Astronomy Blog

Bedford Astronomical Society – 27th July 2016

by on Jul.24, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

After a bit of a rest from doing talks, on Wednesday the 27th of July I will be taking Bedford Astronomical Society on a wild trip across to the very edge of our observable universe.

I will be giving my Whistle-Stop Tour of the Universe (Hitch-Hiking on a Ray of Light) presentation to them.

So let’s hope that they strap themselves in and get ready for a journey that really is out of this world.
(Of course, it’s really just a good excuse to show some beautiful images of our wonderful universe).

The society meet at Bedford School at the Resource Room at The Piazzi Smyth Observatory in Pemberley Avenue. Meeting starts at 7:30pm.

So if you’re in the area, come along, say “Hello” and enjoy the ride.


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Atlas V Launch from Cape Canaveral. The Video.

by on Jul.09, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

I finally got time to put together a video of the Atlas V launch we saw from the Saturn V exhibition building at The Kennedy Space Centre on the 24th of June.

The GoPro background footage captured real time video.
I have superimposed another closer video of the launch taken with another DSLR and also my images using my latest DSLR at about the time each one was taken.
Note the delay in the launch and the sound reaching us across that distance of just under 5 miles.
Efforts to view or image the detaching solid rocket boosters were ruined by its close proximity to the Sun as it sped away. The MUOS-5, a military communications satellite, reached its geosynchronous orbit successfully.
I made a few mistakes in setting up the shots, and in all the excitement of the event I forgot what I was meant to do at certain times in chaging angles of cameras etc.
But as this was my first experience of a launch close up, I can forgive myself and and well over the moon at the results.
(Pun entirely intended).

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Atlas V Launch from Cape Canaveral. 24th June 2016.

by on Jun.29, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

We have just returned from 2 weeks in Anna Maria Island in Florida.

Of course, I had to make the pilgrimage to The Space Coast to visit the Kennedy Space Centre.
We went up on the Wednesday, knowing full well that the postponed Atlas V launch was re-scheduled for the next morning. The visit was amazing, coming face to face with Space Shuttle Atlantis was very emotional. The last time I imaged this shuttle it was a very tiny black dot against the face of the Sun just after it separated from the ISS on its last mission STS-35 in 2011. Wow! How time flies…

Anyway, back to the morning of the launch. We extended our Space Centre tickets, staying close by overnight. Next morning we were transported back to the Saturn V display to view the launch. The atmosphere was incredible and everyone was extremely excited – Including me of course.

We were meant to have a live Internet countdown, but after all the “Go’s” announced the air went silent. As the clock hit 10:30am, the rocket went off like, well a rocket. It wasn’t hanging about, that’s for sure. Those strap on boosters were giving that MUOS-5 communications satellite a real kick to get it up into a geosynchronous orbit over the equator.
Find out more about the launch by clicking here.
I followed it as long as I could, taking pictures all the while hoping to see the solid boosters separate, but it launched against the glare of the Sun and I lost it in the glare before that happened.

It was an extremely quick getaway and my videos only show the launch itself.
I used two cameras and a Go-Pro to capture the footage (Footage to follow) and quite a few images.

But I also made time to sit and watch the spectacle as well.

I will post more pictures of the rest of our visit later, when the jet-lag subsides.

Here’s a few of my images of the launch.









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Celebrate Tim Peake’s Principia mission.

by on Jun.12, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

Following the great success of my recent Celebration of Tim Peake’s Principia evening, I have now adapted it as a shorter stand-alone presentation to take out to groups.

The presentation has been added to my current list of presentations shown here.

This presentation uses stunning graphics and movies as well as hands-on audience participation.

So if your club would like an entertaining and informative evening to Celebrate Tim Peake’s Principia mission, book me now.

E Mail me using this link.




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End of a fantastic Weekend.

by on Jun.06, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

The weekend started out with my Tim Peake Celebration evening on Friday.
It went down a storm. Great crowd, very interactive and fabulous fun to do.
Here’s a few pictures from the night.


TimPeake2TimPeake3In case you’re wondering, they are competing to peel a banana or tangerine with mock-up space gloves. Virtually destroyed the fruit rather than being able to eat it.

Sunday afternoon saw the Sun appear , so we had a very pleasant afternoon in the garden, with a barbie and a pint, while I was imaging the Sun in hydrogen alpha light. There’s lots going on despite the lack of sunspots at the moment. The hedgerow prominence was changing in form quite rapidly.

I will produce an animation as soon as I get time.


ActiveArea20160605AS_p60_Multi_Drizzle15_video0127 16-06-05 16-40-05_g3_b3_ap31-WSC-CompositeAS_p60_Multi_Drizzle15_video0142 16-06-05 17-21-36_g3_b3_ap38-WSC_Composite

Later in the evening, I watched the ISS go right overhead in bright twilight. It was much easier to see than I expected, with the sky was so bright. An hour and half later Tim & Co. popped across the sky again, looking very bright in the much darker sky.


At the end of the ISS apparition, Mars was just clearing the neighbours house. This was the first time this apparition that I have stayed up to view and image Mars as it appeared. Being so low down the image was wobbling all over the place. I took videos using my colour Philips webcam to capture the colour and my monochrome DMK camera to try and capture the detail on the surface.

The images combine quite well.
Mars-20160605-4If it stays clear, I might just stay up later and do a bit more. Maybe stay up late for Saturn as well.

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Hydrogen Alpha Sun – 22nd May 2016

by on May.22, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

The day started out with clear blue skies and sunshine, so straight out I went to capture some Hydrogen Alpha images. There were only a few small prominences around the limb, so I did a few close ups of the naked eye sunspot AR 2546 and a full disk before clouds started building up and we went out for a walk.

I experimented with tuning the telescope to get some detail in the spot, but Newton’s Rings were awful.
AS_p60_Multi_Drizzle15_video0016 08-27-44_g3_b3_ap2247_stitch-WC
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AS_p60_Multi_Drizzle15_video0021 08-34-53_g3_b3_ap810-WC-Crop

When we got back from our walk there were two layers of clouds, each moving in different directions making it extremely challenging.

However I did manage to get AR 2546 again and a white light image through my 80mm scope.

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AS_p60_Multi_Drizzle15_video0032 13-11-10_g3_b3_ap536StitchWSC

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After a rest, two talks this week. Leicester & Cambridge.

by on May.21, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

After a few weeks of rest, I start going round to astronomy clubs speaking yet again.

I have two outings this week:

On Tuesday the 24th of May, I am at Leicester Astronomical Society.
They meet at The National Space Centre, Exploration Dr, Leicester LE4 5NS.
Meeting starts at 7:30pm.
I will be speaking on Digitally Enhancing Astronomical Images.
If you’re in the area, come along and say “Hello”.

On Wednesday the 25th of May I will also be speaking to Cambridge Astronomical Association as part of their introduction evening at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge.
I will be showing them how to obtain deeper wide angle images of the sky, using an un-tracked camera.

Will be good to meet up with these two clubs yet again.
Thanks to both for asking me back.


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Mercury Transit – 9th May 2016.

by on May.11, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

I had no more spare holidays to take, so had to work the day of the Mercury transit. But I took my Ha solar scope into work so I could at least view the ingress of the planet at lunchtime.

Watching through the scope I could see the extremely small disk of Mercury just starting to bite into the Suns disk. Right by a bright prominence. It moved onto the disk much quicker than I remembered from the previous transit. That is an image that is hard wired into my hard disk upstairs and will live in the mind for a long long time. I showed a few people from work the transit from about half 12 BST, then packed up and went back to work.

When I finished work at 4pm, I dashed home and opened up the dome and started to take pictures. The skies had got a little bit hazy by this time, but I was determined to try. Clouds and thick contrails kept moving across the Sun’s face, spoiling many AVI files captured by my DMK camera.

All was well until a little after 6pm, when clouds finally thickened and the Suns disk and Mercury’s small silhouette finally disappeared from view.

A great day, with fine weather for most people across the country so most people saw some of the event.
Here are my results, which I am well pleased with, especially with the cloud interfering. See image at the bottom for the average conditions.
AS_p60_Multi_Drizzle15_video0002 16-23-29_g3_b3_ap611_stitchWP

AS_p60_Multi_Drizzle15_video0018 16-56-43_g3_b3_ap608Wav

AS_p60_Multi_Drizzle15_video0008 16-29-27_g3_b3_ap989WP

AS_p60_Multi_Drizzle15_video0007 16-28-15_g3_b3_ap992WP



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Transit of Mercury – 9th May 2016.

by on May.08, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

Tomorrow we will be able to witness a relatively rare event when a planet moves directly between the  Earth and the Sun so will be seen to move across the front of the Sun. In this case it is the planet Mercury. Only Mercury and Venus, being closer to the Sun can do this. Mercury is a small planet roughly the same size as our Moon.

This is a fairly rare event. The last one I observed was in 2003. The next one will be in November 2019, where most of it will also be visible from the UK after midday until sunset. After that we have to wait until November 2032.

Mercury will be visible as a very small black dot moving slowly across the Suns disk.

Simulation of the transit taken from the SPA Web site. 

The SPA have also produced a pdf file guide to viewing the event which can be downloaded from here, as well as a video guide to observing the transit by Prof. Lucie Green which is available here.

Do not attempt to view the transit WITHOUT using proper equipment. You can ruin your eyesight in an instant, so look out for somewhere where a local astronomical society are holding an outreach event to view it. If skies are clear, Bedford Astronomical Society will be opening The Piazzi Smyth Observatory from 2pm and Stanion Stargazers, Near Corby will be at Stanion Village Hall and North Essex Astronomical Society will be in Great Notley Country Park that afternoon.

The disk of Mercury is extremely small, so a telescope with proper filtration is required to view the event.

The event starts at 11:10 UT (12:10 BST) when the tiny disk will move on to the Suns disk.

Mid transit occurs at 14:57 UT (15:27 BST) when the disk will be central on the disk.

Mercury leaves the Suns disk at 18:42 UT (19:42 BST).

Full details of the circumstances of the transit are given on the Time&Date Web page: http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/transit/2016-may-9

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Losing Comet 67P, but regaining the Sun.

by on May.04, 2016, under Astronomy Blog

With the success of my Rosetta & Philae talk, and being able to follow Comet 67P since I first picked it up last summer, it seems I am finally starting to lose this comet The brightness of the comet has now dropped to below 18th magnitude and it is getting increasingly difficult to image using my equipment from my light-polluted location and the increasing length of the day. Sad though I am to finally lose it, I got much more than I ever expected, and to capture it going past the Leo Triplet a few weeks ago was the tasty icing on a very luxurious cake. Still amazing to think that a probe is still orbiting this comets nucleus and another sitting dormant on its surface.

Comet 67P near the Leo Triplet.
67P-Leo_Triplet-20160406More comets like this please!

On a lighter note, despite the lack of dark skies now it is really nice to come home from work, sit in the garden and capture a few images of the Sun. There is a lot of activity around the limb at the moment. I also noticed a very faint prominence that was almost detached.

Soon be time to get out the barbie.
AS_f100_Multi_video0001 17-49-02_g3_b3_ap1919-P

AS_p70_Multi_video0016 18-28-34_g3_b3_ap1930-P2

 AS_p70_Multi_video0015 18-27-08_g3_b3_ap3469Composite

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