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  1. Had a chance to image at a dark sky site for the first time (Møns Klint in Denmark). Previous attempts were always ruined by equipment failure or fog. This time everything went to plan, and it was an excellent experience. This was also my first time properly using my standalone autoguider (Synguider 2), after getting the hang of its eccentricities in the backyard. Have to say that once you figure out all the important info that's not in the manual, it's s fantastic piece of kit. Not having a laptop out in the field made things much simpler. Two main targets for the night. Horsehead nebula and Iris nebula. Horsehead (40 x 3min subs) Iris (40 x 3min subs) (Skywatcher 200P newtonian, EQ5 goto mount, coma corrector, Canon 450D unmodded @ iso 800, Synguider standalone autoguider, processed with DSS and PI) I was amazed at the difference a dark site made, and of course the guiding - but regretted not getting 6 hours of data on a single object when I had the chance - was tempted instead to go for multiple, resulting in shorter stacks. But overall, very happy with the experience, and I'll be heading to dark sites any time I get the chance.
  2. From the album: William Optics GT71 II

    © (c) 2020 Garrick Walles

  3. The past two years or so have been frustrating in the UK, with one or two notable exceptions. At the tail end of the Summer last year, catching the Lagoon, Triffid, Eagle and Swan nebulas was a high. Seeing the nebulosity in the Eagle and knowing that somewhere in between the midst of my view had been the iconic "Pillars of Creation" was quite something. Likewise seeing the Lagoon for the first time and the race against time as the skies darkened but the object dropped further and further into the murk and horizon. The kindness shown to me by my observing buddy (Helix) in trying to help me see the Horsehead in her big mirrored dob, despite my protestations that we were "flogging a dead horse." But on Sunday 26th, from the Astrofarm in Confolens , I and three others managed about 10 hours of observing, and I saw 102 Messier objects, plus Comet 41P and the Horsehead Nebula in an exhausting (and by 3am, damn cold) "all nighter." Having searched and found M74 last year, I knew not only where to find it, but just how tough this face on, spiral galaxy is to see in my 3 inch frac. Above the setting Mercury, from “Tak Corner” of the Astrofram’s observing field I could see Eta Piscium and was able to make the short hop to M74 to start an attempt at the Messier Marathon. Just visible, it needed my 9mm Nagler, and this is where having the slo mo controls on the Vixen Porta Mount are a huge help as you can slowly track backwards and forwards over your target and tease out more details. I saw M74 with direct vision. M77 followed swiftly and then 33, 31, 32 and 110 in quick succession before they slipped into the Western horizon. M79 in Lepus was easier this year; it was higher in the sky and I'd managed to find it from Seething, it again needed high power. Although it was a long night it passed quickly, finding the open clusters in Auriga, the Little Dumbell needs high power, but found this small Planetary Nebula an easy hop from Phi Persei. In Leo, I just managed to see NGC 3628 too, often can easily see M65 and M66, but usually this edge on galaxy eludes me. We raced through the galaxies in Canes Venetici, Coma and Ursa Major, using the Spindle Galaxy (NGC 5866) in Draco as Messier 102, it's an edge on galaxy so another "smudge" in the 3 inch Tak. Whilst in Draco, I could not resist a quick peek at NGC 6543, the Cat's Eye Nebula, it was magnificent in Claire's C9.25! Around this point Andrew pointed out that Orion was setting; it wasn't long before Betelgeuse dipped below the South Western horizon. We paused for coffee and biscuits before starting the long task of finding and identifying the galaxies in Virgo; M84 and M86 are the start of Markarian's Chain, and an image I have in my mind from the many photos of the area, but there were 5 galaxies to observe beforehand, starting with 104, the "Sombrero." At times we seemed to fly through them, but at times there was a long pause to identify carefully which was which in the cluttered view at the eyepiece. Midway through the galaxies in Virgo, my list had M68 to observe in Hydra. Tried for about 20 minutes to find this globular Cluster from the stars of Corvus, without any success. Like M79 in Lepus, it looked easy enough in the Pocket Sky Atlas, but at 11 arcminutes, was small and was the first Messier that I had to pass that evening. Back to Virgo and was soon at M89 and M90. M90 was discovered by Charles Messier on March 18th 1781, here we were observing them from France 235 years later! The final galaxies to find were a little higher and in Coma, M91, M98, M99 and M100. Hydra was proving to be very difficult as M83 was next, and another I could not see, despite this galaxy being bright, it was very low, and some hazy cloud had arrived. Next up on my list was M13, the first deep space object that learned to find some 6 years ago, M92 was next and them onto the Ring Nebula in Lyra, a tiny object even with the 9mm, but it was great to be on the "home turf" of the Summer Triangle. Had to wait a while for M56, cloud had arrived and the sky looked a little grey, time for another drink and snack break. A quick visit to Serpens and the bright Cluster of M5, before we were into Ophiuchus, starting with M107, followed by M10 and M12; using Zeta Ophiuchi and Epsilon or (Yed Posterior) to form a triangle to hop from. M9 is at the base of Ophiuchus, I noticed that Antares was higher now, and was impatient to get into Scorpius, especially as the sky was definitely lighter, so it was a quick look only at this globular Cluster. By now, Altair was visible, next on the list was a favourite, M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. The view was disappointing though, it was lower in a grey sky compared to how I've observed it previously. To the West and a little lower was M26, unimpressive I noted, but another Messier ticked off the list. Over to Scorpius, M4 and M80 were easily seen; it was at this point last year that I'd stopped; defeated by tiredness, cold and eyepieces repeatedly dewing up! Not this time. M29 and the slightly harder to find M39 were seen and ticked off in Cygnus, M27 next, an easy find, especially as the sky was clearing in a slight breeze; I noticed how much higher Vega was too. M71 in Sagitta I've seen many times, but this was the briefest of looks, it was about 0430 and there were the objects in Sagittarius to see soon. On to M16 and M17, the Eagle and Swan. I'd had a reasonable look at these last Autumn, but just as they were sinking into the murk of the horizon, now they were rising, but so was the sun, c'mon! It was to M19 and M62 in Ophiuchus, next as both were at a reasonable height; although just for M62 though, bloody trees! Surely as Virgo is to Galaxies, Ophiuchus is all the globular clusters; there are so many. I'll never forget my first view of the Butterfly cluster in Sagittarius, seen distinctly in my eyepiece though with branches in the foreground! It's said Ptolemy saw this naked eye! No such luck with M7 Ptolemy's cluster, despite it being larger and brighter than M6, it was lower, and was lost within the trees / murk. My third Messier not seen. Next was M8 the Lagoon, I first observed this in the Autumn of 2016, it’s enchanting to observe. Usually spot the stars of the cluster before the nebulosity appears, only to lose this star forming region into the horizon. Now it was rising, but the skies were noticeably brighter, there was the nebulosity, this early morning I lingered a little admiring the view. Just above the Lagoon is the Triffid, an emission Nebula, slightly northeast of the Triffid is the small open cluster M21. Next on the list to be ticked off was M23 another open cluster, followed by the Sagittarius star cloud M24, I'd seen this only once before and was stunned to stumble across it in early Autumn. Slightly less impressive, but probably due to the increasing brightness of the sky. It's a target worth hunting down even from the UK's skies. M25 is a widely spaced open cluster, it's South East of the Star Cloud and a nice contrast. At the top of the 'lid' of the 'teapot' is Lambda Sagittarii, to the North, North West is the small globular cluster of M28, another 'first time seen' Messier. Completely stunned to move East of Lambda Sagittarii and see for the first time M22. This globular is huge, larger and brighter than M13, a 'wow' moment. At magnitude 5, it’s meant to be naked eye visible on a clear night, one to look for in the future. M54 was next, an easy hop Westwards from Zeta, and another Messier seen for the first time for me. Sadly M55 was hidden behind the trees from me and too low down to see, as was M70. I could just see though a gap in the trees though to M69, which was to be the last Messier i could see in Sagittarius; although 75 was much higher according to my Pocket Sky Atlas, it was hidden in the trees! After the excitement of seeing targets for the first time in Sagittarius, the next two were comparatively easier, M15 found from Enif, is a Globular Cluster I’ve looked at lots, as was the final Messier I managed to see M2 in Aquarius…in the brightening dawn I could just about see Sadalsuud, Albali the hopping point for M72, although higher was gone in the grey dawn sky…I’ve found M72 twice, both times after much searching with a high power eyepiece and knew that if I could not see Albali, I’d have no chance with either M72 or M73. The final target M30 being much, much lower than M72 & M73 I did not attempt. So a failure to complete all 110 of the objects in the Messier Marathon, managing 102, with Ga Bin from Limoges Astro Society managing 106 with his computerised rig. That said it was a superb experience, the Messier marathon to me is really is about challenging yourself to track down and observe a catalogue of “non comets” over one night, it was superb fun, and probably the best nights astronomy I’ve ever experienced, in the company of enthusiastic amateur astronomers. An experience that will stay with me for a long time. Huge thanks to Andrew and Sue of the Astrofarm in Confolens; staying at the Astrofarm made it a very easy experience; their B&B is geared up to catering for astronomers both visual and imagers. From the moment you are met at Limoges airport to the moment that you are dropped back there at the end of your stay, a thoroughly enjoyable experience, great skies, great food with two of the most helpful people you could wish to meet. The following night, I spent 45 minutes tracking down M68 in Hydra, using binos to find a star to jump from, and using the 9mm Nagler eventually after much cussing and cursing found the faint fuzzy! Not surer if a facebook link will work, but a timelapse here of the night! Thanks, Chris
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