Horsehead Nebula

B33 – The Horsehead Nebula

Imaging opportunites have been few and far between this autumn. Whenever it has been clear there has been a bright Moon, it has been too windy or I’ve been busy. But at last we had a clear night with no Moon and I could finally image something!

My choice was the Horsehead Nebula in Orion. An object I’ve not imaged before. The Horsehead is a famous dark nebula (Barnard 33) shaped like a horse’s head which is silhouetted in front of a huge bright emission nebula (IC 434 or Sh2-277) known as the Flame Nebula. The whole complex surrounds Alnitak which is the lefthand star in the distinctive line of three stars that make up the Belt of Orion. The Horsehead is found just below Alnitak. 

I imaged using my QHY22 camera and a H-alpha filter. This filter only transmits light from a specific deep-red visible spectral line. This light is emitted when a hydrogen electron falls from its third to second lowest energy level. H-alpha light is interesting to amateur astronomers as it’s emitted by emission nebula and local light pollution (even moonlight) won’t interfere with the imaging. By imaging using a H-alpha filter you can get great images of nebulae with high contrast. The payoff is that you need long exposures (typically 5-15 minutes each) and for that you need really good auto-guiding. 

Auto-guiding involves using a second telescope mounted in parallel to the imaging telescope with a second camera taking continuous short exposures (typically 1-2s long). Using a clever bit of software the position of a ‘guiding star’ on each exposure is compared to the previous and if it has moved due to errors in the telescope tracking the rotation of the Earth the software automatically applies a correction to the position of the telescope so that the star remains exactly in the same place whilst you are imaging. Without guiding you are limited to shorter exposures of around one minute each as the errors in tracking add up and the stars will start to trail slightly. 

My guiding setup has been working really well since I set up the Starshed Enterprise and I can usually get five minute exposures with no visible star trailing. To reduce noise in the resulting image you need to stack as many exposures as you can get and I typically aim for a minimum of 20 exposures. Twenty exposures of five minutes each is around two hours of imaging including taking dark frames for calibration. 

It’s preferable to get all of the imaging done before the object crosses the meridian (due South) as although you can continue imaging for a while afterwards eventually the telescope tube will hit the mount and you have to perform what is called a ‘Meridian Flip’. This involves re-pointing the telescope from the eastern hemisphere to the western hemisphere and is a bit of a faff. On this evening I started early enough and the Horsehead was far enough east that I didn’t need to perform a flip for two hours worth of imaging. 

In the end I managed to get 19x300s exposures. I had to stop as the secondary mirror was completely dewed up (a bit like how a bathroom mirror steams up after a shower). I could have cleared it with a quick blast from a 12V hairdryer but the whole observatory was dripping with dew and it was close to flip time so I packed up. I need to experiment with heaters or fans to prevent dewing up of the secondary as it has been a bit of a pain. 

Capturing, stacking and processing was all done in Nebulosity 3. The resultant image is still a little bit noisy (grainy) but I’m pretty pleased with the result. I plan to capture some more exposures at some point to improve the image further. I might even be able to take some of the surrounding area and create a mosaic image as the nebulosity stretches way beyond the field of view of my setup.

The Tulip Nebula

Sh2-101 — The Tulip Nebula

Emission nebula in Cygnus. Taken with 300mm F/4 Newtonian telescope with QHY22 camera 2×2 binned. 12x300s exposures with H-alpha filter and TS Coma Corrector. Autoguided with QHY5-II. Captured and processed in Nebulosity 3.

Sh2-101 — The Tulip Nebula

M51 – Whirpool Galaxy

I’ve been taking some images from the Starshed Enterprise when it has been clear over the past few weeks. Experimenting with different settings etc. I’ve now got a nice system going, autoguiding is working well and I’m starting to get some nice images.

Messier 51 (Whirpool Galaxy) was the first galaxy shown to have a spiral structure when in 1845 Lord Rosse observed it with his giant 72″ telescope in Ireland. It is found in Canes Venatici below the tail of Ursa Major (the handle of the Big Dipper) so is well placed for observing at this time of year as it’s almost directly overhead. It has a smaller companion which it is interacting with (NGC 5195) seen as the compact galaxy at the end of a dark dust lane in one of the spiral arms. Tongues of material are being thrown out from the system as they interact, three distinct fingers can be seen stretching upwards in my image.

M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy

First 5k Race

I took up running (again) in January. This time properly by joining the Didcot Runners club’s improvers group which has helped me enormously with pacing, increasing my endurance etc. The “reward” for finishing the course was participating in the Abingdon Parkrun, my first timed 5k race. I had run 5k on my own and with the club a few times and got close to beating 30 minutes so that was my target for Saturday.

I set off aiming to run the first three km at around 6min/km pace and then I would up that to around 5m20s/km for the final two km. In the end that is pretty much exactly what I did, thanks to having a Garmin Forerunner which meant I could keep an eye on my time and pace!

I finished 85th from 146 starters (I was the 57th male to finish) in a time of 28m50s which was very pleasing. I deliberately didn’t push myself too hard and was keeping it comfortable throughout so I know there’s a bit more to be had still. I have to say how excellent the Parkrun system is, very friendly and very well organised, I’ll be there again for sure!

My first 10k race is in May, I’ve not actually run that far yet so I will be looking to up the distances I go out for over the next month!

Longest Cycle Ride


Yesterday saw me complete my longest cycle ride to date, 222.2km (138.1 miles). I’m trying to do Randonneur Round the Year (RRtY) which is an achievement in audaxing for completing a 200km event every month for twelve consecutive months. I did start in November and then couldn’t do one in December, so I’ve started again in January. I find 200km rides tough, mentally and physically. It’s a long time to be on a bike (around 9-10hrs cycling) and most of it on your own so your mind starts thinking thoughts you don’t need, like ‘why am I doing this?’ and ‘am I enjoying this?’.

This was a normal and pretty easy 100km Audax I’ve done several times before but I made it into an Extended Calendar Event (ECE) by cycling to and from the start (57km each way). This is one way of making recognised 200km routes and rides that count towards the RRtY achievement. I was right on my limit, physically and mentally for the last hour back home. Knowing exactly how much further I needed to go on very familiar roads made the distance seem to stretch out forever!

Next up will be a London-Oxford-London (LOL) ride in March. Wonder if I’ll be LOL at the end of it!

Supernova 2014J

M82 - Supernova 2014J by jochta
M82 – Supernova 2014J, a photo by jochta on Flickr.

A bright supernova in M82 was discovered on January 21st, the closest Type 1a supernova for 40 years. Here’s my image of it on January 25th when it was about magnitude 11.0. I have the collimation of my new 12″ telescope sorted now and this is a stack of 15x60s images captured in Nebulosity using an Atik 16IC-S camera. The supernova is below-right of the centre of the galaxy in the centre of the image.

(844) Leontina


(844) Leontina a video by jochta on Flickr.

The first asteroid occultation observation from my observatory and it was +ve! Asteroid (844) Leontina occults magnitude 12.0 TYC 1196-00710-1 for 1.28s. Full story.

NGC 1662

NGC 1662 by jochta
NGC 1662, a photo by jochta on Flickr.

First image from my observatory. A fairly random, non-descript open cluster in Orion which was small enough and well-positioned to test the new mount and EQMod settings.This is a stack of 12 unguided 60s exposures through my smaller 200mm Newtonian telescope. No filters, flats or darks.

Some say this cluster looks like a little boat and it kind of does. The bottom of the boat is the line of stars running diagonally down to the bottom left of the image, it has a prow and a stern. The cluster of multiple stars in the centre is the mast.

2013 Cycling Summary


With the start of 2014, it’s time to look back on the previous year’s cycling. I’ve been keeping accurate records since September 2008.

Last year was my best ever in terms of distance with 4,516 miles cycled (7,267km). Easily beating my previous record of 3,432 miles in 2011. Despite a poor spring (especially March) we had an excellent summer and I beat my previous mileage records in Apr, Jun, Aug, Sep, Oct and Nov. The graph below shows the cumulative mileage for the last five complete years.

cumulative mileage

Cumulative Cycling Mileage

In 2009 I cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats and you can see that in the abrupt rise in May of that year. However, a consistent mileage through the late spring and summer in 2013 saw me overtake that line in July. Monthly mileage fell in the autumn with fewer opportunities to get out cycling, but I was pleased to beat my previous best November and had my second best December. I also completed my personal goal of completing at least one 100km or longer audax each calendar month in 2013 although I’m still waiting for my December one to be validated.

A heat map of my UK cycling shows where I cycled in 2013.

Heat Map of UK cycling 2013

Heat Map of UK cycling 2013

Yellows show where I cycled repeatedly. Dull purple is where I only cycled once. Clearly the ‘hottest’ part of the map centers around my commute from home to work in South Oxfordshire. The heat bump to the west of this is club rides with CTC Wantage which usually start from Grove. You can see some away rides, e.g. a 160km audax in the Midlands and rides in the New Forest, Isle of Wight and Mendips. The cluster towards Cambridge was during the family summer holiday. The other obvious route was May’s cycle tour with my brother-in-law along the Welsh Border from Chester to Chepstow.

In addition to the UK miles, I joined the CTC Wantage club trip to Uzes in France. Here we did several rides out from the town. We also did an away day to climb Mont Ventoux.

France Cycling Heat Map 2013

France Cycling Heat Map 2013

In numbers my stats for 2013 were as follows.

Days Ridden123
Total Distance7,267 km (4,516 miles)
Total Climb56,504 m (185,301 feet)
Total Time14 days 5 hrs 34 mins
Longest Ride214 km (133 miles)

It’s going to be a tough mileage record to beat especially if we have bad weather in the spring and summer when most of the cycling gets done!

Table Tennis – Mid-season Review

Most people know I play league table tennis. I’ve been playing the sport since I was about 8-years old. My father played in the Oxford league for many years and my siblings and I were all encouraged to play and we all played league table tennis at some point. I’m the only one still playing and I’ve played in the league since the mid 80s. Originally in the Oxford league for Kidlington Forum and since the early 90s I’ve played in the Didcot league without missing a season. I also played in the Newbury league for several seasons (most recently in Division 1).

As a player I would be classed as a “defender”, i.e. I very rarely attack first in a rally and rely on blocking and chopping my opponents until I force them to make a mistake or lift the ball for me to smash. A match between two defenders can be a very long and tactical affair and might appear “boring” for a spectator but there’s a lot of spin and counter-play involved! I’m often referred to as frustrating to play as I will often get everything my opponent can throw at me back, if you’re an attacking player that can be quite annoying!

Just to explain some of the nomenclature you will see below. A fixture (or tie) of table tennis is played by two teams of three players, there are a total of ten matches per tie. Every player plays each other in singles, i.e. nine matches, and there is one match of doubles. Each match is the best of five games (or sets) to 11pts. In the Oxford league teams play for a share of 4pts depending upon the scoreline. In the Didcot league teams play for a share of 6pts per tie. Promotion and relegation in local league table tennis is not automatic but it is normally expected that the top two teams in each division will get promoted and the bottom two teams relegated. It is fairly unusual for players to play in more than one league, but not uncommon.

The sport is played in the winter between September and April, we’re currently halfway through the 2013/14 season and we now take a break for a few weeks for Christmas. Below is a summary of how it’s going so far.

Oxford League

This is my second season playing for the Viking Sports Club in Headington. After a long hiatus of not playing in the Oxford league I was asked to join by a colleague and ex-Didcot team mate. The clubs are rather spread out geographically and involve quite a bit of travelling to away matches, e.g. to Haddenham, Bicester and Begbroke. We are Vikings B this season and play in Division 2 of 4. We have four regular players so we rotate the squad, by the end of the season we will all have played roughly the same number of matches. Co-incidentally my father played for Vikings B in the late 60s and early 70s and the Viking Club is where I first remember playing as a child.

Last season we finished 3rd and I had a rather tough introduction midway through the season as Division 2 is a strong division. This season I have settled in much better and am currently meeting my personal goal of winning at least 50% of my matches. I’ve won 11 of 21 (52%) and not scored a duck yet which I’m very pleased with. I’ve scored one maximum (winning all three matches in a tie).

The team is top of the division at the midway stage, 7pts clear of 2nd but having played one more tie. Our greatest rivals are probably Forum D who are 8pts behind us but have three ties in hand. We have an excellent chance of finishing in the top two positions and getting promoted to Division 1. The playing standard jumps enormously between the divisions in local league table tennis so although it would be great to go up we will struggle to stay up!

Oxford League Division 2

Oxford League Division 2

Didcot League

Didcot is my “first league”, i.e. if I have fixture clashes Didcot matches always take precedence. After many years playing for Howbery Park in Crowmarsh Gifford, and being secretary for the club, we had to fold when we lost our playing premises and couldn’t find an alternative. I played one season for Moreton but it didn’t work out so when I was asked to join Upton Village Table Tennis Club before the start of last season I jumped at the chance. So this is my second season playing for Upton and I play for Upton A in Division 2 of 5. Last year we had four playing members and rotated the squad. I much prefer playing every tie in Didcot and I sometimes found it hard when I was “dropped” from the team. We finished 5th which was a highest ever league position for the Upton club. We had a rather dodgy home venue last season so it was kind of good news when we were forced to move to better premises this season due to the closure of our old venue. This season we have only three players so we have a regular team and we have built an excellent team spirit and I’m enjoying playing more than ever. I hope it’s a threesome that we can keep together for many years.

Last season I finished with a 64% average (won 25 from 39) which was my best ever season and I set myself a personal goal of 66% for this season. That’s not been going well as so far I’ve won 11 from 24 (46%) including one maximum but I have scored two ducks which I hate doing. I’ve been playing with more confidence recently and I should improve that average before the end of the season but I might have to revise my personal goal down a bit.

Despite my lowly average as a team we have been performing excellently and we had a brilliant start to the season. We currently lie in 2nd place and have played one fewer fixture than the teams in 1st and 3rd. It’s an extremely tight division though, everyone is capable of beating everyone else and it’s far too early to tell whether we’ll hold onto a top two position. We have lost a couple of ties we shouldn’t have so hopefully we can reverse them in the second half of the season. The team currently top will be very hard to overtake, they are clearly the strongest team in the division. We’ve all played more than 20 seasons in the Didcot league and none of us have ever played in Division 1, it would be great to get promoted on merit at least once even if we get hammered every week next season!

Didcot League Division 2

Didcot League Division 2

Go to Top