Moving. One of the most stressful times?

We often hear that moving home, alongside getting married, having kids or somebody close to you dying, is a very stressful time.

Well, we’ve just moved and downsized the house. Added to this, I have also sold my observatory. This should have added to my stress, but so far, our decision has already completely changed our lives. The funds this has released has enabled me to leave work early, (“retire”) and, once the work has been done to get the house up to scratch, we should just about have enough left (time will tell! Ulp!) to pay the bills for the next few years until I can start to claim my pension. I don’t earn much from selling my books, but when the colder days set in, and most of the house jobs are done, I will be sitting down and writing more astronomy books, as my previous editions have gone down so well.

We thought it was peaceful in our old garden until we moved here to Raunds. It’s amazing just sitting in our new garden hearing very little traffic, plus surrounded by bird noise, especially the multitude of swifts at this time of year, squealing and chasing one another and the red kites calling regularly as they patrol the area.

Of course being free from the commitments of work, leaves us in a fantastic position to take up lots of opportunities that we couldn’t before. A quick impromptu trip down the The Mall in London to view the RAF100 Flypast, or helping out my mate Andy Green with his Stardome Planetarium, when he needs me.

All sorts of other new and exciting opportunities seem to be coming at me from all sides at the moment. So our decision so far seems to have been proven to be the right one. I may regret saying that at some point, but we’ll ride with that one for now.

Yes, it’s been hard work preparing to move and living in the current mess, while the house gets sorted out, is also a bit of a challenge.

This week the kitchen gets ripped out, two stud walls are coming out and the new kitchen being fitted the week after, before the decorator comes in to make good.

This weekend I grappled with an enormous ivy which was covering the bottom edge of the garden. Yesterday I won the first battle. This morning I won the war, taking out the thick root and reclaiming another 5 feet of garden. I have the sore hands, muscles, cuts and bruises to prove it, let’s call them my battle scars, shall we? But its a bit of ground definitely worth fighting for. This will be used for the site of my new observatory (a shed this time). This is planned to be installed at the beginning of August, the base for it is being laid late next week.

So it’s all go. So has it all been very stressful?
More like exciting and so very rewarding as we can see the rapid progress that is being made to make the house ours.
And to think, we only moved into the house 10 days ago and have made so much progress, both inside and out.

The pictures below show the before and after views of the vine.
Now where the heck are we going to get rid of all those cuttings?

 

Northants Amateur Astronomers – 17th July 2018

On Tuesday the 17th of July I will be re-visiting my good friends and fairly local group of Northants Amateur Astronomers to give them a presentation on Mars – The Red Planet.

This is nicely timed just before the planet comes to opposition on the 27th of this month.

I will talk about past observations, the frustrations of observing the planet as an amateur, (especially with the global dust storm currently blocking out the features). I will also review of some of the unmanned missions, failures and successes, that have visited the planet and a look forward at future possibilities for manned flights.

The meeting starts at 7:45pm.

Venue:
The Lounge.
Geddington Village Hall.
Queen Street.
Geddington.
NN14 1AZ

 

Comet C/2017 S3 PANSTARRS in Outburst.

Comet C/2017 S3 PANSTARRS has had an outburst and has rapidly brightened.
The comet was reported to suddenly jump at least 2 magnitudes, extremely quickly.
It is currently around 9th magnitude and visible in the early morning sky, high up in the north east before the sky starts brightening (although, of course twilight lasts all night at this time of the year, so the skies do not really get dark).
It is actually a circumpolar object, never setting from the UK.

Click here to download a free pdf of this information.
Please feel free to pass around.

The full path of the comet for this apparition. (Click on the maps for a closer view).

The comet is currently in the constellation of Cassiopeia, but quickly moves into Camelopardalis as it heads south, gathering pace and brightening all the time.

Towards the end of July, the comet will be just north of the top of Auriga, not far from the first magnitude star Capella.

Path of the comet during July.

By the beginning of August, the comet will be in Gemini, passing Castor & Pollux between the 4th & 6th. By this time the comet will be very low to the horizon, just before dawn breaks in the north-eastern sky as it approaches the Sun. It COULD give a great display at this point as the comet starts getting extremely hot as it approaches the Sun. Unfortunately, the comet will rapidly slip into the Sun’s glare and be quickly lost from view.

Path of comet during August.

When the comet reaches perihelion in August, despite potentially being a naked eye object, it will still be hopelessly lost in the Sun’s glare. Unfortunately, this will be the case for many weeks to come.

Path of comet during September (Not visible from the UK).

We in the UK are unlikely to spot the comet again until the beginning of October, as it starts to move away from the Sun. At this time it will once again be visible in the morning sky, low down in the eastern sky before dawn. As the comet gets higher in the darker morning skies, it approaches Coma Berenices, so will pass quite a few galaxies, including a number of Messier objects. It will, of course be fading by this point, but how bright the comet will be by then is anyone’s guess, as comets are extremely unpredictable. But isn’t that what makes these enigmatic objects so very fascinating?

Path of comet during October.

Maps produced using C2A Planetarium Software.

 

Sky Diary for July 2018.

My free monthly sky diary for July 2018 showing the events of the night sky visible from the UK is now available in pdf form to download and print.
Click here, or on the image below to download the pdf.

It is also available to share on Google calendars.
Click here to go to my Google calendar.

More sky events will be added to the live Google calendar as more information becomes available.

Ain’t no cure for the summertime blues?

Astronomically, Summer in the UK is always fraught with frustrations.
It doesn’t really get dark, astronomical twilight persists throughout the night and you have to stay up so late to see anything at all.
But unlike Eddie Cochran’s classic, there is a cure? Oh yes there is!
Well, actually if you read on, you’ll see that there’s been quite a few…

Cure No. 1.
Since giving up work two months ago, things have taken off much quicker than I expected.
My astrophotography guides have been selling really well and my workshops have been
Thank you to everyone who has purchased them and sent me some great feedback.
Lots of new opportunities have also started coming my way, so very exciting times ahead indeed. 🙂

Cure No. 2.
Taking up solar Hydrogen Alpha imaging 3 years ago, really helped me to really enjoy summers astronomically. I also found that I got totally hooked on solar observing and imaging. You just never know what you’re going to see the next time you point your equipment at our nearest star. It’s flipping awesome! So that has kept me entertained very nicely over the past few weeks.

Cure No. 3.
A real downer for me this year, should have been the removal of my beloved dome. Marking the end of Eagleseye Observatory as I knew it. Fortunately, the impending move had enabled Sue and I to make this complete life change, making more time for ourselves and my astronomical interests. I am really looking forward very much to designing and building to get Eagleseye Observatory Version 2, back up and running. This time it will be a roll-off roof design, which should give me a bit more space to do dome of my other hobbies in the “man-shed”.

Cure No. 4.
Of course, the other added bonus this last week has been a display of noctilucent clouds. This seems to have happened over the course of a number of evenings. I managed to capture the end of a display on the 19th of June after a planetary session. They looked really bright when I spotted them out of the study window, but by the time I had gathered my camera gear and tripod, and walked down to where I could see the northern sky, they had faded considerably.

Cure No. 5.
Of course, this summer is all about the planets. Jupiter, Saturn and Mars coming to opposition one after the other over the last few months. Jupiter is past its best, but still big, bold and interesting. Saturn is at opposition today, and Mars is approaching opposition next month, although a global dust storm looks like it might spoil our chances of getting decent images of surface features.

So I wanted to get myself all set up for planets.
In a blog entry a few months ago, I mentioned that I would like a planetary scope, possibly a Celestron C11 SCT.
A friend of mine, upon reading my blog, mentioned that he might be selling his at some point. So a few weeks ago, I went and looked at the scope and, seeing a bargain to be had, bought it home.

The collimation of the scope was atrocious, and although I could get it reasonably close, it wasn’t quite good enough. I could see flaring to one side of the image either side of focus, things also seemed a little bit loose. When I panned around from Jupiter in the south west and onto Saturn in the south east, the collimation changed from being OK, to being well out again.

Visually, the images looked quite good though. I could see some nice detail on Jupiter and Europa was easily visible in transit against the planets disk, its dark shadow standing out really well as that crept on too. The lunar surface looked amazing, so the potential was there, but this collimation really did need properly sorting out.

It was time to get the big guns out for this one. I contacted Es Reid in Cambridgeshire, a well-respected optical engineer. He agreed to have a look at the telescope for me and on a glorious sunny Monday morning, I drove over to his house for him to give the scope a once-over and see what he could do  with it. After a quick optical test, it soon developed into open-heart surgery. I can tell you that my heart was certainly beating a lot faster as the scope was rapidly stripped down further and further. Soon there was just an array of components spread out on Es’ dining room floor.

 

I was beginning to wonder if I would ever have a functioning telescope.

But, having placed my trust in Es, he continued to tweak things, tightening the focuser, removing as much mirror-flop as possible. He placed spaces between the mirror and the focuser bracket to remove a bit of play there. The secondary mirror also rotated on the corrector plate, so a strategically placed piece of cement locked that. Then it was a case of cleaning the corrector plate, and methodically putting it all back together. My heart rate slowly went back to normal, heaving a big sigh of relief when it once again it looked like a piece of equipment that might just about be able to function as a telescope. Now all we needed to do was get it collimated.

Just to add, the day visiting Ed was also a very pleasant experience. As well as the hard work, he took a bit of time off with us sitting chatting astronomy in his garden supping tea. An absolutely marvellous way to spend the day.

Es then put the scope back on his optical bench ready for collimation. After quite a few nervous tweaks of the secondary, it was done! Es was confident that the scope should now be as good as, if not better, than when it left the factory. So I drove home very expectantly, but it was another day before I got the chance to test it out.

So the result now in is that this is a great scope. Lots of detail visible on Jupiter. Great lunar imaging, although the turbulent atmosphere during this hot weather is trying its best to stop me getting real quality images.

It is also going to take me a while to get the work flow right for imaging using this scope and camera. The images below were taken with my ZWO ASI120 MC camera at prime focus on the 24th of June. This is showing lots of promise and as soon as I can get on Mars (At my current address, it is still behind the neighbours house) I hope to be able to get some images of that as well.

Cure No. 6.
And the money I saved on the C11 for my observatory budget, I have just invested in an Altair Hypercam camera. But I think I’ll leave that for another blog entry later, once I’ve had a proper chance to test it out properly when we’ve moved.

Summer Time Blues?
With this flipping lot going on, not on your Nelly!!

Three images of Jupiter, showing transit of Io and shadow.

Jupiter And Saturn.

 

 

 

 

Kings Lynn Astronomical Society – 25th June 2018

@Flat_Tim, Buzz and I will be out presenting once again on Monday the 25th of June
This time it’s a re-visit to Kings Lynn and District Astronomical Society.

Once again, it will be our ever popular audience-participation evening:
“Celebrate Tim Peake’s Principia Mission”.

CelebrateTim

I am looking forward to meeting up with them again and like all my other visits out with this presentation, I’m really looking forward to having a lot of fun with them during the audience-participation bits.

I’m sure that, like the other groups I have taken this presentation to, that they will really enjoy the fun evening I have got planned for them.

I wonder how keen they will be compared to the other groups about having their selfies taken with @Flat_Tim at the end of the evening.

All are very welcome, especially kids, as this presentation is aimed at any age group from 10 to 110.

So if you are in the area, come along and say “Hello”.

Meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Venue:
Tottenhill & Wormegay Village Hall,
57 Whin Common Road
Tottenhill,
Norfolk
PE33 0RS

 

Click this link for details about Kings Lynn Astronomical Society.

Peterborough Astronomical Society – 7th June 2018

On Thursday the 7th of June I will be re-visiting my old friends
Peterborough Astronomical Society on an emergency visit to give them my new presentation,  Why The Universe Doesn’t give a Fig About You.
This talks about the unlikely circumstances of life on Earth developing and the prevalent conditions in the universe that make our very existence extremely precarious.

I am looking forward to catching up with them all again and showing them just how insignificant we all are and how totally irrelevant our puny existence is to our Universe.

Meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Venue:
Sacrewell Farm & Country Center,
Thornhaugh,
Peterborough,
PE8 6HJ

Saturn Reaches Opposition

 
On the 27th of June Saturn reaches opposition, adding to the plethora of planets and asteroids currently at their best. Pity most of them are so low down.
Unfortunately, this will be the case for a good number of years yet.

The rings at this time are widely presented towards the Earth, making a spectacular sight in any size telescope. The two webcam images above I took in 2004 and 2007, show the tilt of the rings as they were starting to close.
The rings were last edge-on in 2009.
Since last year, the rings have started to slowly close again and they will once-again be edge-on in 2025.

While looking at the rings, also have a look for some of Saturn’s many Moons.
Titan will be the most obvious to see as it is so bright.

I took the image below in July 2015.
The moons as identified are labelled with their magnitude given for the day of opposition:
T – Titan. Mag. +8.5.
I – Iapetus. Mag. +11.3.
R – Rhea. Mag. +9.9.
Te – Tethys. +10.4
E – Enceladus. +11.9
D- Dione. Mag. +10.6
Mimas (Not Captured). Mag.+13.1

Don’t forget to also look out for any cloud features on the planet.
Saturn has a system of bright zones and dark belts just like Jupiter, but a haze at the top of the atmosphere tends to soften this, making them more difficult to see. Keep a look out for any white spots (Storms) that may be visible amongst the clouds.

One notable effect that happens as opposition approaches, the rings of Saturn start to become much brighter. This Seeliger Effect is caused by the ring particles not casting shadows on one another, due to the angle of the Sun to us on Earth viewing the planet. The brightness increase should occur a couple of weeks either side of the date of opposition.

This is shown quite nicely by Christopher Go’s images of Saturn shown below.
Click here or on the image below for more details about this effect.

 

This phenomena is so pronounced at times that the brightening of the planet can even be quite obvious to the naked eye observer.

So, while it is still at its best, get out and have a look at the glorious Lord Of The Rings.

Mars Opposition 2018

The excitement is definitely building.
Mars, the red planet, is coming to opposition on the 27th of July.
And who doesn’t love looking at Mars?

Due to its close proximity to Earth, one more planet away from the Sun, it only comes to opposition every two years. This is the time when Mars (and all the other outer planets) are seen at their best, as they are then at their closest to Earth.

Unfortunately, for those of us in the UK, (or anywhere further north) although this is one of the best oppositions for quite a while, when Mars is even closer than recent previous encounters, therefore its apparent size being much bigger, it is going to be very low down in the southern sky at this time. This means that the Earth’s atmosphere will do its very best to prevent us from seeing some of the smallest detail on the disk.

This isn’t helped by Mars being quite small anyway. As Earth and Mars app approach one another over the next few weeks, the apparent size of the disk grow very quickly as shown in the diagram below. The date in yellow is the day of opposition. Diagram created using Stellarium.


Below is Damien Peach’s spectacular images taken over the past few weeks showing how much Mars has already grown so far this year. Just WOW!!!
Click here or on the image to see his well-deserved APOD entry.

Make the most of any opportunity to observe the planet for a few weeks either side of opposition as possible, to see as much of the disk as you can, while it is big, bold and easier to view.

At opposition the planet will look very bright at magnitude -2.8 and will look extremely red to the naked eye.

See if you can spot the two moos, Phobos and Deimos at this time. Theoretically, they “should” be relatively easy to spot at magnitudes 10.5 and 11.5 respectively. However, as they are orbiting very close to their bright parent, they are often lost in the bright glare.
Click here to read a Sky & Telescope article for more details about how this can be achieved.

Don’t forget Mars’ rotation period is very similar to the Earth’s, so don’t think you can go out at the same time the next night and see a different part of the disk, as only very small  different portion of the disk will have rotated into view.

Have Fun.

The map below shows the retrograde loop performed by Mars in Capricornus from now until the end of October. Click on the map for a bigger view.

Vesta Reaches Opposition

The asteroid Vesta reaches opposition in Ophiuchus on the 19th of June.

This asteroid was explored by the Dawn Spacecraft between 2011 and 2012, before going on to explore Ceres.

Its current eastwards retrograde movement takes it just south of the open star cluster M23 on the 14th of June.

Its maximum magnitude is about +5.3 at it’s brightest means that it is (theoretically, at least) a naked eye object.

Failing that, binoculars or a small telescope should help you identify this asteroid against the background stars. Its movement over a day or so should reveal its non-stellar nature.

Make a sketch of the star field or take a picture of its position a day or so either side of each other to reveal the asteroids movement.

Happy Hunting.

The map below shows the path during June and July.
Position shown at 1 day intervals.
(Click on map for bigger version).