NSAS Update: Observatory Tour, What’s Up, On and New! Cosmic Chemical Quandary, and Star Stuff

By David Stevenson

Hi David,

Welcome to the first NSAS Update for 2024. We have a big month this month and a new format for our newsletter with more information about a range of topics. First up is What’s On, Up and New!!


The following 10 NSAS events are on in the next 6 weeks so make sure you put aside the time if you wish to attend. As members, you have free access to these, so make sure you take advantage of them!

  1. Sat 3rd Feb - Observing Night – Visitors Welcome
  2. Sat 10th Feb - Observing Night - Members Only
  3. Mon 12th Feb - Welcome to New Members (zoom)
  4. Tue 20th Feb - Special Event - Tour of St Ignatius Observatory
  5. Wed 28th Feb - Beginners Open Question Night (BOQ)
  6. Sat – 2nd Mar - Beginners Night in the Field (BNF)
  7. Sat – 2nd Mar - Observing night - Visitors Welcome
  8. Sat – 9th Mar - Observing Night - Members Only
  9. Tue – 19th Mar - General Monthly Meeting
  10. Wed – 20th Mar - Help at the Calyx


February sees the end of the Jupiter observing season with only an hour or two as it is very low in the North West around 9:30pm. Take this opportunity now to see the monster in our solar systems before it disappears. It was great viewing last Saturday night with the Jovian moons almost in a perfect straight line. 

One of the other treasures in our sky at this time of year is the Orion Nebula, which is in the Northerly Sky and will be lovely viewing for the next few months. This object can be seen with binoculars and through any small telescope. 

If you are set up for astrophotography, then make sure you take the time to look at NGC2997. Transit is at 1:45am so there is plenty of nighttime to get some good data (weather permitting, of course). 






Catalogue 1

Catalogue 2



Common Name(s)





Orion Nebula,Trapezium Cluster



Open Cluster


Christmas Tree Cluster, Cone Nebula





Looped, Tarantula Nebula, Lovers Knot



Open Cluster


Heart-Shaped Cluster



Open Cluster


Butterfly Cluster





Fornax A



Spiral Galaxy





Eta Carinae





Well - the big buzz in the industry is the push for what the industry calls “Smart Telescopes”. Think of what the iPhone did to the mobile phone market. Taking the design principle of making it easy for consumers to easily and quickly setup and take photos of deep sky objects there are now several manufacturers piling in to this untapped market. If you are one of the many people who have felt daunted about getting in to astrophotography, but who would love to do so, then this new telescope concept is probably just what you have been waiting for. For under $1,000, and with an hour or two, you can become an astrophotographer producing photos to show and stun the family!

There are several notable manufacturers bringing these new capabilities to the market. Unistellar and Vaonis have been the forerunners on this for a while but now some of the industry heavyweights have chipped in. Both Celestron and ZWO have recently joined the fray.

The American Sky and Telescope magazine has an excellent 6-page article on the ZWO Seestar and the words “magic”, “Wow” and “surprisingly easy” have all gotten a mention. Other insiders in the industry say the Vespera 2 and the new Celestron Origin are also ones to have a good look at. Larger apertures, ease of use and quality of the images make these worthwhile considerations. Some have optional FITS outputs available (a type of file format) which means you can do further processing if you want to get a bit more advanced.

Their only limitation is that whilst these Smart Telescopes will produce great images easily and quickly on phones and tablets and the like, there will be some limitations on trying to print these images out on to poster-sized printers to hang on the wall. No doubt that as technology improves, this too will be less of an inhibitor to painting your study with amazing photos of the cosmos!!

So if you are interested in joining the dark arts then these new genre of telescopes might be just right for you.


“Ingenuity”, nicknamed “Ginny’, was an autonomous NASA helicopter that operated on Mars from 2021 to 2024 as part of the Mars 2020 mission. On April 19, 2021, Ingenuity achieved a monumental milestone by becoming the first aircraft to fly on the Red Planet. Its powered and controlled flight in Mars's extremely thin atmosphere marked a "Wright Brothers moment" for space exploration. Ingenuity completed an impressive 72 flights, far exceeding its original technology demonstration plan of five flights.

Unfortunately, in a recent flight it suffered from a mysterious communications blackout, and it appears that one of the blades probably contacted the Martian surface and it was damaged beyond repair.  If you wish to see Ginny in action look at this Youtube upload from NASA.



About 2 years ago, I took the following images of M8 – the Lagoon Nebula at Coonabarabran. At the time, I was using narrowband filters Hydrogen Alpha (Ha), Oxygen III (O3) and Sulphur (S2) and I’ve been in a bit of a quandary over it for a while.







Ha was produced at the time of the Big Bang and existed all over the place in great big gas clouds. Over time, these clouds condensed together tighter and tighter until eventually the gravity squashing them together caused a fusion reaction to turn the Ha into Helium (He). Over time, this also progressed until the He too started to get squashed together and when the rare instance of 3 He nucleus’s collide, they form into carbon. Similarly, this process proceeds along to other elements, including Oxygen (O) and Sulphur (S) which is made from Silicon (Si) colliding with a He nucleus.

So in this framework, Ha is produced first, then over time Oxygen is produced and then Sulphur is produced last in this process of the 3 elements. 

Now, in reference to the images above, clearly hydrogen is showing over a larger area. However, interestingly, when comparing the size of the Oxygen cloud, and the Sulphur cloud, why is the Sulphur gas cloud bigger? Surely, if it is produced last, then it would have the smallest size in space.

I have been pondering this for a while and thought I’d leave this with you to ponder too. I think I have an answer, but that would be giving it away, wouldn’t it? Write to me and I’ll give you the output of my pondering…no guarantee that I'm right, but I’d be interested to hear your views.


If you haven’t heard of StarStuff, then you have been missing out on one of the great social days in the astronomy calendar. I have been to two of these events, and they are always a lot of fun and a great place to talk to people interested in the same topics as you.

Australia’s favourite gathering of astronomers, space enthusiasts and science-forward friends is finally back again in 2024. Founded by YouTuber Dylan O’Donnell in 2017, Star Stuff is a full day of presentations from the world’s brightest and most engaging minds in space and astronomy, followed by a famous gala dinner at the incredible Elements of Byron Resort in Byron Bay, NSW Australia. If you are interested in attending, then tickets are selling fast at Star Stuff – Byron Bay – A constellation of Space, Science & Astronomy


Over the past several years the telescope at St Ignatius School has been being refurbished, and it is now complete. I have been fortunate to be able to go to it during and after the refurb and Bob Marsh and his team have done an amazing amount of work. The telescope is a 7" refractor mounted on a large, solid, cast iron pillar, beautifully painted and restored. The tour is on Tuesday, 20th February at 7:30pm in St Ignatius school. You must register for the event as it is on school grounds. Directions to go and meet up will be mailed to you after your registration. To register go to Special Event - Tour of St Ignatius Observatory

Hopefully you are all keeping well.

Clear Skies

David Stevenson




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