Sketch a spring deep-sky object
Difficulty level: Beginner and up
Exploring the spring night skies through the eyepiece of a telescope can be a magical experience as you hunt down ghostly galaxies and bright globular clusters with their exquisite granular forms. Astrophotos can capture the special qualities of these objects, providing spectacular, detailed views the likes of which our eyes could never see. But even in this age of CCD cameras and digital photography, there’s still something to be said for simply sketching what you see through your eyepiece with an old-fashioned pencil.
Not only can sketching be a fun way to record what you’ve seen for your own memories, but it can also be useful for giving other amateur astronomers – particularly those just starting out – an indication of the sort of thing they can expect to see through equipment comparable to your own. This is especially true of the numerous faint galaxies scattered across the spring skies, which often appear in long-exposure astro images as shining swathes of light festooned with intricate details, when, in fact, the view through the eyepiece of a modest telescope is usually quite different.
Sketching, at its most basic, requires some paper, a good pencil and something to rest on while you draw at the eyepiece. If it’s something you think you’ll enjoy doing often you can invest in a good-quality artist’s sketch pad with heavyweight paper, because regular paper is likely to wrinkle during long sketching sessions outside. And as for pencils, you can usually execute most astronomical sketching techniques with just a good-quality 2B pencil. A decent eraser is handy, too.
Before sketching you should allow your eyes to become fully dark-adapted and, if possible, use a really dim, red, light-source – like a head torch covered in red acetate or red sweet wrappers – to draw by.
There are plenty of spring objects that make good targets for sketching, from any of the bright globular clusters we mentioned in the first project to brighter galaxies like M64 in Coma Berenices and the pairing of M65 and M66 in Leo.
To begin, draw a circle on your paper to represent the edge of your eyepiece’s field of view. Once observing at the telescope, start by marking the positions of the brighter – then fainter – stars in the field of view, paying particular attention to the relative distances and angles between them. When you have the star field in place, begin sketching in your chosen deep-sky target. For galaxies use the side of the pencil lead to gently add graphite to the paper, blending and smudging with your fingertip to produce a fuzzy appearance if necessary. For globular clusters, gentle stippling can be an effective way to render the myriad stars at their cores.
Remember to draw ‘inverted’; the dark pencil marks on the paper represent where you see light in the eyepiece. You can scan the sketch later and invert it in imageprocessing software, making your drawing look like the view in the eyepiece.
A sketch of M13, with gentle stippling recreating the globular cluster
This sketch of M105 was originally black on white, but now inverted
First map out the major stars, then add in your deep sky objects
Start by drawing a circle to represent your eyepiece’s field of vision