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 became interested in astronomy in the mid-60’s at the age of twelve. One of my older brothers had purchased a 60mm EQ refractor.      

     I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina, in a very rural area.  It was a fabulous 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.     

     It wasn’t until the mid-70’s that I acquired my very own telescope, a 4 1/4-inch Edmund Newtonian EQ reflector.  This was not my first choice, as I really wanted the 6-inch Super Space Conquerer, but the 4 1/4-inch was the best my budget would allow at that time.    

     However, by this time the fabulous skies of my early years were gone.  I’d moved to an area packed with houses and street lights, but I made the best of the situation and continued to observe.     

     In 1985 a local astronomy club was formed and I became a member with my youngest son, Brad.  This got me back into astronomy after a five year hiatus.  It was Brad that wanted to join the astronomy club.  I’m glad he did.      

      In 1992 I became a much more serious observer, with a new 10-inch EQ Meade reflector.  And fortunately by this time, I was also living in a much darker area.  I began making pencil sketches, which really helped me to become a far better visual observer.  

     I am the co-founder of the Observer’s Challenge report, along with Fred Rayworth of Las Vegas.  The Observer’s Challenge is 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 challenge report will celebrate its 15th year in 2023.   All of the reports to-date are included in the following link.

      In October 2018, Sue French, “Contributing Editor” for “Sky & Telescope Magazine” became the Observer’s Challenge special advisor, after many years as a participant.  Sue wrote the very popular monthly “Deep-Sky Wonders” column for twenty years.  As of November 2019, Sue has agreed to help compile and edit the challenge report.  

     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 (February 2016, Pages 54-57) and the Las Vegas Review Journal and other publications.


Saturday morning bike ride, which has been a fairly regular event…weather permitting for many years. This was today (August 6th 2022) with my good friends.

Left to right: Mike Ribadeneyra, Mike Keeley, myself, and Todd Anderson.

Galaxy NGC 6118 In Serpens Caput: Many Consider This To Be The Most Difficult Object in The Entire Herschel 400 List

Posted August 3, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Roger's Articles

Many amateurs consider NGC 6118 (also known as the Blinking Galaxy) to be the most difficult object in the Herschel 400 list.  I remember first reading about this galaxy, in the AL “Reflector Magazine” maybe 20 or so years ago, in the “Tales of The Unknown Astronomer.” 

The article concerned an amateur who was just beginning to work on the list, and “as bad luck would have it” chose NGC 6118 as his first object, and was unsuccessful, after many attempts.  

He consulted with other amateurs, and was told that NGC 6118 was an extremely difficult object….probably the most difficult of all in the 400 list.   

Note:  Now this is all all from memory and I think I’m pretty accurate, but don’t remember if he ever found the galaxy, or not. (?) 

There is a lot of information online by many amateurs…sharing their successes and failures.

Just so happened, I was working on the H-400 list at that time, when reading the article, and had not attempted this galaxy. I completed about 250 of the objects, in this list, but that was all my back yard would allow, due to light pollution and a very poor southern view.  To this day, that’s where my Herschel 400 list remains and probably not to return.  

However, in recent years, I’ve always wanted to see this galaxy due to the difficulty factor, but will have to travel to one of my dark sites.  Something I rarely do these days. But for this galaxy, I’m willing to give it try, however, probably not this year.  

What got me thinking about this galaxy again?  

In the September 2022 Astronomy Magazine, Stephen James O’Meara writes about NGC 6118 in his “Secret Sky” column. Titled “A Deep-Sky Devil” and a sub-title of “The spiral galaxy NGC 6118 is fiendishly difficult to find” P-60. 

An excellent article and I also learned what a devil is on a ship!  And No…you can’t just throw him overboard!  Find out who the devil is!  Read this article today! 

The following image is a quick phone-shot using 

Roger Ivester 

Visual Observational Notes:

In 25 cm this galaxy is a faint, uncondensed patch 3′.5 NNW of a mag. 11.5 star. The irregular halo extends to about 4′ x 2′, elongated NE-SW. A very faint star is just off the SE flank, 1’5 E of the center. 30 cm shows the low surface brightness halo to 3′ x 1.8 in pa 60º. The surface is slightly mottled, but there is no general brightening toward the center.

Source: Observing Handbook and Catalogue of Deep-Sky Objects by Christian B. Luginbuhl and Brian A. Skiff

12.2M; 4.5′ x 2 extent; large, very soft slash, axis oriented NE-SW, very little brighter center; TOUGH!

Source: 1000+ The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep Sky Observing by Tom Lorenzin

Looking through my logbook, I see that I observed this one with my 11-inch Dob at the Connecticut Star Party in Ashford, CT in September 2012. I was living in Hamden, CT at the time, which was considerably more light-polluted than the CSP site. I doubt if I could have seen it from Hamden at all, as I would have been looking South towards New Haven.

I noted it as “A very faint object”. There was a bright star in the field, and next to it three others that made a “parabolic dish” shape that pointed roughly to 6118 at the “focus”. There was also a field star of roughly equal brightness next to 6118, and I was surely seeing mostly just its nucleus. Derek Lowe

The following observational notes: From the original “Observe The Herschel Objects” Ancient City Astronomy Club (First printed in 1980; Second printing 1992) by Brenda and Dave Branchett, Fr. Lucian J. Kemble, O.F.M

Published by the Astronomical League:

Magnitude estimated 11.5, spiral galaxy in Serpens Caput, 4.3′ x 1.3′ in size, very elusive and tagged “Blinking Galaxy,” use averted vision, faint and fairly large, situated near a 6th magnitude field star, located 2º west of SIGMA Serpentis. (6-inch Cass.)

Visual notes by Sue French as following:

NGC 6210: Planetary Nebula in Hercules: July 2022 Observer’s Challenge Report #162

Posted July 18, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports

NGC 5474 – Galaxy in Ursa Major: June 2022 Observer’s Challenge Report #161

Posted June 22, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports

Updated and revised June 2022 (galaxy NGC 5474) Observer’s Challenge Report, Final.  One of the fainter deep-sky objects to-date, in the past 14 years!  

The report will be heading into the fall really soon, and hopefully much better weather for most of us.  As for me, I prefer those cold nights of winter, with heavy coats, neck warmers, gloves, and for those of us in the south…always wearing a toboggan.  

Note:  From lower Virginia, and further south, all the way to Texas, a toboggan is a hat to keep a head warm…”known as a knitted or ski hat” in the north.  We had a good discussion concerning this, about ten years ago, and most everyone learned something new.

Yes…something to keep southerners heads warm, and not a sled.  🙂

My observing season really begins when the Pleiades is coming up in the east, just cresting the treetops.  This was my first deep-sky object at about 11 years old (same for Leslie Peltier) and at the time, I didn’t know it was Messier 45.  

Throughout my earliest years as an amateur astronomer, I always waited anxiously for October, and seeing M45 rising above the trees, and the same goes even today.  

Seeing M45 for the first time in the fall, causes me to go back in time.  I become eleven years old again…what a great feeling! 

Roger Ivester

M106 – Spiral Galaxy in Canes Venatici: May 2022 Observer’s Challenge Report #160

Posted June 12, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports

Becoming a Real Amateur Astronomer…

Posted May 18, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Roger's Articles

This is a photo of “my first” telescope (1977) which I was using that night, as described below. I no longer have the scope, but sold it many years ago to get a larger aperture telescope. My second scope was 6-inch Criterion RV-6, and from there about 15 other telescopes, to-date.

And to make it even more interesting…the telescope pictured below was made in my rented house at the time. It was built in 1927, had no insulation, and just about froze to death in the winters.  It was in the back yard of this old house, that I made my discovery of M81/82.  

I had just started working my first “real job” a year earlier, and my budget was tight.  And the reason, I was unable to purchase the Edmund 6-inch f/8 Super Space Conquerer, which was the telescope I really wanted.    

Fortunately, both my life and financial state did eventually improve, which allowed me to purchase more and more telescopes and equipment over the years to follow.

Having Lunch With Mario and Joyce Motta In Charlotte: Mario is Well known In The Astronomy Community For His Fabulous Deep-Sky Images. However, He Is Best Known For His Advocation Of Proper Outdoor Lighting, And Wrote The Official AMA Paper Concerning the Human Health Hazards Of Light Pollution.

Posted May 15, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

My wife Debbie, and I had lunch on Thursday (May 5th 2022) with Mario Motta and his wife, Joyce, from Massachusetts.  

Left to right: Mario and Joyce, and to the right, myself and Debbie….

Mario and I had communicated about three months earlier, concerning his presentation at an AMA meeting in Charlotte and a possible lunch meeting. (Mario is a cardiologist and trustee of the American Medical Association) and was scheduled to give a presentation at that meeting.

Charlotte is only about an hours drive from our home.

So, Deb and I picked out an “authentic” Italian restaurant (within walking distance of the Sheraton Hotel) to avoid Mario and his wife having to drive.  All worked out perfect, and I thought the food and wine were great! (The restaurant: Mama Ricotta’s @ 601 S. Kings Dr. Charlotte, NC)

Mario is also an amateur astronomer and has been for many years (as myself) and the following is a photo of his telescope and home observatory in Massachusetts.

An advocate of proper outdoor lighting: Mario wrote the official AMA article/paper concerning the negative “health hazards” on humans, but also wildlife and the entire ecosystem.

An example of his astronomy work: The “Famous” Horsehead Nebula. To see more of his extraordinary deep-sky images go to his site: 

Outdoor Street Lighting, Glare, and Circadian Rhythm Disturbance: human health and environmental effects.

It is now well established that lighting can effect both human health through circadian rhythm disturbance, and the environment though light pollution. I am happy to say that the AMA has had a beneficial and significant impact by two reports,  light pollution: adverse health effects of nighttime lighting (2012), detailing the adverse health effects on human health and the environment,  and Human and Environmental effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting  (2016). this last report has led most cities in the US and across the globe to reject 4000K lighting in favor of 3000K lighting, and thus changed and averted major environmental damage. these are available for review and downloading with a number of scientifically published peer reviewed papers.

New: IES (Illuminating engineering society), now has changed its guidelines.  Their new  new Illuminating Engineering Society roadway and parking lot standards document: RP-8-18 has now come to be more consistent with AMA recommendations, which were published well before the IES changed its recommendations.

NEW: UN report on light pollution issues

Final UN report on light pollution and human health I was involved with has been submitted to the general assembly, hopefully this will lead to international cooperation, and.. The UN recommendations are consistent with AMA policy !!

Mario Motta, MD

NGC 5474 – Galaxy in Ursa Major: June 2022 Observer’s Challenge Report #161

Posted April 28, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Work File Only - Observer's Challenge Reports

Work-File: Used only for organization and editing. When all entries are received (July 8th) a final and a .pdf report will be issued by the 10th of July, and at that time will be posted on this page.

James Dire: Observer from Illinois

Date/LocationMarch 7, 2021 Jubilee College State Park, Illinois
Camera and SettingsSBIG STF-8300C CCD camera -20°C
TelescopeAskar 72mm f.5.6 Qunituplet Apo with a 0.7x focal reducer to yield f/3.9
MountCelesctron CGEM II
Exposure100 min (10 x10 min)
ProcessingCCDOpts, Image Plus 6.5, Photoshop CS6
OtherSpiral galaxy in constellation Coma Berenices; mag. 9.31, size 6.0 x 5.5 arcmin. Galaxies brighter than magnitude 14 labeled in the image.

Mario Motta: Observer from Massachusetts

NGC 5474, a distorted galaxy near M101. The following image this is 90 minutes of imaging Lum filter only.

Taken with my 32-inch f/6.5 telescope, with ZWO ASI6200 camera,  stacked and processed with pixinsight. This is a “dwarf spiral satellite galaxy” of M101, distorted with an off-set center, and spiral arms.

David Rust: Image Information later

The 1900 Total Solar Eclipse From Wadesboro, North Carolina, And Also A Transcribed Report Of The Attendance By The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina: All Information And Data Provided By Tom English.

Posted April 28, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Roger's Articles

Debbie Ivester and Nova Sophia “Sophie” standing beside the city limits sign of Wadesboro, North Carolina

Supplemental: The path of totality, also included other popular sites for research groups, including Pinehurst, North Carolina, as well as Newberry, South Carolina, among many others.

The following is a photo of the historic marker for the event in Pinehurst. Unfortunately, there is no such marker, or even the general area is not known where the various groups observed from in Wadesboro, at least to my knowledge. Roger

British Scientific Team at Wadesboro: Photo from the “NC Collection’s Photographic Archives”

The following information….again, provided by Tom English:

British Astronomical Association Eclipse Party at Wadesboro, NC, May 1900, courtesy NC Miscellany, UNC Libraries.

L-R:  Rev. John M. Bacon, Gertrude Bacon, Nevil Maskelyne, George Dixon, and three women, not specifically identified, but most certainly Miss E. K. Dixon, Mary Elizabeth Woolston, and Ada Mary Maskelyne, the magician’s wife. 

The BAA set up their station adjacent to the Princeton party led by Charles A. Young, at a site along what is now Brent Street in Wadesboro.  Maskelyne, a famous London magician, brought his kinematograph and used it to make the first successful movie of an eclipse – the device is in front of him in the photo. 

The Bacons had taken an earlier version of this camera to India in 1898 and used it to film that eclipse, but the film was stolen before it could be developed. John Mackenzie Bacon was a noted aerialist who once observed a the Leonid meteors from a balloon.  His daughter Gertrude was also an aeronautical pioneer and a writer. Her biography of her father, Record of an Aeronaut, includes an account of the Wadesboro trip.

George Dixon was an organ designer, and Miss Dixon is likely his sister.  There was one additional member of the BAA party not shown in the photo (perhaps he took the picture?) – David Hadden of Alta, Iowa, who joined them on eclipse day. 

Hadden was a pharmacist and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society who contributed solar observations to thePublications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and Popular Astronomy. The BAA account of the Wadesborough trip and the eclipse can be found in the official BAA report of the 1900 eclipse, compiled by Walter Maunder.

The US Naval Observatory Station at Pinehurst 

A. N. Skinner, Professor of Mathematics at USNO, spent 2 days in April 1900 in Southern Pines, NC, searching for an observing site.  He eventually selected Pinehurst, after James W. Tufts, of Boston, MA, who owned several hotels and cottages in Pinehurst, invited the USNO to set up their station there.  C. D. Benbow, the general manager of the Tufts properties, worked out the details.  The Lenox Hotel was kept open for the party.  (Pinehurst was a resort destination for northerners in 1900, but by May the “season” was over and the accommodations were closing down.)  Their observation site was 800 feet southeast of the Carolina Hotel which is still a popular Pinehurst resort. 

Skinner & USNO Assistant Astronomer Theo I. King arrived in Pinehurst on 3 May.  They sighted a meridian line that evening.  The next day they staked out a plan for the expedition site structures.  Their apparatus/instruments arrived on the 8th and the rest of their observing party shortly after, and the group got to work setting up their station, so that all was in order several days before the eclipse.  A temporary telegraph line was established on the 12th so that they could get noon time signals from the USNO.  Drills were conducted several times per day during the 3-4 days before the eclipse. 

The primary focus of the USNO observing plan was spectral studies of the chromosphere and corona, and large format imaging of the corona using a 40-ft focal length camera.  A similar 40-ft. instrument was set up at the Naval Observatory’s other station in Barnesville, GA.  In addition to a team of USNO staff, the station included observers from Johns Hopkins, Yale, the University of Wisconsin, and Cincinnati Observatory. Details about the observers and equipment for these stations (and others) can be found in the expedition reports

Nearby, in Southern Pines, a less technical eclipse party of observers from Carleton College (Northfield, MN) and Guilford College (Greensboro, NC) were stationed on the peach farm of Mr. John Van Lindley, a Guilford College Trustee.  H. C. Wilson, the assistant editor of Popular Astronomy, which was published out of Carleton, was the primary astronomer at this site, and his report of the expedition in the June issue was the first formal publication of results from the May 1900 eclipse.

Back to Wadesboro: Click on the following link…

Galaxy NGC 3079 – Ursa Major: April 2022 Observer’s Challenge Report #159

Posted April 5, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

Medusa Nebula – Abell 21 – Planetary Nebula in Gemini: March 2022 Observer’s Challenge Report #158

Posted February 27, 2022 by rogerivester
Categories: Uncategorized

The following Information taken from “Deep-Sky Wonders” by Sue French:

Sweeping 2 1/2º eastward brings us to the cluster NGC 2395. My little refractor at 87x reveals 20 stars loosely scattered across 15′. At 28x, it merely shows a granular-looking patch with two faint stars, but something remarkable happens when I add an oxygen III filter. Although completely invisible before, Abell 21, the Medusa Nebula, joins the scene 1/2º southeast of the cluster! I can see it with direct vision, but it shows up better with averted vision. This unusual planetary nebula is about 8′ across, dented in its northwest side, and brightest toward the northeast and southwest. With my 10-inch scope at 68x, I prefer viewing Abell 21 with a narrowband nebula filter (rather than the oxygen III filter) which shows this large, impressive detailed planetary to be very uneven in brightness. SF


Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina


Sue French, New York

March 2022

Report #158

The Medusa Nebula, (Abell 21, PK 205+14 1, PN G205.1+14.2) 

Planetary Nebula in Gemini

Sharing Observations and Bringing Amateur Astronomers Together


This month’s target:

Abell 21 was discovered during the course of the Yerkes-McDonald survey of  symmetric galactic nebulae. The ensuing catalog was published by Hugh M. Johnson in the May 1955 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, in which it was given the designation YM 29.…121..604J/abstract

The nebula was independently discovered by George O. Abell among globular clusters and planetary nebulae newly found on the National Geographic Society-Palomar Observatory Sky Survey. His paper was published in the August 1955 issue of the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, which listed 13 globular clusters and 37 planetary nebulae.…67..258A/abstract

Although the nebula is number 16 in Abell’s list of planetaries, it’s now commonly known as Abell 21. His well-known, updated list of  86 planetary nebulae was published in the Astrophysical Journal  in 1966, and since the nebulae are given in order of right ascension their numbers were changed accordingly.…144..259A/abstract

In his 1961 “A Description of Fifty Planetary Nebulae”….38…75V/abstract, B. A.Vorontsov-Vel’Yaminov, credits the name Medusa Nebula to a 1961 entry in Astronomicheskij Tsirkulyar No.221 (1960), which unfortunately or mercifully, depending on your point of view, I do not have access to. Sue French

Bertrand Laville: Observer from France (pencil sketch)

Roger Ivester: Observer from North Carolina

Pencil sketch using a 10-inch f/4.5 equatorially mounted reflector

Abell 21 also known as the Medusa Nebula:  

After spending four nights and ten hours, with two different telescopes, and multiple eyepieces and filters:  I was finally able to “visually” see the Medusa Nebula.  For me…the euphoria of seeing an extremely faint deep-sky object after many nights and hours, can “or might be similar” to something physical, such as running a marathon, which I’ve never done, but I have competed in bicycle races.  

To be able to locate and “visually” see the Medusa Nebula, a very dark sky is most desirable, but which is something I don’t have from my suburban backyard. My best NELM seldom exceeds 5.0-5.2 on a superb winter night. But I’ve always tried to make-do, and thus far, been successful in seeing all of the challenge objects for the past almost 14 years, and now exceeds more than 200 deep-sky objects.  

The Medusa Nebula is the most difficult (visual) object featured to-date in the Observer’s Challenge report for the past almost fourteen years.  This might be proof that a dark site with a 6.0-7.0 NELM is not necessary to enjoy the wonders of the night sky. 

The Medusa Nebula:   

Easy for the imager, but extremely difficult for the “purist” back yard amateur astronomer, using an eyepiece, an O-III or UHC filters, a pencil, note and sketch pad.  

Amateur astronomy can be anything the amateur wants it to be.  But for me, I want it be “not too distant” from the nights, taking out a 60mm refractor, in what I called the “weedy-field” beside my childhood home.  I wanted to see some of those fabulous spiral galaxies (and in color) that I’d seen in my 6th grade science book.  Of course I never did, but without any support or guidance, I learned what was possible.  

I’ve never been disappointed in those very faint objects that are barely visible in the eyepiece, and requires hours or nights to finally see, but somehow “for me” those are my favorite.  Where in the solitude of the night, I might whisper to myself:  THAT’S IT !  

For those few that choose to carefully, and with patience, observe and sketch a deep-sky object, also supplementing with copious notes, they will never forget what that object looks like, and with instant recall. 

After 50 years of observing, I’m so glad I never lost my EP, my pencil, or my sketchpad, as I never had any desire to become an imager.  I also have a library with hundreds and hundreds of “one of a kind” pencil sketches, to review, and for future reference.   

If you’ve never attempted to make a pencil sketch, with supporting notes, you should consider.  And we need to keep the ancient art of visual observing and “pencil sketching” alive.  A skill or facet of amateur astronomy that fewer and fewer seem to be interested in these days.

After all, this was the original reason or concept for the founding of the Observer’s Challenge back in 2009.     Roger Ivester