Friday, July 31, 2015

M29, The Cooling Tower

My first steps in Astro-Sketching

Lately, I haven’t had the opportunity to sketch due to tons of clouds and rain so at this time I would like to share with you how I ended up doing Astrosketching.  I purchased my first optical tool in 2011: a pair of binoculars, Celestron Skymaster. At that time we lived in a small town in my country, Colombia, with medium level light pollution that let me start to learn the sky as a casual stargazer.

In the beginning of 2012 we moved to Bogota, the capital of Colombia. There was tons of light pollution there (Bortle 8/9), but I still wanted to learn more and more. Because the constant bad weather and the light pollution I started to be more involved with reading about astronomy than observing the sky.  I also became a member of the Astronomy forum in February of 2012. At that time my main activity was learning from other amateur astronomers’ experiences.

In the middle of 2012 I thought that a telescope could give my hobby greater depth.  Until that time I did even not now about the Messier list and my sporadic session were just random views of the sky. I did not record my observations and I had no specific path to follow in amateur astronomy. Then, in middle of 2012, we did purchase, through E-bay: a Celestron Astromaster 130EQ. It was like the perfect scope to start “serious” astronomy with and it also fit our limited budget.

But then I did have to wait for somebody to bring it from the US to Colombia. That month I started to prepare myself for the telescope’s arrival and it was then that I had the idea to sketch my own chart of the DSOs in the Messier list.

My first sketch was M29.  Sadr (γCyg) was visible to the naked eye when it was high in the sky and from there it seemed like an easy trip to the Cooling tower: a big triangle formed by HIP100518, HIP100603 and HIP100644, then a little curve line of three dimmer stars (HIP100557 and other two not named in Stellarium) and voila: there was M29 in my binoculars.  Of course, I had two big issues when trying to transfer that search to the 20mm erecting eyepiece in the telescope: the FOV at the eyepiece was much smaller than in the Binoculars and there were many more stars in the eyepiece, which I hadn’t sketched.

I started to look for other people sketches and then I saw the web page of Rony De Laet (Rony’s site). Wow, those were wonderful sketches made digitally based on raw sketches. They certainly looked like the true view through the binoculars so it kind of led me to start sketching what I saw in the ocular.

As I was sketching from time to time, I left behind the idea of doing my own star charts to use with the telescope and became more a follower of the reality I saw in the eyepiece.

But it was not all a bed of roses. In the beginning I had problems with large sketches because as I was sketching and the time was passing, the stars patterns were moving and changing. I used to go to Stellarium once I ended my sketch to “fix” stars misplaced. But then, I got more and more practice and now I have come to a time that I do not look anymore to Stellarium to remake my sketches. And today I know that they are still not perfect but I think the fun is also in becoming better and better. 

As a result of the practice, I find that my sketches are closer to the ones I saw on Rony’s site. The sketch at the right is my first serious try of M29, the same Cooling tower I once tried to sketch with my binoculars. I say tried because to me, I did not even sketch what I saw but I traced more like a map, which is a valid way to do some record of observations. 

I did the sketch under not so good conditions: new moon, seeing 1/3 and a bright Bortle 9 sky. I used a 25mm Kellner eyepiece that allows me to see 2 Arc degrees of field. M29 seemed like a pinpoint group of dots, fairly bright immersed in a faint glowing spot.  I could resolve 6 stars with the 25mm eyepiece and 8 with the 10mm eyepiece. The surroundings of M29 were bright enough to guess that this is a full neighborhood of stars, but because the bright background it was kind of painful to try to resolve so many stars. 

I hope you are having a good time reading my story and my invitation is to encourage you to draw the sky wherever you can. And remember:  “La práctica hace al maestro” (Practice makes perfect).

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.
                                                                                                                                Psalm 19:1


Edited by: Jennifer Steinberg (editor in chief).

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