Sunday, 22 June 2014

The pleasure and pain of astronomy

Hello all,

There is one thing about astronomy that is most challenging - the weather!

We are left totally to the mercy of the vagary and fickleness of the weather.

I have been wanting to do a sketch of the Moon for the last fortnight.  Before the full Moon, persistent overcast conditions curtailed any chance.  The four days around the full Moon were fine, but this phase though very challenging coincided with work commitments.  This last week has been an exercise in sheer frustration - the days have been beautiful, clear ones, with little cloud.  Yet each and every single night has seen cloud roll in either right on sunset, or at the very time I've planned to set up a telescope.  This morning I got up at 3am, being confident that this wretched cloud would cease to be problematic as cloud had not appeared when I turned in for the night.  At 3am, I looked out the window, and cloud was solid horizon to horizon!!!  AAHHH, so frustrating!

Today I am presenting one of my most satisfying sketches, that of the giant globular cluster Omega Centauri.

Globular clusters present real challenges to illustrate.  More orthodox illustration techniques struggle to overcome the texture of the paper, and lack the depth of density that is visible.  Even more challenging with large globulars using large apertures of telescope is the sheer complexity of form and numbers of stars, and not extending the sketch far enough to give a surrounding context.

But, if a good technique is found, a sketch can produce an image that is not just vivid, but can reveal detail that is burnt out in photographs.  With Omega Centauri, this burnt out feature is one of its signature markings "The Eye".  Each globular cluster has what I like to describe as 'a unique fingerprint' - unique markings, strings of stars, patterns depth, and details.  Omega's Eye is a coincidence of line of sight where a hollow appears formed by an apparent lack of bight stars in this spot at its core.  Long exposure photographs reveal that there is no real lack of stars, and is purely a coincidence.

One thing about that makes Omega Centauri unique among the globular clusters that orbit the Milky Way is it if far from being 'normal' globular cluster.  Omega is considered to be the remnant core of a smaller galaxy swallowed up by the Milky Way long, long ago.  Evidence of this is more than its immense size.  Its very size makes it too big to be normal globular.  The only way that such a large number of stars can be stably maintained so tightly is if a black hole is at its core.  Further evidence that Omega is not a typical globular cluster is the variation in age of the component stars.  Typical globular clusters are made up of very old stars, evidenced by the absence of heavier elements in the spectrum of these stars.  The stars of Omega vary in age, as the spectrum of the stars reveal heavier elements that are only formed from later stellar evolution.

This particular sketch was done using my 17.5" push-pull dobsonian from my home in Sydney.

Object:  Omega Centauri, NGC 5139
Telescope:  17.5" push-pull dobsonian
Gear:  16mm Unitro Konig, 125X
Location:  Sydney, Australia
Date:  24th March, 2012
Media:  White pastel, charcoal and white ink on A4 size black paper
Duration:  approx. 2.5hrs.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Problems with Poll

Hi folks,

There appears to be a problem with the Poll gadget.  It is being experienced by other Blogger subscribers.  Google has asked that we not use the Poll gadget until a solution to the problem is provided.

I apologize if you had contributed to the Poll.  I too was experiencing problems with it, and found the Google request.

As soon as the Poll bug is fixed I'll restart it.

In the mean time, you are welcome to post a comment, and make suggestions sketching targets you might have.

Clear skies and sharp pencils,


Thursday, 5 June 2014

What would you like to see sketched?

While I have my own set of objects and targets I have put in a "must sketch" list, the wider audience who may read my blog could have their own idea of what would make a good sketch target, or would like just to see what a particular target looks like through a telescope as sketching is as true-to-life as an image can be, or they may have a particular favourite astronomical object that they would like to see rendered as a sketch.

I've started a poll that you will find in the left-hand column.  This will be a preliminary poll to see what specific object types you would like to see sketched by me.  Once the poll is concluded, I will compile a list of objects from the poll statistics.  Once this poll is concluded, I will look to produce a sketch of the selected object.

If you have a very specific astronomical object/target that you would like me to sketch, you are also welcome to let me know directly by emailing me or making a post on my blog.

Keep in mind that different objects/targets will have an optimal window of opportunity to be sketched due to their seasonal track around the sky or due to their orbit.  The weather is another unpredictable factor.  But the selected objects will be sketched when the best opportunity presents.


A Little Fat Owl on the Moon

The Moon is one of my favourite sketching subjects.  It is always bright to make it an easy telescopic target from my home in Sydney.  Another aspect is the occurrence of alphanumeric along the terminator, caused by the shallow incidence of sunlight provoking shadows on the cratered surface that to our eyes resemble letters and numbers.  Another type of lunar apparition caused by incidental shadows is the appearance of other recognisable shapes and even animals.

My latest lunar sketch is one such shadow apparition.

I don't often have a particular target in mind.  I typically start by scanning the length of the terminator looking for features that catch my attention as a sketching subject.  The "terminator" is the junction line between the lit and dark edge of the lunar surface.  On this occasion, a lovely set of flooded crater shadows forming the shape of 'A Little Fat Owl'.

The crater Fra Mauro forms the body, Parry the right eye, and Bonpland the left eye.  The contours of the flooded Fra Mauro give the effect of plumage to the body.

Later while researching this area, I came to find out that the Apollo 14 landing site happens to be just below where the owl's feet would be.

Object:  "A Little Fat Owl", craters Fra Mauro, Paddy and Bonpland
Telescope:  1980's Orange Tube Celestron C8, 8" SCT
Gear:  5mm Baader Hyperion, 400X
Date:  8th May, 2014
Location:  Sydney, Australia
Media:  White and grey soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A5 size black paper
Duration:  approx. 2hrs.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


Alexander's Astronomy Sketching is the site where I share my astronomical sketching, ideas, inspirations and motivations.

It is a place where the niche of astronomical sketching can be explored and learnt.  Where techniques are examined and expanded, where the strengths of each and every instrument is celebrated, and where art and science meet.

I intend to share my experiences and work with you.  Works that I have just completed.  Places I travel to.  People I meet.  And hopefully inspire you to share your own thoughts, and even inspire you to put pencil to paper!

From our closest neighbour the Moon, to roving visitors of comets, the majestic planets and the wonders of the expanding cosmos - all interpreted through the media of illustration - the oldest form of astronomical imaging.

Alexander Massey.