the optics? I've seen some comments about protecting the primary from dewing up, but is that generally considered a problem in a modest reflector like mine - doesn't the tube form a dew shield of it's own? If it is considered necessary to protect the primary, how difficult is it to gain access - I'm a bit cautious about damage due to "novice fingers". I invested in a Terlad to replace the Red Dot finder and it works far better for me, but towards the end of the evening, even with a diy shield it was misting up to the extent it was difficult to see through, so perhaps a heater would be good for that too? How about eyepieces? I noticed that my eyepieces were really heavily dewed at the end of the evening, even after keeping them in my pockets or the case. The focus tube was dripping. Again, I've read a few posts for both diy and manufactured heaters, but I'm not too sure exactly how they fix to the eyepieces. Does the heater wrap around the barrel of the focus tube or somehow to the eyepiece itself? I've even read about hair dryers, but I don't fancy tripping the house breakers. I can build a DIY PWM power pack if needed, but maybe I should just give everything a blast of heat from resistors or nichrome on DC at first and work on the fancy stuff later? Perhaps I've answered my own question, but I'm genuinely interested in your thoughts on the what would be "best bang for my buck" for an enthusiastic newbie like me.
  14. BiggarDigger

    Hi From Biggar

    Good morning one and all and thanks for your welcome messages! Yes, I think the bug has bitten, though it has probably been there for many years: it's just taken a while to sink it's teeth in. My first significant interest in astronomy was probably 30 years ago when a relative who was moving house offloaded a box full of books. One was called The Universe, or similar. It was a fascinating read, delving into technical explanations and details of star formation etc. As children came along they all played with "toy" 'scopes and I enjoyed spending time with them looking at The Moon and the planets etc., but they were young and our priorities lay elsewhere. Now they are mostly at or preparing to go to university, I have a little time (though never as much as I might hope for!) and have been keen to rekindle my interest. I really was very excited to view M31 and it's companions the other night. I've read a bit over recent months about what to expect and even though the Milky Way is easily viewed here on cloudless nights, I had been a bit concerned about the neighbours lights spilling across the garden; but no problem once I located it - better than I had hoped for. The cold and frost was a problem, but thermals helped and I've been thinking about how to overcome dew problems. I had hoped to go out again last night, but the mist came up the valley and it got very cold and frosty indeed. This morning we have an inch of snow on the ground. So I'm now looking forward to further evening sessions and thinking about what interests me and what objects to look out for. Sorry for my ramblings, Richard
  15. BiggarDigger

    Hi From Biggar

    Hello from Biggar! My name's Richard and as you may have guessed, I live near Biggar in Southern Scotland. Being fairly rural, we have dark skies, especially to from East, through South round to West. I've had a passing interest in astronomy for many years, but family and work have always come first. This Christmas just past however, Santa was kind enough to bring me a Celestron 130EQ. A few evening sessions over the holiday season whetted my appetite still further but I had real trouble using the red dot finder. After some reading up on this forum and other sources, I decided to try the Telrad finder and what a difference it made. Last night the clouds rolled back soon after work and I was out in the back garden from 8pm to past 10pm with really encouraging results. Instead of struggling to even find the Orion Nebula, I was on it in a flash - literally a few minutes after setting up. Then across the sky to an object I've read about many times before and tried to observe without luck in my first few sessions - The Andromeda Galaxy. Just a few minutes of alignment, after juggling with the tripod due to the height of the eyepiece! All I can say is wow! I was totally enthralled and could have observed it for hours. Unfortunately I had to come in when everything got dewed up, but I was bouncing off the ceiling. I think I'll play with the the scope more over the coming months before having a think about upgrades and T pieces for my wife's camera. Pleased to meet everyone here and looking forward learning more! Richard

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