Saturday, 5 December 2015

Geminids start Tonight..!

Over the next couple of weeks, I will no doubt be out in the garden under the stars tentatively watching the night sky for the annual spectacle that is the Geminid meteor shower.

The Leonid shower last month completely passed me by without one meteor sighted.

If the weather behaves I hope to have more luck with the Geminids.

It may be cold out there, but it's always worth wrapping up warm and heading outside for those possible midnight celestial fireworks.

If you see a Geminid over the next couple of weeks.... remember to make a wish

Clear Skies


More information about this meteor shower:

Monday, 16 November 2015

Night Thoughts While Travelling by 杜甫

One of my favourite astronomy books, or series of books, has to be Burnham's Celestial Handbook, a three volume collection of reference material on the stars and objects in the night sky. 

What I particularly like is that among all the wonderful astronomical data, the author Robert Burnham Jr also included a large amount of ancient history and folklore of the stars and constellations.

Plus there's a very a good selection of poetry relevant to the subject in question.  

Whilst reading through the pages concerning Sagittarius the Archer, my eye was drawn to a beautiful translation of a poem by the great Chinese poet Du Fu or Tu Fu as I stubbornly refer to him... Though correctly his name would be 杜甫

Night Thoughts While Traveling
A light breeze rustles the reeds
Along the river banks. The
Mast of my lonely boat soars
Into the night. Stars blossom
Over the vast desert of
Waters. Moonlight flows on the
Surging river. My poems have
Made me famous but I grow
Old, ill and tired, blown hither
And yon; I am like a gull
Lost between heaven and earth.

Translation by Kenneth Rexroth 

I have to say there are many translations of this great poem, many of them are bloody awful, but thankfully Kenneth Rexroth's version speaks to me. 

On the next clear evening when the sky is full of stars  I will copy this poem to paper, take it outside and recite it out loudly to the stars above.... I invite you to do the same...

Where have all the fireballs gone....? 
It's been pretty poor astronomy wise these last couple of weeks. Lots of cloud and rain and more rain and cloud etc and blah blah..!!   

Even the recent Taurid meteor shower hasn't revealed one solitary blazing fragment.... so far. 

Usually by now, I have seen at least one. Not this year!

Over the last few years, November has consistently hurled several fireballs my way.. 

Out of all the annual meteor showers, the Taurids, as far as I can tell, seem to be the most consistent for producing blazing fireballs...

I hope to see at least one before the end of the month. Come on clouds ... CLEAR OFF!!

Jupiter rising....
Only a couple more weeks and Jupiter will be clearing the "dancing trees" at the end of our garden. 

I call them dancing trees because they always seem to be moving. Just the slightest breeze and they are off...!  Last night Sirius was winking on and off through the ghostly limbs of a swaying ash tree.

Sketches from 2014
Thankfully at the start of December,  Jupiter will have risen above the dancing disco by about 6.00 am, which will give me plenty of time to grab a few Jovian sketches.

Lets hope we get some clear night skies soon... I have some poetry to recite.

Clear poetic skies 


Monday, 28 September 2015

Eclipse watching from the astronomer's bench.

It was a cool evening with a just enough breeze to make the nearby trees gently sing with songs of the autumn leaves. 

The sky was clear of cloud, the moonlight was soft, the sleepy village was at rest....such a  night was made for lunar eclipses.

Since living at our present address I have photographed three lunar eclipses, at each event the  camera and telescope were my prime concerns. 

Tonight I decided to take only a few simple shots of the eclipse, the rest of the time I simply sat on the astronomer's bench in the garden with my lovely wife. 

We both sat in the darkness, soaked up the starlight and absorbed the fading moonlight.

In the words of Helen.........

What a magical night. We took some photos, then sat gazing. 

There was so much to see....the eclipse, obviously, many meteors, one which zipped through the V of Taurus. 

Orion showed off his belt and wide shoulders, Betelgeuse flashing red to compete with the Blood Moon. 

This is the third total lunar eclipse we have seen from this house, and it was the first time without street lights. What a difference it made. 

The Astronomer asked me how many stars I could count inside the square of Pegasus....  I could count ten. In previous years, none could be seen due to the light pollution. 

We finally gave in to tired eyes and went to bed at 4.30...just as Luna was loosing her blush.

Sat on the astronomer's bench, 
writing up thoughts of the eclipse, by candlelight.

We watched in silence as the Moon sunk deeper and deeper into the shadows of our planet.

Through the binoculars the Moon took on a slight pinkish/red hue, not the predicted blood red of the tabloids. 

Tonight's eclipse was not as red tinged as the two previous I witnessed. The eclipse of March 2007 being especially "blood" in colour.  

March 3rd 2007

Who can remember the total eclipse of December 9th 1992?  now that was a "blood" moon... still vividly red in my memory... 

Haiku Moon

Haiku poetry and Moon watching go together, here's a recent haiku I wrote about that eclipse of March 2007.

Hope you managed to see the Total Eclipse...... 

Next one July 27th 2018 .... 

See you there..

Clear Lunar Skies 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Fishing for Perseids

It was one o'clock, the sky was clear, the streetlights had switched themselves off, the deckchairs were out and the camera was set up on the tripod........ Time for the Perseid fireworks display.

HiTech meteor observing equipment

Over the first hour I spotted 13 meteors, mostly short trails and about magnitude 3 in brightness.

Most of those motes of dust were headed towards the direction of Cassiopiea and Auriga.

I Dream of Perseids

Some would say that 10 meteors an hour wasn't that many, but in that hour I was able to wander off into daydreams, or is it "nightdreams"!

Those gaps between the shooting stars allowed me time to dream of past eclipses, of splitting double stars, flying over the Moon and surfing the Milky Way....

I didn't really mind if spotted a meteor or not, to just sit and ponder the Perseids has always been as fascinating to me as actually seeing a Perseid.

I suppose this is how fishermen feel when they sit and wait for their catch.

As if on cue at 2.00am a first magnitude meteor streaked across the square of Pegasus, the brightest of the night, and its trail fit exactly between one side of the square and the other.

Within the next ten minutes I spotted another 10 meteors, mostly heading northwards towards Cassiopea.

 The lurking sea mist
I continued fishing for meteors for another 20 minutes but had to call it a night when I noticed a thin sea mist creeping in from the west... By 2.30 it was all over... the sea mist very soon veiled our village in a thin but effective Perseid blocking filter.

After checking my timed exposures for the night, to my surprise I found one image with a definite meteor trail...  its a small trail but finally I have captured a Perseid..

Perseid meteor near Mirphak

Wishing on the stars... "Night Dreaming"

My first ever vigil of meteor watching was at my grandmother's house. 

It was the late 70's and for many years I used to spend several nights at her house in early August camped out on the garden bench. 

It was great to lie out on the bench, with my shortwave radio collecting signals from the ionosphere, cushions propped under my head, and me looking up, wishing on the stars....

Farewell Perseids
See you next time in 2016

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Chasing M22 and Bicarbonate of Soda

August 11th 2015 - 21h45m UT - Nikon D3000

Just before the teapot disappeared from sight, I set up the Schmidt and took a quick peek at the area
around the teapot's handle. 

It had to be a quick peek, as thanks to the trees, my window of viewing below the ecliptic is pretty small towards the south.

No matter, I managed to spot Messier 22; what a lovely globular.

View with 40mm Kellner eyepiece

Through the Schmidt with a 40mm Kellner it had about it a ghostly quality. The stars within the misty globular shimmered, and every so often a twinkling would appear from within this mist. 

To my eye M22 is far superior to the brighter M13.

After only ten minutes of observing the dew started to settle on the corrector plate. I decided to pack away the telescope, and for once get an early night.

Viewing the rest of the Universe would have to wait until tomorrow....

Capturing the globulars with Bicarbonate of Soda.

How to make a globular cluster

I've often tried to depict globulars by sketching them with black ink and then inverting the image with Photoshop.

This method never quite leaves me with the the image I'm looking for.

After a bit of pondering I thought that as the globulars resemble tiny sparkling diamonds, or maybe glinting white sand or sugar, why not photograph that.

As my diamonds were far away in Zurich, the next best thing to hand was sugar.

After a few experiments it became apparent that the sugar granules were to large.

Globular Sugar Clusters
After a further dig through the kitchen cupboards I found the perfect globular material.... Bicarbonate of Soda.

As viewed through a 20mm Erfle eyepiece

The soda is just the right consistency and texture, and once photographed and photoshopped it leaves an image fairly close to the view through the telescope.

Clear Skies 


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Total Eclipse of the Sun... Sixteen years ago today.

Hard to believe it was 16 years ago today....

What a special day that was, I bet everyone can still remember where they were that day. 

I was set up with a 60mm refractor, taking solar projections of the whole event outside our flat near Cardigan town. 

Considering the many clouds that day, the weather was kind for eclipse chasers.

The refractor did a great job projecting, even though my focuser was a piece of rolled up cardboard, with a 25mm plossl stuck in the end.

Today I made some watercolour sketches of four of my original drawings.



After completing the watercolours I made this image with the help of Instagram and Photoshop.

Sixteen years ago today I had no camera set up to record the event, luckily I was able to make several drawings via the projection method. 

I enjoy photographing the heavens, but my favourite will always be the sketching.

I now always carry a camera, but a pencil is never far away, usually behind my ear!

Hope you managed to see the Aug 99 eclipse, and hopefully some of you actually managed to see totality...

Clear solar skies 


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Transient Lunar Phenomenon (TLP)

June 4th 2006
Due to the cloudy skies of late I haven't been able observe the night skies. 

This gave me time to dig through some of my journals. I found an interesting entry from 2006 under the heading of TLP!

TLP stands for Transient Lunar Phenomenon, a term coined by the late, and much missed, Patrick Moore. 

For an introduction to TLP visit: Wikipedia - Transient Lunar Phenomenon

Red Flash (TLP) June 4th 2006 - 22h25m UT

If ever you see something strange whilst observing the lunar landscape, maybe a glow near a crater or a sudden flash of light, perhaps what appears to be mist on the crater floor, or a multitude of other unexplained sightings, this maybe a TLP. 

Many amateur astronomers totally dismiss the idea of TLPs, but who knows. 

All I can say is that on the night of June the 4th 2006 I was observing near the craters Janssen and Lockyer, and happened to witness a bright red flash from the crater Pitiscus.  

I have no idea what the flash was, it could have been lunar based, or maybe lunacy based and all made up in my head..  :0)

I like to think it was one of H.G. Wells' "Selenites" flashing a laser pen at me....! 

To find more about those Selenites click this link:  The First Men In The Moon

Clear Skies... soon PLEASE!!


Thursday, 16 July 2015

This Beautiful Cosmos

The teapot disappears into the West

The teapot of Sagittarius slips by almost unnoticed, hidden by trees and hedges. A lone telegraph pole points to the star Nunki. From our garden vantage point, only the handle of the teapot is seen. Kaus Australis and companions  are hidden by the damn hedge!

Hercules leans over, seemingly intent on grasping Lyrae the Harp. Vega shines so brightly …

Jean Michelle Jarre plays through my headphones. The songs are full of cascading arrangements, beautifully composed to fit in with the stars above my head.
The "Oxygene" album is the perfect accompaniment to the twilight of a summer’s night.

A warm midnight breeze blows over my face and arms.  I lie back on my ground blanket and survey this Beautiful Cosmos.

Westward, Arcturus  greets the roof ridge of my neighbour’s house.

Like moths to a flame, a scattering of artificial satellites track and race towards the Northern twilight.

Izar is gleaming tonight. Another satellite grazes Cor Caroli

The Milky Way is spread like much glittering white sand. Each time I walk the Milky Way I am once again a child.

Perseus and Andromeda stand watch in the East.  

Not long to wait for the meteor shower.

At my grandmother's house some forty years ago, I eagerly awaited the Perseid meteors.

To this day I am still captivated the Perseid fireworks.

A Bit of Astrophotography

Earlier this evening I tried my hand at astrophotography. I set up the Schmidt Cassegrain and attached the D3000.

The telescope was trained onto M57 and also M13. 

I took several shots, each about a minute in duration. Considering I had roughly polar aligned and that I wasn’t too sure of my exposures and focus, I did have some moderate success.

The art of astrophotography is fascinating and challenging, but for me it will never take the place of lying in the garden and simply looking up at This Beautiful Cosmos...

Clear Skies 


Monday, 29 June 2015

Solar Vixen captures the spots in June

After a refurbishment and a a lick of paint my 60mm/f5 Vixen refractor is yet again ready for astro travelling the heavens.

I decided to turn the scope into a dedicated solar imaging/observing platform.

With the solar filter and Nikon D3000 in place I can quickly capture the day's solar image, plus the scope is easily transportable.

Here are some Sol images from the last week.

The Vixen 60mm is perfect for quick Sol imaging.  Fingers crossed for some July Sunspots....

Friday, 20 March 2015

Eclipse March 20th 2015

Solar Eclipse from Mynachlog Ddu

The car was packed with two telescopes, two deck chairs, two cameras and a picnic for two astronomers.

The early morning mist had burnt away to reveal a glorious sunny Pembrokeshire morning... NOT A CLOUD IN THE SKY!

Helen and I made our way along the Cardigan road, we had the idea of stopping at the ancient burial chamber at Pentre Ifan...  

As we neared Maenclochog we decided to forget about Pentre Ifan and take a detour to  Mynachlog-ddu  to set up camp at Carreg Waldo.

Carreg Waldo is probably one of the best sites in the whole of Pembrokeshire for astronomical observing; there are very few street lights to spoil the night time viewing.....

Carn Menyn

To the North you can see Carn Menyn, the possible source of the famed Bluestones of Stonehenge.

Cwm Cerwyn
 North West and to the highest peak in Pembrokeshire ....Cwm Cerwyn.

Looking East
Moonrises can be spectacular over those hills, and the Moonlight of a Mynachlog-ddu Autumn is especially magical!

Looking South - Carreg Waldo
It was an amazing event, the sky gods behaved and the whole eclipse was bathed in a backdrop of faded-blue sky. 

The surrounding landscape, including the distant low-lying haze, exhibited a brownish tinge (the eclipse of 1999 exhibited a greenish tinge) for roughly half an hour each side of the maximum phase.

This eclipse was also memorable for its drop in temperature, much more pronounced than any other partial eclipse I have witnessed. 

08h40m  temperature was 9.5 degrees C 
09h38m  temperature was 4.7 degrees C  
09h43m  temperature was 4.8 degrees C
09h53m  temperature was 5.9 degrees C
10h15m  temperature was 9.7 degrees C

Here's a black and white photo taken with the C8 Celestron and prime focus with the Nikon DSLR

Plus a photo of several shots, with a bit of help from a phone App.

An unforgettable solar morning........

Clear Skies

Mark & Helen

Partial Eclipse from Pembrokeshire

A few photographs of the eclipse, taken on a beautiful sunny day near Mynachlog-ddu.

Vixen 60mm f/5 refractor (afocal digicam) 20mm Erfle eyepeice.

I've got several other eclipse photos taken with a Schmidt C8 scope, I'll put them on the blog sometime next week.

Clear Skies