From the January 2015 issue

An award for sketching

The Astronomical League recently added an observing program dedicated to sketching.
By | Published: January 26, 2015
In case you missed it, the Astronomical League recently added an observing program dedicated to sketching. The Haleakala Amateur Astronomers of Maui, Hawaii, created a target list to help observers heighten their appreciation for astronomical sketching and to sharpen their recording skills. The program went live in September 2014 and consists of 114 choices ranging from deep-sky and solar system objects to astronomical events.

To participate, you must be an Astronomical League member (either through an astronomy club or at large) and sketch at least 75 of the listed objects. You can use up to 10 previous sketches, so you might want to save those for special ones that you’ve already logged. For instance, I’ll toss in a 2013 sketch of the Double Cluster — I don’t relish another two-night session of star plotting! For this column, I decided to share two of the images I submitted.

Comet Siding Spring and Mars
The author sketched Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) and Mars on October 20, 2014, at 1h UT. For both sketches shown on this page, she used a 16-inch f/4.5 reflector on a Dobsonian mount. Here, she observed through a 13mm eyepiece, which yielded 138x. Her sketch media included 70 lb. white Canson drawing paper, a super-fine black felt artist pen, a 0.5mm mechanical pencil, and a blending stump.
Both sketches: Erika Rix
For the comet entry, I took advantage of Comet Siding Spring’s (C/2013 A1) close encounter with Mars on October 19, 2014. Siding Spring is an Oort Cloud comet discovered by Robert McNaught in January 2013. On the night of its Mars flyby, it had an apparent magnitude of 11, and at 16h28m UT, it passed roughly 85,000 miles (137,000 kilometers) from the Red Planet against the starry background of the constellation Ophiuchus.

The time of my sketch was just 8½ hours later. Both objects easily fit in the field of view of an eyepiece that gave a magnification of 138x in a 16-inch scope. Because of its close proximity to Mars (16′ separation), the comet was too dim to catch without first placing Mars just outside the field. Once I located it, I nudged the scope so that I could see the two together. Overall, Siding Spring was faint with a slightly brightened, condensed coma. I also could see a short, diffuse tail stretching north to south.

Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392)
For the Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392), the author used an 8mm eyepiece (225x), attaching an Oxygen-III filter to capture extra detail in the nebula. She used white printer paper, a super-fine black felt artist pen, a 0.5mm mechanical pencil, and a blending stump. She rotated both sketches in Photoshop so that north is at the top with west to the right.
The second entry I want to discuss here is one of the 12 planetary nebulae listed in the observing program — the Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) in Gemini. William Herschel discovered this object in 1787. It began its formation roughly 10,000 years ago when high-velocity winds from its dying star pushed material into two elliptical lobes. Through earthbound telescopes, one lobe obscures part of the other, so the planetary resembles a person’s face wrapped within a fur parka.

Located just 1.6′ south of an 8th-magnitude star, the Eskimo Nebula measures 47″ by 43″ with a magnitude of 9.2. This bluish example of star death is a treat regardless of telescope size. You can spot the magnitude 10.5 central star even through a 4-inch scope.

Increase to an 8-inch instrument, and you’ll see the nebula divided in half by a distinct dark ring. Through a 16-inch scope, the central disk becomes brighter, revealing its two shells for that face-in-a-parka guise.

You’ll find more information on the Astronomical League’s program at Here’s wishing you success on achieving the Sketching Observing Award. Comments or suggestions? Contact me at