Roger Ivester: Amateur Astronomer

Posted December 15, 2015 by rogerivester
Categories: Roger's Articles

Thank you for visiting my site. I’m hopeful that you’ll find it both interesting and possibly beneficial in your future observations.


I first became interested in astronomy in the mid-60’s at the age of twelve. One of my brothers, Jim, had purchased a 60 mm refractor, and I soon became really interested in this telescope.

It had an equatorial mount, several eyepieces, a Barlow lens, and a host of other accessories. I would take this small telescope into a weedy field beside  my house, where I hoped to view some of those fabulous spiral galaxies and nebulae and star clusters I’d seen in my science books. However, this was not yet to be, as I had quite a bit of learning to do, which continues, even to this day.     

I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina.  My house was located near the end of a dirt road with only two others.  A bit remote for sure, but a wonderful place for a budding new amateur astronomer, completely devoid of light pollution. The sky was velvety black with the Milky Way extending almost to the southern horizon. 

My progression was very slow at first, and found amateur astronomy to be difficult.  However, it was just fun being outside with my telescope in total solitude. When looking into the eyepiece, the colors of the stars became obvious. I perceived some as being rust, white, blue, bluish-white, or orange. Sometimes while looking at those distant suns, I’d wonder if there was life beyond the Earth.

I can still remember the frogs in the spring and summer, and occasionally a solitary great horned owl in the distance, on those cold wintry nights.  Summer in western North Carolina had a sound all its own, with a million insects singing in perfect harmony.  Gazing at a dark sky, full of stars and listening to the sounds of nature was mesmerizing.  

During those early years, I didn’t know of another kid having an interest in telescopes and astronomy.  At least twenty years would pass before I would meet that other person with a similar interest.  Finding that other person with an interest in astronomy would finally happen in 1985.  A local astronomy club was formed and I became a member with my youngest son, Brad.  

I gave my first amateur astronomy presentation to my eighth grade science class in October 1967.  The title of my presentation was “How To Use An Astronomical Telescope.” I used my brothers 60 mm Sears (Jason) refractor, and told the class all about it, and most importantly, how to use it.  I was a big hit, even if it only lasted for the remainder of the day.  

It wasn’t until the mid-70’s when I acquired my very own telescope, a 4 1/4-inch Edmund Scientific reflector, a Palomar Jr. which was not my first choice, but the best my budget would allow at this time.    

I’ll never forget one special night using this telescope, while attempting to locate M81 and M82, two of the most beautiful galaxies in the heavens. By this time, the fabulous skies of my early years were gone. I’d moved to an area packed with houses and street lights, and the light pollution was very severe in my back yard.

Attempting to find even the brightest deep-sky objects under these conditions proved to be difficult. I had tried many times to locate M81 and M82, but without success.  

One night, while observing, time was running out.  It was already after 11:00 PM, and I needed to get up early the next morning.  I used my hands in an attempt to block the ambient light from entering my eyepiece, and then it happened:  A small and faint fuzzy object entered my telescope view, and then with a slight nudge, another…..finally M81 and M82.  What a beautiful sight!  I savored the view for the longest time and to this day and I can still feel that excitement.  I went to bed smiling that night, and in my mind, I was now a real amateur astronomer.   

Getting Serious:

There would be many other successes and failures in the years to follow, however, it wasn’t until 1992 that I became a serious observer. A new 10-inch, equatorially mounted reflector allowed me to see faint deep-sky objects that were impossible with my previous smaller telescopes. 

After a period of time with my new 10-inch reflector, I soon realized that just going outside and observing was not enough.  I needed a purpose, something more lasting.  I began taking copious notes on all objects observed, noting the minutest of details, or at least to the best of my abilities.  This also proved to be somewhat lacking, so I added to those notes by pencil sketching.  I soon realized that drawing deep-sky objects challenged me to really see what I was trying to observe.

Over the past years, I have observed and cataloged many deep-sky objects, accumulating more than a thousand pencil sketches. This has required many hours at the eyepiece, and a countless number of hours working on notes, organization of the notes, sketches and astronomy articles.  

My first recorded notes were fairly brief, and my sketches were not as detailed as I would have liked.  Even today, I’m still working to improve both my notes and sketching, never being totally satisfied  with the results.  I suppose that sketchers and astrophotographers are very much alike in this regard…always striving for something better.   


Co-founder of the Las Vegas Astronomical Society Observer’s Challenge report.   An international deep-sky observing report, which allows any serious amateur the opportunity to share notes, sketches and images for a preselected deep-sky object on a monthly basis. The observer’s challenge will begin its eleventh year in 2019.  

Observer’s Challenge mission statement: “Sharing observations and bringing amateur astronomers together” 

I was fortunate to be able to play a role in the Mount Potosi Observing Complex in Southern Nevada, facilitating a $50,000 telescope donation by Dr. James Hermann, M.D. from North Carolina. The facility has been featured in Astronomy Magazine, the Las Vegas Review Journal and the LA Times.   

Astronomy blogger since 2010.  

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word”   Margaret Atwood 

Roger and Debbie Ivester 



Just had to include a photo of my other hobby….cycling.  I’ve been fortunate to have logged more than 140,000 lifetime miles, as of 2018.      



NGC 1003 – Galaxy In Perseus: Observer’s Challenge Report #118 – December 2018

Posted December 7, 2018 by rogerivester
Categories: Observer's Challenge Reports

Notes and sketch by Sue French from New York:

I went out on December 4th to observe NGC 1003, which was my first clear, moonless night since October 30th.  Apparently the weather gods have a wry sense of humor, since this was my wedding anniversary.  We took out my homemade 254/1494mm Newtonian (10-inch f5.8).  The seeing was fair, the transparency good, and the ground was covered with snow. 

The night was slightly breezy and the temperature 19 ºF.  At 68×NGC 1003 is a faintly visible oval near a 10th-magnitude star to its west-southwest.  At 187× the galaxy is nearly uniform in brightness, and a faint star appears along its northern flank. The galaxy looks more flocculent at 299×, and a slightly brighter region rests between the two flanking stars. The sketch was done at this magnification.   Sue French 

Re: Comet 46P Wirtanen:

We also looked at Comet 46P Wirtanen through Alan’s 15×50 image-stabilized binoculars.  

Pencil sketch by Sue French: 

N1003 pos5

Pencil sketch by Roger Ivester 

NGC 1003



A Refractor Telescope Story, By Guest Host, Sue French, New York

Posted November 12, 2018 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

Roland Christen and I met in 1980 at Stellafane and became friends. Sometime later, Roland said he had two sets of NASA glass to make triplet refractors.  He planned to make one lens for himself and sell the second set of glass.  I talked him into selling it to Alan. 

Alan still hadn’t gotten around to making the lens by 1987, so I said that I knew Roland would like to see that lens in a scope, and if Alan wasn’t going to tackle it himself, we should ask Roland how much he’d want to turn it into a lens for us.  Roland made us promise to take the scope to the next Stellafane. It took us quite a while to get a tube, and after that we only had a few months before the convention.  I was still painting parts at the motel we were staying at when we got to Stelli.   Sue French 



Celebrating the Universe, by Guest Host, Astronomy Author and Lecturer, James Mullaney

Posted November 5, 2018 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

Dear Fellow Observers,

My book Celebrating the Universe! represents my “life’s work” (and also my “swan song” – I’ve said it all now!) based on my more than 60 years as a stargazer and “celestial evangelist.” As many of you well know, with all books it’s a struggle to keep them alive (even NY Times best-sellers). 

When sales decline, publishers typically pull the book and take it off the market.  I’ve done everything I can think of to promote it myself since its release in 2013. This isn’t about income – but rather hoping there will still be enough orders that it will be kept in print.  Right now, it’s still available from both and

This is the only work of its kind devoted to not only the joys of stargazing but also to personally experiencing the “soul of the night” – something sadly lacking in both amateur and professional astronomy today.

Jim Mullaney
Former Director Buhl & DuPont planetariums
Author Celestial Harvest (Dover)

The Las Vegas Astronomical Society, Death Valley, November 2-3rd 2018 Observing Event, Summary and Photos by Guest Host, Fred Rayworth of Las Vegas

Posted November 5, 2018 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

Made the 130 mile (126.5 door to door) trip from my house in Las Vegas to Death Valley, this past Friday and went from ~2600 feet, to -189 feet below sea level.

The humidity is about the same from Las Vegas to Death Valley, somewhere in the single digits. Unfortunately, nobody told the upper atmosphere, so we had to deal with high, thin clouds drifting over most of the day.

However, it finally cleared after dark on Friday. I’ll tell you up front, Saturday was a big bust. Not only did the clouds get worse, but when it finally cleared, the winds picked up and made it impossible to view anything.

The other issue was the golf club house. Since it’s acting as the substitute bar, it was lit up like a beacon until 10. Then when they closed down, they still had white security lights reflecting off white walls, which pretty much ruined the northeastern horizon. Oh well…even the Tamarisk trees, which are pretty thick that way, did little to block them. I thought I’d positioned my telescope to block for the most advantage, but the lights were too spread out. To the south, there were some dimmer lights but they didn’t really bother me much.

About 12-15 scopes showed up out of the 20 that signed up, down from the 30 + that usually sign up, despite lots of pre-publicity. We just couldn’t get the crowd out this time. It’s been two years since our last outing due to construction. A couple of people had good reasons, but others? Who knows?

Friday was killer. Since everyone else was showing the usual tourist objects, I concentrated on the Challenge objects.

October’s, the cluster and nebula popped right into view. The cluster was a nice little clump, not so much looking like a coat hangar this time. The LBN nebula was very prominent amongst the two or three stars. However, the non-existent NGC 7133 or whatever it is, was there. It was a halo, a faint glow that extended well away from the LBN. It’s supposedly made up of three IC objects and I could see it plain as day. I never tried an O-III, but a UHC just blanked it all out and only showed a slight hint of the LBN.  Being a reflection nebula, It looked best unfiltered.

I saw all three plus galaxies and a few UGCs as well. I think NGC 147 was quite difficult at first.  NGC 185 was much brighter.  NGC 278  was very bright and compact. Right next to NGC 185, was a tight little UGC galaxy.

The Decembers challenge object, NGC 1003, was dim and flat, if I remember right. It had a couple of UGC and PGC galaxies nearby as well.

I found a few planetaries, open clusters and a bunch of galaxies between Pegasus, Pisces, and especially Fornax, which is blocked from my regular observing location  back in Las Vegas.

I logged over 60 objects total but won’t know the final count for a few days.

It was my desire to go for some more Herschels but most of them were to the northeast and couldn’t look that way because of the golf course clubhouse.

I did take a quick glance at the Horsehead and Flame. I saw the wall and just a hint of the notch unfiltered.’

Thank you, Fred Rayworth





NGC 147 and NGC 185 – Galaxies in Cassiopeia – November 2018 Observer’s Challenge Report #117

Posted October 29, 2018 by rogerivester
Categories: Observer's Challenge Reports

More information to come.  Please check back.  

Calculating the surface brightness magnitudes:  

Information from Observing handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects” by Christian B. Luginbulh and Brian A. Skiff :  

“The surface brightness magnitudes (sfc. br.), also from the * RC2, represent the brightness (in V or B, depending on the color of the integrated magnitude ) of a square arc minute patch averaged over the galaxy within the dimensions given for each.  Since this value is an average, the central parts of the galaxy will typically have higher surface brightness and the outer parts lower.”

For complete information concerning (sfc. br.) refer to pages 10-11 Observing Handbook and Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects.”   Luginbuhl and Skiff. 

* RC2 =  “….nearly all data on galaxies are from the Second Reference Catalogue of Bright Galaxies (RC2) by de Vaucouleurs, de Vaucouleurs and Corwin, and the Southern Galaxy Catalog (SGC) by Corwin, de Vancouleurs, and de Vancouleurs.” 

Images provided by Mario Motta from Massachusetts using a 32-inch reflector. 

Photographic information:  NGC  147 was a total of 70 minutes, taken August 10, 2015 with my 32 inch, SBIG STL camera 1001E.  NGC 185 was taken August 15, 2015 total of 50 minutes (must have had a bad frame and dropped, I almost always do at least 60 minutes)   Mario Motta

NGC 147:  Visual magnitude 9.5,   (sfc. br.) 14.5  


NGC 185:  Visual magnitude 9.2,   (sfc. br.) magnitude 14.3 


Observing notes and pencil sketches by Sue French from New York:

254/1494mm Newtonian

43×: By sweeping westward from Omicron Cassiopeiae, NGC 185 is immediately visible ensconced in a isosceles triangle of three 8th- to 10th-magnitude stars, the brightest one golden.

68×: The sketch was done at this magnification, where NGC 185 and NGC 147 just fit together in the 72 arcminute field of view.  NGC 185 has a small core that grows gently brighter toward the center. NGC 147 is more slender than its companion and very faint.  There’s a dim star superimposed on NGC 147, barely west of the galaxy’s center. Both galaxies lean roughly northeast by east, with plump NGC 185 have a slightly greater position angle. Most of the stars visible near the galaxies were sketched, but far too many showed in the richly populated Milky Way for me sketch all the field stars.   Sue French 

Pencil sketch with inverted colors:  SF 




Observing notes and pencil sketches by Roger Ivester

NGC 147, with a 10-inch reflector is very difficult at 57x, and best observed at magnifications of 114x and 160x from my 5.0 NELM backyard.  The galaxy is very faint and difficult, due to the extremely low surface brightness.  Elongated NE-SW, without concentration, with a faint star located almost in the halo to the north.  On nights of fair transparency, I’ve been unable to see this galaxy.  A dark sky is essential to successfully observe this object.  

The first time I observed this galaxy was in on October 12th 1993.  My note at that time:  10-inch reflector @ 57x, faint, and difficult with very low surface brightness.  At 95x, still dim, but noted an elongation of NE-SW, low surface brightness, and mostly featureless.  When first observing both NGC 147 and NGC 185 almost twenty five years ago, I used the photo’s in Burnham’s Celestial Handbook to verify my find.   

NGC 185, using a 10-inch reflector at 114x, shows this galaxy as large, mostly round and on nights of excellent transparency, a subtle center brightness.  Far easier and brighter than NGC 147.   Roger Ivester  


Pencil sketches:  

NGC 147
Rogers NGC-0147 Inverted
NGC 185
Rogers NGC-0185 Inverted


NGC 7129: Cluster+Nebula In Cepheus, October 2018 Observer’s Challenge Report #116

Posted October 26, 2018 by rogerivester
Categories: Observer's Challenge Reports


The Observer’s Challenge report is currently “in-progress” and will be posted when all participant reports are received, so please check back.  

NGC 7129: Cluster + Nebula.  Magnitudes;  nebula 11.5;  stars 10 

Image by Mario Motta from Massachusetts: 

30 minutes luminance, 15 minutes each of red-green-blue filters, total 75 minutes imaging.  The image was taken with a 32 inch f/6 reflector. 
A difficult object, and could not use narrowband filters as NGC 7129 is a reflection nebula.  I used color filters, but with the bright stars in the image allowed star bloat, so subs had to be short, 3 minutes each.   Mario Motta 



254 mm  1494 focal length  f/5.9  Newtonian Reflector – Notes and sketches by Sue French from New York 

43x: Swept up by moving 1.4 degrees west from the pretty blue and gold optical double Argyle 43 (ARY 43; WDS magnitudes 6.4, 6.8; separation 100 arcseconds).  The nebula appears fairly faint but is readily visible.

115x: The sketch was mostly executed at this magnification, but it was slightly touched up in a couple places at 213x. The brightest part of the nebula occupies a region that includes four stars. The northernmost star in the haze is very dim and couched in its own tiny halo of light.  It stands out better at the higher power. Insubstantial mist trails west-southwest from the main mass, but its extent and form are difficult to perceive.  The southernmost star on the sketch glows with a golden hue.   Sue French 

Pencil sketch with inverted colors:  SF

NGC 7129 inv


NGC 7129


Notes and sketches by Roger Ivester from North Carolina

In my 10-inch reflector a cluster of four brighter stars with some fainter members, enveloped by nebulosity with greater concentration around the two northernmost stars.  The nebula has fairly high surface brightness, and easy to see at 57x, but best seen at 114x, and without any type of filter.  The sparse cluster and nebulosity is very easy to locate and see, and stands out prominently in the star field.   Roger Ivester 

Pencil sketch using a 10-inch reflector @ 114x.   RI

NGC 7129 Sketch

Pencil sketch with inverted colors:   RI 

Rogers NGC-7129 Inverted


Observing Venus Near Inferior Conjunction: By Guest Host, Richard Nugent From Massachusetts

Posted October 23, 2018 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

    Venus passes through inferior conjunction every 19 months and during the week prior to and after I love to observe her. Why? Because during inferior conjunction Venus is passing between the Earth and the Sun. Its angular diameter is large because it is closest to Earth and it offers a unique view of the planet: a razor-thin crescent! This month, on October 26, Venus will be a generous 6°20’ from the sun making this inferior conjunction particularly easy to observe. Her disk will be slightly larger than one arcminute and she will be 0.6% illuminated. So, how do we observe this!

    The region of the sky this close to the sun is a perilous place to be observing. Your telescope will be unfiltered so aiming the telescope is critical. You do not want to be sweeping in this part of the sky!  In order to know where to look I use SkySafari Pro but any planetarium program will work. If you have a go-to or push-to telescope, carefully align the scope and let the computer guide you to Venus. If you are using good, old-fashioned setting circles make sure your mount is polar aligned, set the R.A. circle to the proper sidereal time, get the right ascension and declination for Venus and go to that spot.  I live in the alt-az world so I get that info from my program and then use the phone’s compass and tilt meter to get to the correct spot. I find the tilt meter to be more accurate than the compass so I get close then carefully…I mean CAREFULLY sweep in azimuth until I spot Venus. I typically use a 10-inch, f/5 dob with an 80mm Finder. Today, Venus was easily visible as a crescent in the finder. Once it’s in the finder you’re home free!

   One important tip is to pre-focus your eyepiece. If Venus is out of focus it’s crescent will smear out and blend into the bright background. I start with a low power eyepiece and graduate to my 16mm Nagler. This gives about 75x with a generous amount of sky around Venus. The seeing is usually terrible during the day but I find that an aperture mask is particularly useful in reducing the turbulence. Today, I ran the scope at 60mm. [f/19.9 with a 0.8mm exit pupil] The crescent was magnificent! During moments of steadier seeing I thought I could see the entire limb of Venus but that just might have been my brain connecting the cusps to complete the circle. I’ll look a little closer towards inferior conjunction when the effect should be greatest.

    I’m really a visual astronomer but sometimes I can’t resist the urge to snap a picture. The image here was taken by holding my iPhone (8 Plus) up to the eyepiece. I use the camera zoom to focus the telescope then zoom out a little and shoot bursts of images. I select the best shots, crop them, and adjust the exposure if necessary.

   We only get a couple of weeks every 19 months to observe Venus this way so I use every clear opportunity to make observations. The next inferior conjunction of Venus wont be until June 3, 2020 but Venus will be too close to the sun to view. In that case, I’ll observe Venus up until a few days before then wait a few days after the actual conjunction. My strict limit is 3-4 degrees away from the solar limb. As I said…perilous!

    I’d encourage you to try to see Venus this week. Have fun but please be careful!   RN