Sand and Stars

Observing with Hartung

1 Dec 2016

I had always wanted a copy of Hartung’s 1968 Astronomical Objects for Southern Telescopes book. And back in September it fell serendipitously into my lap when I received a treasure trove of books from Harry Kanowitz who, after a lifetime of astronomy found it tough to observe any longer, so he sold his scopes and posted to me his tremendous collection of 1960s astronomy books, among which was Hartung’s (it is one of the few books that is generally referred to by the name of the author rather than by title). Harry inscribed his book with the date he bought it – 13th February 1970 – and here it is, 46 years later, sitting on my observing table and already a much-loved book!

Hartung’s strong, distinctive writing style in the introductory chapters paints a tremendous autobiographical picture of him as an astronomer as he discusses among other fascinating things – 

His telescope that he constructed:

 Hartung's 30 cm Newtonian reflector. Image scanned from his book.

“My own mirror was made in England by F. J. Hargreaves of Kingswood, Surrey; it is 30.8 cm in diameter and 213 cm in focal length, and has been greatly admired by those who know for its brilliant polish and perfection of figure.”

His observatory:

 Hartung's observatory.
“My own is 12 ft by 10 ft with timber frame sheeted with thin hard rolled aluminium, and the roof 14 ft by 11 ft runs off on roller bearings to the south.”  

 His observing attire:


 “I always wear outside of everything else, a pair of unlaundered overalls known locally as a boiler-suit, the smooth surface of which does not flap about and shed fluff, some of which would sooner or later find its way to the surface of the mirror. And it has ample pockets.”

(There seem to be no photos of him in his boiler suit, but this photo, albeit chemistry attire not astronomy, is just tremendous!)


 His atlas recommendations:

Hartung recommends that every private observatory should have a Norton’s star atlas, “… in addition to eighteen very clear star maps and lists of objects, it contains much condensed information of great value to the astronomer.” And “…for more detailed delineation of fainter stars and objects, the sixteen excellent sheets of the Skalnate Pleso atlas of A. Becvar are recommended.”
Harry’s collection of astronomy books included a 1964 Norton’s and I used it last night to star hop my way around (it boasts 9,000 stars, star clusters, nebulae, etc.) It was a delightful experience, not least because I kept getting side-tracked by Harry’s cryptic pencil notations. 

Hartung’s astronomy career:


Although Hartung had bought his mirror and constructed his telescope just after the end of the Second World War, he only began his wholehearted astronomy career when he retired at age 60. (He was a professor of chemistry; in 1928 he succeeded David Rivett in the chair of chemistry at the University of Melbourne, he held it until 1953 when he retired.) The observations that resulted in his book began after his retirement to Lavender Farm at Woodend in Victoria where he had built his observatory.

In October 1965, after his study of some 4,000 stellar objects, he wrote to the Melbourne University Press, “After many years’ work I have finally completed the typescript of a book which I hope to have published. The suggested title is Astronomical Objects for Southern Telescopes. A Handbook for Amateur Astronomers.” (He culled the 4,000 objects down to “about 1,000 of the more interesting and attractive objects” for his book.) His superb book was published in 1968.

Hartung died on 30 January 1979. Sadly, his beloved Lavender Farm, his observatory, notes and lifelong 7,000 page diary were lost four years later in the tragic “Ash Wednesday” bushfires of 1983. Luckily, his telescope was housed at Monash University where it is still in use today.

Last night I took the book out for the night and used it exclusively, looking only at the objects in his book and comparing what he saw with what I saw. What a blissful night’s observing!



10″ f/5 Dobs; 90x, 144x and 208x 

Because Hartung’s doesn’t include the info we’re used to in observing guides – no right ascension, declination, magnitudes, diameters, etc. – it made for a lovely relaxed evening… scratching around the pages of Norton’s, scratching around the sky. (I followed suit.)



NGC 1549-53 

DSS image
NGC 1549-53. DSS image

Hartung: In this field are two bright extra-galactic nebulae about 13′ apart, both giving strong bands in the prism. One is round, about 1.5′ across with very bright nucleus; the other is elliptical, about 2′ x 0.8” in pa. 150°, strongly concentrated and even brighter. 7.5 cm shows these nebulae plainly.

Me: A beautiful pair of galaxies. NGC 1549 is the northern most of the pair and shows as a bright small round hazy glow that brightens to the centre. A little group of 11 mag stars lie to the southwest, making for a very pretty view. NGC 1553 is a bright, fairly large oval of hazy light that brightens to a brighter centre. A faint little field star lies to the southern edge of the galaxy. 

NGC 1566

DSS image
NGC 1566. DSS image

Hartung: Photographs show this object as a bright circular nucleus from which come two short dense symmetrical spiral arms surrounded by a larger faint envelope. I see it with 30 cm as a conspicuous ellipse about 3′ x 2′, rising greatly in brightness to a central nucleus; there is however no sign of the spiral arms. 10.5 cm shows the nebula clearly in the dark field.

Me: Oh, this is beautiful… the galaxy shows as a bright, large oval halo of glowing light that brightens considerably to a central nucleus. With averted vision the halo appeared very slightly mottled; no hint of the spiral arms, but a definite mottling. 

NGC 1672

DSS image
NGC 1672. DSS image

Hartung: Photographs show a barred spiral nebula about 5’ x5’, but only the brighter central region is visible with 30 cm as a fairly bright haze 3’ x 2’ pa. 60°, with a well-defined small nucleus. 15 cm shows the general form but it is only a faint hazy spot with 10.5 cm.

Me:Another beautiful sight – the galaxy lies half a degree north northeast of beautiful 5.27 mag Kappa Doradus and about 13’ southwest of a pretty white 6.7 mag star. The galaxy shows as a bright large oval haze of soft light, brightening to a stellar nucleus. Averted vision reveals the hint of a very faint outer halo.

And an absolute fave of mine…

R Dor

DSS image
R Dor. DSS image

Hartung: This orange crimson star ornaments a field sown with less bright stars, some quite close to it; it is an irregular variable of period averaging 338 days and has a fine spectrum crossed by many dark and bright lines and bands. 10.5 cm will show some of these near the maximum of the star.

Me: Absolutely gorgeous!! This star looks like a glowing ruby lying on black velvet scattered with fine diamond dust.


NGC 602

DSS image
NGC 602. DSS image

Hartung: This curious nebula seems to be an outlier of Nebecula Minor: it looks elliptical, about 1.5′ x 0.7′ in pa. 135°, fairly bright with a dark rift dividing it into two parts irregularly. Some faint stars are involved and the prism image shows it to be gaseous. It is an easy object for 15 cm, but 20 cm is needed to see the prism image clearly.

Me: A small, faint round haze that seems brighter in the southeast, perhaps owing to a small knot of stars that are on the edge of being resolved. The dark rift he mentions is more of a “less bright” rift to my eye than a dark rift.

NGC 1511

DSS image
NGC 1511. DSS image

Hartung: This small nebula is nevertheless conspicuous in a field sprinkled with stars; it is fairly bright and quite narrow, about 2′ x 0.5′ in pa. 120°, rising in brightness to the central axis. It easily gives a band in the prism and is classed as an edgewise spiral system.

Me: Albeit small and narrow, this is a nice bright galaxy. It has a prominent stellar nucleus.


NGC 2547

DSS image
NGC 2547. DSS image

Hartung: A large field is needed to show this striking and attractive group which is about 17’ across and stands out against a background powdered with faint stars. Many stars and in chains and loops, and there are many pairs and small groups, including a somewhat skew miniature of Crux. R is about 500 pc.

Me: Oh yes, indeed this is a striking and attractive group. In the 10×50 binoculars it is a bright condensed cluster. In the telescope at low power it is absolutely gorgeous – a sparkling array of stars with a large range of brightness, standing out against a background of diamond dust. Hartung’s “somewhat skew miniature of Crux” asterism is lovely. A beautiful chain of stars including the 6.5 mag lucida form a gorgeous stream of stars that curves northwards across the centre of the cluster. To the northwest five stars form a beautiful arc, and there are other dainty chains of stars that loop and curl through the cluster.

IC 2391

DSS image
IC 2391. DSS image

Hartung: This bright scattered cluster including the brilliant o Vel makes a fine wide field object for small apertures. A.R. Hogg finds a distance of only 150 pc for a group of twenty-one stars and recommends proper motion studies because of its nearness.

Me: Visible to the naked eye, this is a lovely array of stars in binoculars and simply dazzling in the telescope at low power. Brilliantly white 3.6 mag o Vel lies just north of centre with nearly all of the brighter stars lying in a glittering swoosh to the south and southeast. ο Vel also marks the tip of a pretty arrow-shaped asterism.

NGC 2660

DSS image
NGC 2660. DSS image

Hartung: This is an example of a very distant galactic cluster which looks almost like a globular cluster about 1.5’ across. It is a well-compressed knot of faint stars lying in a rich field with an orange star 2’ S, and 10.5 cm shows the beginning of resolution. R is estimated to be about 5,000 pc.

Me: This cluster shows as a soft hazy glow set in a striking field of background stars. It does look like a globular cluster and only two or three stars were resolved against the glow of starlight. However, with averted vision many come and go at the threshold of visibility. The lovely orange star that adorns the southern edge is gorgeous, a rich burnt orange jewel of a star.

IC 2395

DSS image
IC 2395. DSS image

Hartung: Small telescopes show this striking open star group well; it is excellent with 10.5 cm. about 20’ across, the stars are not numerous but there is some central condensation. R is estimated at about 600 pc.

Me: Indeed this is a striking open cluster; gorgeous in fact. It forms a lovely northwest-southeast crescent shape of glittering stars of mixed magnitudes. A pretty star-chain cuts northeast-southwest across the crescent. The central concentration Hartung mentions appears to me to be about a dozen fainter stars that lie just very slightly to the north of centre.

NGC 2736

DSS image
NGC 2736. DSS image

Hartung: This remarkable object, discovered and figured by John Herschel in 1834, is a faint long narrow nebular lying in pa. about 20° in a rich star field. It is evidently gaseous and may be traced for more than 20’, hardly 0.5’ wide, varying somewhat in brightness and rather better defined on the f. edge. 20 cm shows it very faintly and discontinuously, a test for a clear, dark night.

Me: It was the clear, dark night Hartung advocates and Herschel’s Ray shows as a small flimsy streak of soft light, more defined on the eastern edge, and with a softer bulge out the western side. It responds well to the O-III filter, revealing the bulge on the western side to be a few veil-like streaks of faint light that feather westwards against a fainter background glow.

NGC 2792

DSS image
NGC 2792. DSS image

Hartung: In a field of scattered stars this planetary nebula is round, greyish and about 10” across; the light is fairly uniform and the edges well-defined. 10.5 cm will show it and the single prism image with care, but 15 cm makes it easy. R is estimated about 4,500 pc.

Me: At low magnification this planetary nebula looks like a fuzzy 11 mag star. High magnification and the UHC filter bring it to life – a round, silky-grey glow, the light fairly uniform and the edges well-defined.

NGC 2899

DSS image
NGC 2899. DSS image

Hartung: This field is lovely, sown with fairly bright stars on a profuse faint ground. In it is an irregularly round luminous haze about 1.5’ across, rising broadly to the centre and showing its gaseous nature by a single prism image. 15 cm will show the nebula but its location needs care. This object is not listed as either a planetary of diffuse nebula, and little seems to be known about it. John Herschel discovered it in 1835, and the position and gaseous character show that it must be a galactic object.

Me: This planetary nebula shows as the irregularly round luminous haze about 1.5’ across, rising broadly to the centre that Hartung described. However, the planetary nebula needs both high magnification and an O-III filter to reveal its shape – a sort-of fat kidney-shape elongated in an east-west direction. No sign of the central star.

 NGC 3132

DSS image
NGC 3132. DSS image

Hartung: The central star is prominent in this bright little annular planetary nebula about 30” across ina  field of scattered stars. The single prism image is slightly elliptical with central star streak, easily seen with 7.5 cm. The light appears even without any of the bluish tint usual with planetary nebulae. Photographs show intricate, somewhat concentric structure, as if several outbursts of gaseous material had emerged from the star. R is estimated as 600 pc.

Me: This nebula – the Eight Burst Nebula – has to be one of the most fantastic planetary nebulae! It handles high magnification well, showing as a bright round hazy ring of faint knots with some lopsided outer envelopes surrounding the bright 10 mag central star. Hartung sees none of the bluish tint usual with planetary nebulae, and to my eye, too there is no hint of blue, simply a beautiful greyish-whitish glow of knotty light. It responds well to the UHC filter.

 NGC 3201

 NGC 3201. DSS image

Hartung: This globular cluster is one of the less condensed types, irregularly round, about; 5’ across and well resolved into faint stars, some of which are in short curved rays like jets of water from a fountain; 10.5 cm will show these. The field is sown with stars but the cluster lies near the large obscuring cloud of obscuring matter which cuts across the Milky Way in this region, and absorption is assessed at m. 2.2; allowing for this, R is about 3,800 pc.

Me: This is a lovely globular cluster, and Hartung’s description captures the way the delicate star-chains radiate away from the somewhat loosely concentrated core – it does look like jets of water from a fountain, the droplets catching the light. Faint stars are widely strewn towards the fringes that extend into a rich starry background. There are three intriguing dark patches to the east, each separated by a narrow band of glowing starlight. And an even more intriguing dark spot lies in the northwestern section of the inner core.

NGC 3228

DSS image
NGC 3228. DSS image

Hartung: For  a wide field this is an effective star group with small apertures; it is about 20’ wide in a field spangled with innumerable stars. The brightest stars are of spectral types B8-A0 and from their absolute magnitudes R is estimated at 500 pc and the age of the group as 250 million years.

Me: A charming group of bright stars that stand out beautifully against the rich background. I’m not much of an asterism person but this beautiful little cluster looks just like a tiny daisy-like devil thorn flower on a stalk – a beautiful flower that strews the Kalahari with thorns. Towards the south of the flower there are some more stars, but I’m not sure if they are members of the cluster. Regardless, they are very beautiful and all add up to an enchanting little star picture.

NGC 3256

DSS image
NGC 3256. DSS image

Hartung: An example of an extra-galactic system in low galactic latitude which is visible only because of a thinning out of the absorbing matter in this region. This is shown by the rich scattered star field in which is a fairly bright elliptical nebula about 1.5’ x 1’ in pa. 60°, rising well to the centre and giving a bright prism band. 10.5 cm shows it faintly but clearly. It is a member of a group of extra-galactic nebulae lying mainly in Hydra and R is estimated as 18 million pc.

Me: This galaxy shows as a soft oval glow oriented in an east-west direction. It brightens to a stellar nucleus and averted vision reveals a slightly brighter halo.

 γ Vel


Hartung: This brilliant white star is by far the brightest Wolf-Rayet star known, and its beautiful spectrum of bright broad helium lines is evident with 7.5 cm. The wide white companion, which 30 cm will show in bright sunlight, and a small white pair about 1′ Sf. combine to make a most striking field. No real change between the two stars has occurred for more than a century and although the proper motions are very small, the stars may be connected.

Me: In the telescope, this has to be one of the most beautiful multiple stars systems and I never tire of looking at it. However, in the spectroscope… well…  I’ll let Miss Agnes Clerke, writing in 1905, describe it: “An intensely bright line in the blue, and the gorgeous group of three lines in the yellow and orange render the spectrum incomparably the most brilliant and striking in the whole heavens.”


NGC 1679

DSS image
NGC 3256. DSS image

Hartung: This curious object is a round diffuse fairly bright nebulous haze about 2′ across in which three faint stars are immersed with what appears to be a nucleus in the f. part. It is evidently not gaseous as the prism extends it into a band and, as it has not been classed as extra-galactic, may be a dust nebula in the Milky Way system. Discovered by John Herschel, it is faintly visible with 15 cm

Me: A lovely sight; this galaxy forms a nearly equilateral triangle with a 7.5 mag star to the north northwest and a 8 mag star to the northeast. It is relatively bright with an obvious oval halo. Averted vision shows three faint roughly 12.5 mag field stars forming a beautiful little triangle over the galaxy.

Carl Sagan was right when he wrote: “… A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

Copyright © Susan Young 2016