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Hi All, August is one of my favourite months for astronomy - it gets dark at a slightly more reasonable time but the nights are still tolerably mild. Tonight was hot and clear, with a little haze around the horizon so I trotted down to the park with the agenda of pushing my ST80 to its limit in these urban skies and hunting down some nice elusive DSOs. With no moon and no cloud I had the killer combination! I could see stars down to about Mag 4.5, which for Bushy is a really good, dark night. I started with M11, still sparkling wonderfully at 16x. I'm declaring this my new warm-up object now that Saturn is too low to observe. I then hopped over to M13 to make sure I had my eye in and the 'scope was cooled. It glowed wonderfully, the best I've seen it yet with the ST80, so I was feeling pretty hopeful for some new Messiers. M27 was one I struggled to find as a teen. As a relatively bright, concentrated object I knew it was a good one to seek out now that the moon was out of the way. At first I was squinting into the eyepiece at random faint stars, but I wasn't convinced I'd found it, especially because it's described as being spectacular. So I referred to good old TL@O and found out I was using the wrong star of Sagitta as a guide. So I tried again and straight away got the elongated blob slap in the middle of the field of view. This was a big moment for me because I'd never found the wretched thing with the Tal - at 40x it even started to show a little shape but made me realise that I need to find a way to get more apeture. After some time of viewing M27 I went for something a lot more challenging; the open/globular/whatever cluster M71 in Sagitta. It's easy to locate but with the small scope and the urban skies, its diffuse glow was always going to be tricky. I managed to find it - a very faint smudge in the telescope, but this will be one to seek out when I'm in dark skies next. I shifted my focus next to Lyra's two Messiers. The Ring Nebula is easy, even from an urban park, and with a bit of magnification revealed its Cheerio shape. I tried to use the barlow but it appeared the skies weren't as stable as I thought they were and I struggled to see anything with it. Finally I aimed for M56, another faint globular. High in the sky I stood a really good chance with it, and I managed to get it first time. It was surprisingly easy to spot and seemed quite bright, probably a result of altitude. Even with higher magnification it didn't really require any averted vision. Before I packed up and ran home to Mrs Dangerous I had a quick look at M31 - the view was awful to the north and east with the orange sodium glow of the city making most of the galaxy invisible. Just the bright core could be seen as a slightly fuzzy glow. I think it'll give more as it shifts round to the south come the autumn, but right now it's easier to see from the doorstep. These are the challenges of urban astronomy though - one might say the Vega-ries. Ho ho ho... DD
Hi All, When I first moved out of the New Forest I was advised not to bother taking telescope. I'd always taken it for granted that there wasn't any point pursuing astronomy as a hobby from London because of the light pollution. People will tell you that you can't see faint messier objects, you can't see stuff near the horizon and you certainly can't see the Milky Way. In fact ordinarily this is what I'd tell but sometimes a night comes along that defies common experience, and last night changed every assumption I had about what can be seen from an urban park... Of course I do have certain natural advantages - I have exceptional peripheral vision and I don't quite live in London. Teddington is pretty dark by London standards and Bushy Park is a huge asset for an astronomer because you can get out from all the sodium lamps. The Northern horizon is always a write-off but the rest of the sky can be surprisingly good. Coupled with recent thunderstorms that have washed the sky clean of its usual load of dirt, I did have it particularly easy. Even when I was walking down, ST80 slung over the shoulder, I was surprised by just how clear it was. Even from street level I could make out all the priniciple stars of the summer triangle constellations, even faint little Sagitta showing up. Once in the park I was truly astounded because the Southern horizon, normally an impenetrable glow of pollutants, was as sharp as I could hope with the teapot clearly visible. With this in mind, I immediately set up and went hunting for something I'd always wanted to see, the Lagoon Nebula. I never expected to see it from London with such a small scope but within minutes I had it clear in the viewfinder. Another astronomical lifelong ambition achieved. The stars of the cluster sparkled on their pool of glowing nebulosity, shockingly easy to see. This, I could tell, was going to be an epic one. I followed the advice of another user, andrew63, and swept the area with my trusty Nikon bins too, so I was able to check and double check that I'd seen all these things. I went through Sagittarius and found the following: M8 (Lagoon Nebula) - Beautful, surpassed all expectations M17 (Omega Nebula) - Found this one harder with just a faint glow of nebulosity and no real structure. Better view with bins M18 - Maybe not the most visually spectacular cluster I found M20 (Trifid Nebula) - Best view was with the bins, although clearly visible nebulosity in the ST80 M21, M23, M25 - Again, best views with the bins, although I found M25 especially lovely in the scope M22 - Astounding sight, nice large glow of globular cluster. A superlative object and a new favourite along with M8 M24 - Ah, the advantages of widefield telescope... Countless stars to sweep through. M28 - A little disappointing. Maybe I misread but TL@O seems to confuse the position of this one and M22. After that I moved on up the sky towards Scutum. M11 is now a permanent fixture on any night, but tonight I saw structure in it, and it held up well to a little more magnification. Having never seen M26 I thought I'd "tick off" Scutum, and indeed I did find it, a faint sparkling patch next to delta. The Wild Ducks were still the main highlight. The next bit was something of a shock though, and feel free to be as disbelieving as you like. I wouldn't believe me either, except I grew up in the New Forest. I've always been slightly confused that seeing the Milky Way is such a big deal for people - where I grew up it was just... there. In August it was this ever-present glow down the middle of the sky, and out on the Forest it would start to resolve into its countless stars. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful sight, but I never appreciated how wonderful it is until I moved to London and couldn't see it. That is until I looked up, resting my eyes from the eyepiece, stared into the transparent sky above me and saw a faint, diffuse glow arching through Cygnus and on into Aquila. I had to blink, but I wasn't imagining it because it had a big dark rift in the middle but I was actually looking at the Milky Way while inside the M25. I don't think nights like that come along too often. I should be clear about this though, it was exceptionally faint, but it's something I've grown up with and can recognise a mile off (Or a few hundred parsecs anyway) so I knew exactly what it was. I also had to let the wife know I might be a little late home... I then went ever higher and had another crack at M27 which was a revelation - with averted vision and a bit of magnification it started to reveal some of its structure wonderfully. Am I really still within the GLA I wondered? Next logical step was the Ring Nebula, and with the stability of the sky I was able to power it right up to 80x (Pushing it with my scope) and had the best view of it I have managed, with the hole clear with averted vision - better even than when we were n Pembrokeshire. I took out my bins again and searched out M39 in Cygnus, a lovely little haze of stars. And on a galactic note I finished off by looking for Andromeda as it creeps ever higher in the sky. Although not brilliant, I could make out the shape of the galaxy clearly, and the core was nice and crisp. I was satisfied too to find M32 lurking beneath it. M110 will have to wait until our autumn trip to the West country though. So that wraps it up. My messier count is up to about 34, I managed to find an awful lot I'd never seen before, and I am now perfectly satisfied that, at least from the periphery, astronomy is a worthwhile hobby here in London. I doubt the Milky Way is a regular sight even in Bushy Park though... DD