Sky Diary

Limavady, N Ireland [55.0N, 6.9W]

Garden faces E through to SW

10 x 50 Binoculars

16 x 60 Pentax PCF WP Binoculars

20 x 80 Opticron Oregon BCF Binoculars

8.75 inch Dobsonian Telescope with 25mm and 10mm Celestron eyepieces

Starry Night Enthusiast 4.5.2 software

 01 March 2009

Comet Lulin

A Green Comet

I've been waiting for a clear night for about a week or so to look for Comet Lulin. Variable visibility tonight but at around 10pm GMT, the sky cleared and I searched for Comet Lulin with my 20 x 80 binoculars and tripod. Found it just at about 5pm down from Regulus in the constellation of Leo. The comet is now on the wane and I couldn't make out a tail but identified it by its position and its very distinctive green colour (due to cyanogen and diatomic carbon gases).

15 March 2009

Farewell to Orion

Orion is my favourite constellation and one that I very much associate with Winter. Easy to identify with its "belt" of 3 stars in a row and then a short "sword" hanging down from the belt. In the middle of the sword is the Orion nebula (M42) which appears as a luminous cloud with binoculars. As I go out my back door at about 2100 GMT in December and January, it is right in front of me and I use it as a guide to other stars with the Pleiades over and to the right, Sirius below and to the left. Castor and Pollux are to the left again with Regulus to the far left.

Rather amazingly, Betelgeuse, the upper left reddish star in Orion is Arabic for "armpit of the central one" I somehow don't think Douglas Adams knew that or else he would have worked it into HHGG somewhere. It is also slightly variable in luminosity.

About this time of year, Orion moves out of my field of view so its farewell until next Winter!

15 March 2009

Hello to Ursa Major and Arcturus

Having just written the piece above, I walked out said back door at 2230 GMT to find Ursa Major  and down below it the red glow of Arcturus staring at me. Arcturus is a red giant star in Bootes. I must admit red stars are my favourite so Arcturus joins the list along with Betelgeuse and Aldebaran to the right of Orion.

Took my 16 x 60 binoculars for a quick look at Arcturus and the second star in from the tail of Ursa Major which is actually an optical double star: Mizar and Alcor

17 March 2009

Moonless St. Patrick's night; a tour of the Reds

Absolutely great visibility tonight in a very dark sky. Decided to take a tour of red stars @ 2230 GMT with the 16 x 60s. Swung over the zenith initially towards the North where 1. Capella (Constellation Auriga) was visible. Then moving through East to South in turn were 2. Aldebaran in Taurus then 3. Betelguese in Orion . Moving southerly I came across a new star to me but very obviously red: 4. Alphard, (Al Fard, "the solitary one" in Arabic) which is about half way between Arcturus and Orion in the constellation of Hydra. Finally across to 5. Arcturus in Bootes beneath Ursa Major.

18 March 2009

Twilight Walk

The weather remains superb for this time of year. Went for a walk at twilight (1930 GMT) and wondered which stars would be visible first. In the southern sky, I saw Sirius (Magnitude -1.47) first then Rigel (Magnitude 0.15), Procyon (Magnitude 0.37) and Betelguese (Magnitude 0.43) in that order.  I didnt have my glasses on and am rather surprised I got that all right.

In the North West was what I thought was Venus but could have been the International Space Station or Vega. It was v low on the horizon and by the time I got home at 2010 GMT it had either disappeared or skimmed across the horizon to the North East and got a lot dimmer.

Checked on Starry Night Enthusiast (SNE) just to be sure. What I saw at the start of my walk was indeed Venus (Magnitude -4.25) which sets in the NW at about 1945 GMT whereas Vega (Magnitude 0.0) rises in the NE at about 2005 GMT.

18 March 2009


Another Red

Noticed a red star near Ursa Major tonight so looked it up in SNE: its Kochab, part of Ursa Minor.

 31 December 2009

Looking for NGC 1981

Ive spent the last few clear nights looking at Orion and in particular, the sword of Orion. Three pairs of stars can be easily identified, but on looking up SNE, I could see that there is a nice  open cluster, NGC 1981 just above the highest pair. Ive also been considering upgrading from my Dobsonian 8.75 inch telescope to a Meade with equatorial tracking and GPS positioning so I thought I would see how well I could get on with my current equipment. There was a full moon which probably impaired conditions slightly.

NGC 1981

Using my binoculars (16 x 60 and 20 x 80), I could just make out a few specks of light  but wasn't that convinced I had seen the cluster in all its glory. I haven't used the telescope in over a year and found it awkward to set up initially. I had left the high magnification eyepiece (10mm SMA) in it and found it difficult to find landmarks. Switched over to the low magnification eyepiece (25mm) and got a lovely view similar to the right hand panel above but upside down of course! I think for now I will keep using the Dobsonian and try to locate a few more clusters and nebulae in the SE to SW sky. I should also add that Mars has been v. prominent in the low SE sky for the last few days.