Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Venus Transit 2012

Posted: June 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

Good old British weather! Delivering a not completely unexpected cold, grey, rainy morning.  The final Venus transit of the 21st century passes unseen from Northumberland.  Here are some astronomers with optimism in their hearts before sunrise:

This is the view – looking northeast towards the Sun (and Venus) near the end of the transit:

If you look carefully, you can just make the outline of the Sun and Venus.  Here…a little bit of image processing works wonders; a cropped, severely enhanced section of the picture just above centre shows this:

That’s definitely the outline of Venus.  The solar filter used shows the solar corona to have an unusual hand shape – but that’s obviously just pareidolia on your part.

So the next pair of transits are in the early 22nd century.  In the event that the singularity doesn’t come to pass then I’d better start eating a few more fruit and vegetables if I want to see them.


The first extrasolar planet

Posted: January 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’m getting ready for my lecture at Bamburgh Castle for Stargazing Live 2012. I’ll be talking about aliens….where are they?  It’s not as if there aren’t planets out there in the Galaxy.  We know of more than 700 planets so far from the tiny samples of the sky that have been analysed.

The first extrasolar planet to be found was detected in orbit of a sun-like star called 51 Pegasi back in 1995.  51 Pegasi is an insignificant star about 50 light-years awayand barely visible to the naked eye in the constellation Pegasus. Astronomers analysing the light from that star deduced that a large planet with a mass comparable to Jupiter was following a tight orbit of the star.  With a mean distance of just under 8 million miles from the star the temperature of the planet must be about 1,200 degrees C! (Mercury is 36 million miles from our Sun on average).

Here’s my spacey picture of the planet (called 51 Pegasi b) and its star.

The moon pictured in this image is hypothetical.  Other so-called “Hot Jupiters” were found around many other stars – a consequence of observational bias. Those kinds of planets are much easier to find than distant, smaller planets.

A winter morning eclipse

Posted: December 21, 2010 in Uncategorized
In the end we stayed in Morpeth to observe the eclipse.  It was crisp and clear at the start and the view through binoculars was unforgettable.  Just a hint of orange along the left side as the shadow approached half way.  You can really see the curvature of the Earth on the edge of the shadow!  Within minutes it completely clouded over.  Saw glimpses of the orange/brown of the shadow as totality approached.
A gap in the cloud opened up about 10 minutes into totality and we saw the dim orange eclipsed moon as it was dipping towards the houses across the road.  We ended up watching from the bedroom window because the moon was so low in the sky.  Well worth getting up for even if great British Weather did its best to get in the way.  Absolutely freezing cold now though!

Snowbound astronomer

Posted: December 5, 2010 in Uncategorized
Sooooo cold!  Not much chance recently to do any astronomy because of the weather.
Anyway, a telescope was donated to the astronomy club recently and tonight has been my first opportunity to give it a try.  As you can see conditions weren’t ideal – freezing, icy and surrounded by light pollution.  At least the sky was clear!
The telescope is a Celestron NexStar 102 SLT.  It was very easy to assemble the mount and tube – just a few minutes from being boxed  to getting ready to align it.  The alignment was a breeze (after sorting out the date and time and remembering that this is an american bit of kit, so month-date not date-month!)  A quick three star alignment was all that was needed and the telescope was able to comfortably slew to M57, Jupiter, Uranus and Vega – all pretty close to the centre of the eyepiece view.  The view through the eyepiece (25mm) was crisp and clear given the observing location in Morpeth.
It’ll certainly play an active part in our forthcoming outreach programme.

The Lunar X

Posted: November 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

Just back from Hauxley after the clouds rolled in and stopped observing.  I had the 14 inch aimed at the moon and was looking for some interesting craters to image on the terminator.  A bright X-shaped feature jumped out at me!  I’ve seen pictures of the so-called Lunar-X before but I hadn’t seen it for real myself.

The Lunar-X is visible for a short period of time (only 4 hours or so) before first quarter moon.  It is a shape formed by the walls of two overlapping craters catching the first rays of sunlight at dawn.  The picture was taken with the Meade DSI 2, a focal reducer at 7.05pm on November 13th.

Before spotting the Lunar-X I was trying for some images of Jupiter.  Through the eyepiece four moons were visible but the seeing wasn’t great.  I certainly couldn’t see as much as the image here suggests (thankfully the wavelets can drag an awful lot of detail out!)  I didn’t have a Barlow lens to hand but I don’t think it would have been much use tonight anyway.

So here is the only image of Jupiter I was able to get this evening, taken with the DSI2 at about 6.35pm.

Maybe it’ll clear up in time for tomorrow…


Comet Hartley Closeup

Posted: November 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

The EPOXI mission (formerly known as Deep Impact) made a flyby of Comet Hartley yesterday and sent back some stunning images of the cometary nucleus.

Comet Hartley remains visible to northern observers but it is now best seen in the morning sky.  It is rapidly tracking south will soon be lost from Northumberland skies.


I produced this with Terragen, Stellarium and GIMP.  It a lunar eclipse as seen from the surface of the moon; from this vantage point the Earth eclipses the Sun – creating a ring of fire in the lunar sky.  The landscape is bathed with the orange-red light of sunsets from around the world.