Astronomy Blog

A Summer All-Nighter 17-18th July – Comet 67P Imaged!

by on Jul.19, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

It looked like it was going to be a clear night, so I was bracing myself for an all-nighter. As it darkened there appeared to be a thin layer of cloud which looked like it might have dashed my hopes. Thankfully it moved north westwards and disappeared. I started out by trying to image Comet 22P/Kopff low in the west, but nothing of note showed on the processed images. Next on my list was the Sky At Night challenge of imaging the area around the Hubble deep field just above The Plough in Ursa Major.
The Plough was getting lower and won’t be long before it is hidden behind my house, so it was now or next spring.
The resulting image does show four faint objects in the field of view. (I got the position slightly wrong at first, thanks to Pierre Girard for pointing this out). In the Inverted image you can see these a little clearer. One of these faint smudges of light is a 19.7  magnitude galaxy 1.85 billion light years away. And my camera captured and recorded its photons.
Absolutely mind boggling.

To show the image scale we are dealing with, I took this image of M51 just after with the same setup.

I then went to try for another Comet, C/2015 F4 Jacques. It was located just below Delphinus.

It was now the early hours of the morning, to amuse myself while waiting for my last and final object, I re-visited and old friend. 61 Cygni is a fast-moving double star. I imaged this and compared it to a previous shot from 2013. The image I took tonight is far superior, but you can see just how far the stars have moved during that time, revealing the much fainter background star they were moving in front of.

I then did a couple of not so successful deep sky images of galaxies in Pegasus. This is NGC 7331.

By this time the twilight was remarkably bright over in the north eastern sky, but the object I was trying to image last was now starting to become visible between the houses. Here’s my view, to give you some sort of idea of the challenges I face in my observatory. This is the view out of the observatory slit looking north east.

You can quite clearly see The Pleiades rising between the two neighbouring houses.
Here’s a closer view of that gap.

Just below and the the left of the two stars just appearing near the guttering is the long sought after and much loved 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which the probes Rosetta and Philae are currently exploring. I wanted to get Comet 67P Imaged. As the sky brightened even more, I star-hopped my way across the sky using C2A planetarium software to calibrate the scope on stars as I ventured towards my quarry. I finally centred the scope on the comet, but it was still behind the house! The sky was brightening rapidly and I thought all was lost. I didn’t really expect any results anyway. Slowly but surely the camera started to show stars in the image as the field of view emerged into view. I adjusted the exposure to just under a minute, so that the stars stood out without over-exposing in the brightening sky. Between 02:20 and 02:29 (GMT) I took 9 images before the stars were starting to fade into the background. I then called it a very productive night and went in to process my images. It was 3:00am (4am BST) before I finally gave up and went to bed.
It’s very  messy, and it doesn’t look like much, but here’s the result:

I submitted my image to the PACA_Rosetta67P co-ordinators. They have confirmed that this was indeed the position of the comet at that time and I may well be the most northerly observer to image this comet so far.
Thank goodness it wasn’t hidden behind that nearby dust bunny.
Now where’s my lens cleaning kit?

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New Horizon and Pluto Images

by on Jul.15, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

Thank you very much to NASA, Alan Stern and everyone involved with the New Horizon’s mission. They revealed a couple of their latest images from this spectacular exploration of the outer solar system.
Fresh surface as no craters are visible. Pluto’s surface is geologically active.

Pluto. The light heart shape has been called Tombaugh Regio in recognition of Clyde Tombaugh who discovered this distant world.













Charon, Pluto’s largest moon shows large canyons on its surface.











And 11,000 foot high mountains on the surface of Pluto.

Can’t wait to see what else is to come as the data is slowly transmitted back to Earth.

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Movement of Pluto over two nights.

by on Jul.09, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

The cloud gods were kind to me tonight. I have long been meaning to capture this.
Amazing how a probe shooting past it next week can encourage me to stay up late to do it.
Just as Pluto cleared the neighbours house a bank of cloud swept across that part of the sky.
But it quickly cleared, so I was able to take more exposures of Pluto’s position to compare to last nights images.

This animated GIF shows the movement I captured.

There’s a lot of noise in there, but Pluto is the largest object moving in the centre of the image.
Get in there!


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9th of July – A late one to catch some faint stuff.

by on Jul.09, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

On a work night it’s always bad news trying to stay up this time of the year to catch some dark skies. With New Horizons just a week away from whizzing past Pluto, I just had to get out and try and image this distant world. Anyway, I couldn’t do any solar work as there was too much cloud. So I waited until it got twilight and then started as the skies cleared.

First on my list was Venus, to try and catch some more cloud features with my Venus UV filter. No clouds visible, but look how much that crescent has deepened as it approaches the Sun.
Venus 15-07-08 21-18-32

Next was Saturn. Much too low in the murk to show many features, but  I wanted to catch some of the fainter moons. In this image I have managed to capture Titan, Tethys, Enceledus, Rhea, Dione and Iapetus. Saturn and its rings is overexposed in the image.

I then moved over to the position of Pluto as homage to New Horizons. Boy is it faint!
I have indicated the position of the “planet” in the copy below.
Pluto in Sagittarius

I have four days in which to do a comparison shot before it moves off this frame. Hopefully I will get a chance this evening (10th July) as it looks like it might be clear again.
Our understanding of this mysterious object and its moons will change dramatically over the coming months. Of course what it discovers will answer lots of burning questions, but I bet we find ourselves asking even more questions we never even thought of asking before the encounter.

I then went to an area of sky just below Delphinus where Comet C/2015 F4 was lurking. It is about 12th magnitude, but despite this it still has a distinct tail.
Come Jacques C/2015 F4 - 20150708

Hopefully in a couple of weeks time I’ll catch Comet 67P, which Rosetta is exploring as I type.

All in a nights work. Finally got to bed at 01:15am.
Come on darker skies, I don’t like staying up late… Yawn!!!

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Hydrogen Alpha Sun – 4th July

by on Jul.05, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

It was a lovely warm summers day. What better than to sit in the sunshine with my Lunt solar scope and take some images of our fantastic nearest star. Oh and drinking lots of cold fluids as well, of course.

The Full Disk.
HaSun 15-07-04

And a look round in a bit more detail of the features that were visible that day.

Huge prominence.
HaSun 15-07-04 15-19-05

A montage of four images centred around sunspot groups 2373 & 2376.
HaSun 15-07-04 13-52-09_stitch

And the same area in closer up.
HaSun 15-07-04 14-46-34Coloured

A prominence silhouetted against the Suns disk (Known as a filament).
Shows up darker as they are not as bright as the photosphere.
HaSun 15-07-04 13-54-24

Another active region, sunspot group 2378, has just rotated into view, with a small prominence on the limb as well.
HaSun 15-07-04 14-41-39

Is the line of dark going from the filament going down towards the sunspot group below a real feature, or just my eyes joining up the random dots?HaSun 15-07-04 15-01-32PColoured

These filaments could show up as very nice prominences in a few days as they are just about to head over the edge of the Suns disk.
HaSun 15-07-04 14-43-29P

Last but not least this filament has just moved onto the disk.
HaSun 15-07-04 13-57-55P-2Coloured


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Conjunction and a Scorching sun.

by on Jul.02, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

It has been a busy old week so far.

More images from last Saturdays solar imaging with a little bit more careful processing.


HaSun 15-06-27 15-49-13P

How a prominence develops.
HaSun 15-06-27 PromeDevelopment

It clouded over just as things were getting very interesting.

On the Monday the summer social event with Northampton Natural History Society was at Brampton Halt. With a heatwave just hitting us it was a stonking evening socialising over a drink in the pub garden and a nice meal too.
After the meal some of us gathered under the approaching conjunction of Venus & Jupiter over in the Western sky. Nick Hewett forgot his SD card, so I had to resort to taking a picture with my mobile phone.

The next day (30th), when I got home from work I did some Solar Hydrogen Alpha imaging before trying to capture the conjunction before it disappeared behind a neighbours tree.

HaSun 15-06-30 16-49-09PColoured

HaSun 15-06-30 16-39-42PColoured

Jupiter and Venus were at their closest, so I went out later to try and capture them, but clouds tried to spoil things. Thankfully there were some breaks.
Western Clouds

I captured this just as the planets were slipping behind the tree.


The next day (very hot it was too 35° when I opened the observatory) it was cloudy right up until the sky darkened. So I was able once again to try and capture Jupiter & Venus which were still close enough to be seen in the same field of view. Thankfully I did manage to capture three of Jupiter’s Moons this time.



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Solar shenanigans – 27th June 2015

by on Jun.27, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

Despite the cloud ( as per usual)  trying to prevent me imaging, the Sun looked fabulous today.
Full disk.
Ha Sun15-06-27 09-54-56_stitchP

Sunspot group 2371 starting to disappear over the limb.


But there was some really exciting prominence activity elsewhere.

HaSun 15-06-27 15-49-13P
So I took what I could, then cracked open a couple of beers and lit up the barbie.
What a great end to a lovely warm day.
If the weather forecast is accurate, we might have a few more of these over the next week or so…


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Eagleseye Sky Diary for July 2015

by on Jun.27, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

My Sky Diary for June 2015 is now available for free download in two pdf file formats from my Web site. There is a short printable version and a longer version with full graphics and maps.

It contains details of the possibility of observing three comets this month. Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2, which is fading. Comet PANSTARRS C/2014 Q1 which should be visible in the western sky after sunset at the beginning of the month. and Comet Chureyumov-Gerasimenko 67P, which becomes bright enough to be viewed by amateurs in Taurus & Gemini.

The nights will soon start to be drawing back in making conditions better for some deep-sky observing, but good observing is still possible this time of year if you want to stay up late.


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Leicester Astronomical Society – 23rd June 2015

by on Jun.24, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

Last night I did my talk “Charles Piazzi Smyth and his High Altitude Observatory”  to Leicester Astronomical Society.


This was my second visit to them after doing my “Foosteps of Piazzi” talk last year and once again they made me feel extremely welcome.

There were lots of questions and nice comments after my talk, so it looked as if they really enjoyed it.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before they ask me back again.


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Summer Solstice Sun.

by on Jun.21, 2015, under Astronomy Blog

It was the Summer Solstice today and across the world International SunDay was running.
As we were looking after our 8 month old grandson this weekend, I didn’t get a chance to see the Sun until I got home this evening.

This was the full disk.
HaSolsticeSun 15-06-21 18-04-02

Here is a close up of the huge prominence that was visible.


And here’s a close up of the big sun spot group.



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