Carson, Peter (Leigh-on-Sea, UK)

I’ve been a BAA member since 1971 and have always enjoyed a wide range of observing topics. I have a particular fascination for comets due to their transitory and unpredictable nature. As a teenager one of my first astronomical experiences was witnessing the showcase comet 1975 V1 West rising tail first in a cold clear March dawn sky. When the head of the comet cleared the horizon it hung in the sky like a giant ghostly scimitar… my comet interest was founded!!

Peter Carson and observatory

 I’m a construction project manager by profession, nothing whatsoever scientific, but I have a passion for amateur astronomy. I prefer to observe by imaging with the aim of following comets from discovery until they’ve faded beyond the detection limit of my equipment. Watching a comet brighten as it approaches perihelion and its tail structure evolve then subsequently fade is exciting and a real connection with the tiny dynamic world hurtling through our solar system. My simple comet images, pooled with others, provide a database which helps push forward our understanding of these fleeting solar system visitors.

 My back garden observing site is far from ideal being located in heavily light polluted urban south east  Essex UK within a mile of London Southend airport. The one big advantage of its location is it’s where I live.

 In the early days I observed using a crude 150 mm Newtonian reflector. The desire for increased aperture led to the purchase of a 250mm classical cassegrain reflector. Then came an increase in sophistication with the purchase of a “go to” 250mm schmidt cassegrain telescope which has only just been retired from my collection. With the advent of digital photography and the availability of well corrected short focus refractors I acquired a 100 mm f5.4 Nagler-petzval design refractor and a Losmady G11 german equatorial mount. This set up enabled me to successfully image comets and deep sky objects with good quality over a wide field of view. The telescope can’t be used for serious visual observing from my home location as it picks up too much light pollution, but the set up is portable and is often found with me at astro camps in darker parts of the UK.

My main equipment is housed under a 2.1m diameter dome in my back garden. It’s a 315 mm f/8 corrected Dall Kirkham reflector mounted on a Paramount MEII. I capture images with an Sbig ST8300 cooled CCD camera and auto filter wheel controlled using Maxim DL Pro 5 software. The increased sophistication and quality of my current equipment has led to an increase in the quality and quantity of my observations, but I still enjoy getting out the binoculars and lying back in a deck chair who knows one day I may discover the comet of the century!

 I’m happy to assist members with imaging advice. I host a website at displaying some of my images from all my astronomical interests. It provides an example of what can be done from a site that is less than ideal.

The British Astronomical Association supports amateur astronomers around the UK and the rest of the world. Find out more about the BAA or join us.