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.

Sacrewell Farm & Country Center,

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).

Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner

Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner is now starting to approach Earth.

Click here to download this Observing Guide as a free PDF.

Discovered in 1990, this comet has a 6.5 year period.

The comet is currently moving through the stars of Cygnus and is currently a faint 11th magnitude, but could potentially reach naked eye visibility in September. It also passes a few bright deep sky objects in its travels.

On the 21st of June it’s the turn of The North American Nebula, also passing the open star cluster M39 towards the end of June.

All maps show the position of the comet at 0h UT on the dates shown.
Click on the maps to enlarge.

Through July, 21P moved into Cepheus, so will be a circumpolar object, always above the horizon, increasing in brightness all the time.

By August, the comet moves past Cassiopeia and Camelopardalis, as it continues to brighten. The comets apparent speed is now picking up as it approaches the Earth.

On the 3rd of September, the comet will pass very close to the 1st magnitude star Capella in Auriga, making it easier to find as it heads into the Winter constellations.

Now visible in the morning sky, it passes the following objects on the following dates:

8th September – Open Cluster M38.
9th September – Open Cluster M36.
10th September – Open Cluster M37.
15th September – Open Cluster M35 (Passing Right across the cluster).

The comet will be closest to Earth and at perihelion around this time and should be at its brightest around 6th or 7th magnitude. Don’t forget, comets are notoriously unpredictable and can often surprise us, by being brighter than expected, or let us down (yet again!).
The comet then heads southwards, passing through Monoceros.

24th /25th September – Hubbles Variable Nebula (NGC2261) and The Christmas Tree Cluster (NGC 2264.
26th / 27th September – The Rosette Nebula.

By October, the comet is now getting low down in the morning sky and fading, but as a final curtain call it passes the bright open cluster M50 on the 7th/8th of October. At this time it will only be 30° above the southern horizon just before dawn. If you are up that early to catch the comet on that morning, watch for the very thin crescent Moon rising in the eastern sky as dawn approaches.

By the middle of October the comet has faded even more, passing to the east of Sirius and slowing down as the distance from Earth increases. How long can you keep watching Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner as it fades?

Aylesbury Astronomical Society – Monday 4th June

@Flat_Tim, Buzz and I will be out presenting once again on Monday the 4th of June
This time it’s a visit to a new society Aylesbury Astronomical Society
Once again, it will be our ever popular audience-participation evening:
“Celebrate Tim Peake’s Principia Mission”.


I am looking forward to meeting up with a new group of astronomy enthusiasts.

Like all my other visits out with this presentation, I’m really looking forward to having a lot of fun with them all 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.

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

Meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Venue: 9th Aylesbury Scout Hut, Oakfield Rd, Aylesbury HP20 1LL, UK

For details about Aylesbury Astronomical Society, click this link.

Creating a Solar Animation

On Sunday the 20th of April, I set the scope up to do some solar imaging.

There was a nice trio of prominences on edge of the disk the day before, so I thought these may have shown some nice changes since then.

One had faded completely, but there appeared to be quite a bit of detail in the remaining two. As I started to take images, I could see some rapid changes in their shapes, even during the short duration of the video capture. It immediately struck me that these features might make a nice solar animation if a series of images were taken over a period of time. The quick process shown below bore that assumption out, showing quite a lot of detail.

So starting at 07:23 am GMT I captured a 60 second avi.
I then re-centred the image and repeated the process over and over again.
I finally finished at 10:06 am GMT, a mega two and a half hour marathon.

As a result I ended up with saving 109 videos.

Then the fun really began.
I processed each captured avi with Autostakkert! to create a single image from each one.
I then sharpened each image, using Registax.
Using Photoshop I sharpened each one again, with further processing to reveal some of the fainter details.

Once this was accomplished, I loaded all the images into a single stack.
I then painstakingly aligned each layer with the one below.
One I was happy this was achieved as well as possible, I created a timeline to scroll through the images to create the time-lapse.
A few more tweaks were required to make sure that this was as smooth as possible.

When I was happy, I then exported the layers as an animated GIF.
This whole process took me more-or-less the whole day.
I’m never going to get that day back.

But BOY, as you can see below, it was definitely worthwhile making the effort.
The seeing was a bit iffy in a few of the images, but the activity can easily be seen.

Photoshop Astrophotography Image Processing Guide.

Following on from the success of Photoshop hands-on workshops, my full guide to Photoshop image processing techniques is now available to order.

Star-Gazing Guide to Photoshop Astrophotography Image Processing.

My step-by-step guide covers the following Photoshop Tools:
Curves, Levels, Light Pollution Removal, Layers, Colour Saturation, as well as Layer Masking and Unsharp Masking.

£8:50, plus £1:50 Postage and packing.

Click the Paypal Button below to order your printed copy.


(Please contact me before ordering if out of the UK for postage costs).

Or click here to buy on Kindle from Amazon.

My guide shows, in easy to follow step-by-step workflows, how to use Photoshop in as simple a way as possible to get the best out of your astrophotos.

The workflows shown include:

Curves. – To stretch the image to reveal the faint data.

Levels. – Similar to the above, and to help balance the image.

Layers. – Using layers to build up an image, and the use of luminosity Layers.

Saturation. – Revealing colour from within images.

Plug-ins. – Some free and paid for plug-ins that are definitely worth-while investing in and will help get the very best out of astronomy images.

This latest edition has also been updated to include details of:

Layer Masking. – Using a layer mask to prevent the bright areas of objects from becoming over-exposed as the image is stretched.

Unsharp Masking. – Using an unsharp mask to reveal more detail within the objects captured.

All the images that have been used in this guide can be downloaded from my Web site.

Following the instructions within this guide will soon get the keen astrophotographer on their way to producing stunning astrophotos.

Learn how to manipulate a stacked image that looks something like this:

Picture saved with settings embedded.

…into something that looks more like this:

Picture saved with settings embedded.

£8:50, plus £1:50 Postage and packing.

Click the Paypal Button below to order your printed copy.


Solent Amateur Astronomers. Tuesday 15th May.

On Tuesday the 15th of May I will making my very first visit to
Solent Amateur Astronomers to present:

Rosetta & Philae: From Concept To Reality


My second favourite presentation includes the conclusion of this spectacular mission to Comet 67P – Churyumov-Gerasimenko, right down to its final image and some of the latest findings to be published.

There is also, courtesy of Dr Colin Snodgrass from the Open University, a chance for the audience to sniff Comet 67P.  I will collecting opinions on what the audience think it smells like.

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

I’m really looking forward to meeting up with a new group.

Meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Oasis Academy,
Romsey Rd,
SO16 8FA