Comet 46P / Wirtanen at it’s best.

Comet 46P/ Wirtanen is at it’s closest to Earth this weekend.

It’s supposed to be naked eye, but I’ve so far failed to see it without optical aid. It is now easily visible in 10×50 binoculars. The Coma is a bit bigger than the apparent size of the full Moon. In 15×70 binoculars the full extent of the coma can be seen and it is HUGE!

Despite what the popular media say, it’s not going to be spectacular, or dazzling.
This weekend it will be conveniently located smack bang between the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters in Taurus, so will be fairly high up in the sky late evening.

To make the most of this opportunity to see it before the Moon gets even brighter, free maps of it’s position are available to download from my Web site:

http://www.star-gazing.co.uk/WebPage/comet-46p

Enjoy!

Dave

Comet 46P – 13th December 2018.
72mm refractor and Nikon D750 DSLR.

 

 

Pre-Christmas Comet fun

So! Comet 46P / Wirtanen (The original target of the Rosetta and Philae mission) is huge!

It’s apparent size is a little over 1°, making it larger than the apparent size of The Moon (or Sun).

It is also supposedly bright enough to be a naked eye object.
But being so big, it’s light is spread out over a wide area of sky, making it a bit more difficult to make out, especially if you have some light pollution, like me.

It’s not visible from my location with the naked eye, but it is just about visible in my 10×50 finder scope. Very extensive and faint, a bit like Messier 33 in Triangulum.

A pair of 15×70 binoculars really do it more justice, showing it much brighter and just how extensive the coma reaches out from the pseudo nucleus.

Here’s an image I took on the 9th of December.

Using the subs I took, I also made an animation showing the movement of the comet during the duration of the imaging session.

Travelling northwards (that makes a change!), 46P will at its brightest on the 17th of December.
At this time it will be located between The Hyades & The Pleiades in Taurus, so will be very easy to find.

Click here to download my guide for Comet 46P.

How big is the Coma? I have made a composite image showing the Comet against M42, The Orion Nebula. Both images taken with the same setup on the 8th of December.

While I was in the area, I wanted to do some more comet fun, so I wandered up to catch Comet 64P / Swift-Gehrels, which was just starting to cut across the constellation of Triangulum that evening.
It’s a lot smaller and fainter, at about 10th magnitude, but is still showing up very nicely in the image.

Just before I finished, I pointed the telescope towards Mars so I could capture Neptune close to it before they move too far apart from one another. Here’s the result.

All images taken using a 72mm refractor and a Nikon D750 DSLR.

Comet 64P’s path for November and December is below.
(Click on the map for a bigger view)

For a black on white printable version, Click Here.

 

Sky Diary for December 2018

My free monthly sky diary for December 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.

I also have the sky diary to share which is available on Google calendars.
Click here to go to my Google calendar.

My guide to viewing Comet 46P Wirtanan, which is now a naked eye object and at its best this month, is also available here:
http://www.star-gazing.co.uk/WebPage/comet-46p

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

North Essex Astronomical Society – 21st November 2018

On Wednesday the 21st of November the Flat Tim fun and games for all ages roadshow will be out once again for my very last evening presentation of the year.

This time it’s another visit to my very good friends at North Essex Astronomical Society.

I shall be inflicting on them my ever popular audience-participation presentation:
“Celebrate Tim Peake’s Principia Mission”.

CelebrateTim

I am looking forward to meeting up with this group again and catching up with some very good friends.

Like all my other visits out with this presentation, I’m really looking forward to having a lot of fun with this lot during the audience participation bits. I am sure that, like the other groups I have taken this presentation to, they will really enjoy the fun evening @Flat_Tim and I have planned.

All are very welcome, especially kids, as this presentation is aimed at all kids with any level of knowledge, at all ages from 10 – 110.
So bring along your children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents to find out what Tim got up to during his 6-month stay in The International Space Station.

Just come along enjoy the presentation and say “Hello”.
If not to me, then to @Flat_Tim.

I wonder how keen these folks will be compared to some of the other groups about having their selfies taken with him at the end of the evening for me to stick on social media. I can’t wait to find out.

If you can’t make any of my Tim Peake talks, or don’t want to, just make sure that you visit Cardiff to see the Soyuz capsule (TMA-19M) and Sokol KV-2 space suit.
These are currently on display at The National Museum in Cardiff until the 10th of February. Click this link for more details.

There is also a virtual reality space descent simulator which I can tell you is absolutely brilliant.
Click here to see details of Tim’s Soyuz capsule tour.

The Capsule and suit will eventually land back at The London Science Museum next year.

The meeting starts at 8:00pm.

Venue:
Henry Dixon Hall
Henry Dixon Rd
Rivenhall
Witham
CM8 3HR

Anyone is welcome – beginner or expert – and there is no need to pre-book.
A small charge applies to help us cover costs (typically £3 for non-members; £2 for members; U16s free).
Doors open at 7.30pm with the talk starting at 8.00pm.

Note that if you are using satnav system, this postcode may not take you directly to the hall – please check this Google Maps link if you aren’t sure:
http://g.co/maps/kt88j 

Wolverhampton Astronomical Society – Monday 19th November

On Monday the 19th of November I will be once again visiting Wolverhampton Astronomical Society.

I will be taking them on a wild ride, touring from The Earth out to the very edge of our observable universe, hitch-hiking on a ray of light.

Appropriately, the presentation is entitled:
A Whistle-Stop Tour of the Universe (Hitch-Hiking on a Ray of Light).

HitchHiking

So let’s hope that they all strap themselves in and brace themselves for a journey that really is out of this world.
Of course, it’s just a really fantastic excuse to show lots of beautiful images of our wonderful universe.
Unfortunately, Flat Tim won’t be attending!

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

Wolverhampton AS’ meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Venue:
Highfields Environmental Centre,
Boundary Way,
Penn

Wolverhampton,
WV4 4NT 

+ Google Map

 

Comet 38P – Stephan-Oterma

Comet 38P – Stephan-Oterma

Click here to download a printable pdf version of this page.

This period comet was discovered in 1867, by two observers in Marseilles Observatory.

It orbits The Sun in a 38 year orbit, moving out beyond the orbit of Uranus at Aphelion, perihelion at about the same distance from The Sun as Mars.

This comet reaches perihelion early this month, and will pass about 0.8 Astronomical Units (~74,000,000 miles) from Earth, reaching peak brightness around the 23rd of November.

The comet is currently (8th November 2018) about +10th magnitude but brightening slowly.

It could reach a maximum brightness of +9.5 on the 23rd of November.

The comet is moving in a wide arc just below Gemini, heading north-eastwards towards Lynx by the end of the year. By this time, it will have faded considerably.

Use the map at the bottom of this blog entry to find the comet.

Being so far north, it will be visible for the duration of its apparition.

It certainly won’t be as bright as Comet 46P, which should be very bright in December and is the subject of a separate blog entry:
http://www.star-gazing.co.uk/WebPage/comet-46p

Click here to download a printable pdf version of this page.

 

Path of comet 38P during January.

 

Aylesbury Astronomical Society – Monday 12th November.

On Monday the 12th of November,  will revisiting Aylesbury Astronomical Society to present:

Rosetta & Philae: From Concept To Reality

RosettaTalk

It’s been a while since I last did this presentation which now includes the conclusion of this spectacular mission to Comet 67P – Churyumov-Gerasimenko, right down to its final image before it “crash” landed on the comet’s nucleus, plus some of the latest findings that have recently been published.

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

Thanks to a 3D printed model, they can also get a really good feel for what the comet looks like.

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

I’m really looking forward to catching up with this group again.

Meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Venue:
9th Aylesbury Scout Hut,
Oakfield Road.
Aylesbury
HP20 1LJ

Loughton 50th Anniversary – Saturday 10th November 2018

This Saturday Loughton Astronomical Society will be holding its 50th Anniversary Astronomy Festival in Theydon Bois, Essex. The day is split into two parts: A family morning with a 60-seater planetarium and an afternoon of talks for the seasoned astronomers. A number of trade stands will be in attendance.

I will be there selling my books and getting people to feel and sniff Comet 67P.

Venue:
Village Hall,
Coppice Row,
Theydon Bois,
Essex.
CM16 7ER

 

Sky Diary for November 2018

My free monthly sky diary for November 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.

I also have the sky diary to share which is available 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.

A nice evening (and day) of Observing. 22nd October 2018.

The day was bright and clear. The Sun was shining and it looked like it would be a good evening to eventually try and capture a reasonable image of Mars, and do some lunar imaging before it got too full as well. In the end it turned out to be a very productive night (and day).

More of my images are on my Flickr Site:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/eagleseyeonthesky

I was quite busy that day, (life seems to have picked up big time since I “retired”, but I’m certainly not complaining), but after making the regular trip to the post office to send out some books, on the way back I decided to get the scope out that afternoon to see if I could capture Venus in the bright daylight sky. It was only 4 days before the planet reached inferior conjunction (27th October). At the time I was hunting it down, it was just 9° from the Sun, and only about 14° above my horizon.

It was certainly going to be a challenge. Luckily towards the South, there is a gap between the neighbours houses, so I had a bit of a chance. I put the 120mm Evostar refractor onto the mount and centred it on The Sun. Once I knew the light from the Sun was passing centrally through the scope, using the computer, I calibrated the mounts position on the Sun. I then sent the scope to the position of Venus. It took me quite a while to get the scope focused (as I hadn’t viewed the Sun directly) and Venus centred, but when I did, a wonderfully thin crescent presented itself, bubbling and bouncing away in the afternoon atmospheric turbulence. It was extremely bright and so beautiful to see.

After viewing for a short time, I attached my DSLR and captured a few images of Venus, to make sure I bagged at least one image.

Single DSLR Image of Venus. 120mm Evostar refractor.

Once happy I had captured a couple of acceptable images, I removed the camera and attached my ZWO ASIU120MC camera to try and take a better image. Getting the planet focused and centred on the camera chip again was even more challenging. But finally I managed to get the crescent in focus and processed to capture some avi’s. About an hour after I started, I watched as Venus slowly disappeared behind my neighbours house.

Processed avi image of Venus. 120mm Evostar refractor, ZWO ASIU120MC camera.

True to the weather forecast, for once, later in the day the skies stayed clear as the sky darkened. I set myself up near the house, so that I could get on Mars as soon as it got dark. I would have to wait until later when it passed through that gap, had I stayed where the pier is set.
I set my Celestron C11 on the mount and took a number of AVI’s of Mars.

Mars – C11 and ZWO ASIU120MC camera.

This is about the best image I could manage, given the small size of the disk and very wobbly seeing just above the neighbours roof.

By the time I finished on Mars, The Moon was now quite high in the sky, so then concentrated my efforts on imaging that. Despite a large, bright gibbous phase, some nice features were picked out nicely along the terminator.

The very bright crater Aristarchus and Schroter’s Valley.

Craters Pythagoras and Babbage . 

Image may contain: night and outdoor

Lunar Swirl Reiner Gamma and craters Hevelius and Cavalerius.

Bright ejecta rays around crater Kepler.

Colour saturated ejecta rays around crater Tycho.

Luton Astronomical Society – 25th October 2018

On Tuesday the 25th of October, I will be re-visiting Luton Astronomical Society

This time I will be presenting COMETS: Enigmatic and Beautiful Visitors.


I will be showing at what comets have done to intrigue, terrify and inspire people throughout history.

I will also be looking at what we learnt from all the hype surrounding the apparition of Comet ISON and it’s demise as it passed perihelion as we awaited our long awaited “Comet of the Century!”.

I will also be looking forward to the prospects for incoming Comet 46P/ Wirtanen, which could become a naked eye comet this December.

Luton Astronomical Society meet at:

Putteridge Bury Conference Centre.
Hitchin Road,
Luton
Bedfordshire
LU2 8LE

The meeting starts at 7:30pm.
So if you’re in the area, pop along and say “Hello”.

Rugby & District Astronomical Society – 21st October.

On Sunday the 21st of October the Flat Tim fun and games for all ages roadshow will be out yet again.

This time it’s another visit to my friends at Rugby & District Astronomical Society.

I’ll be bringing them my ever popular audience participation presentation:
“Celebrate Tim Peake’s Principia Mission”.

CelebrateTim

I am looking forward to meeting up with this group again.

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, they will really enjoy the fun evening @Flat_Tim and I have planned.

All are very welcome, especially kids, as this presentation is aimed at anybody with any level of knowledge, for all ages from 10 – 110.
So bring along your children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents.

Just come along enjoy the presentation and say “Hello”.
If not to me, then to @Flat_Tim.

I wonder how keen they will be compared to some of the other groups about having their selfies taken with him at the end of the evening for me to stick on social media. We’ll soon find out.

Tim’s Soyuz capsule is currently on display at Peterborough Cathedral until the 5th of November. Click this link for more details.
If you can’t make any of my Tim Peake talks, make sure that you visit the Cathedral to see the Soyuz capsule (TMA-19M) and Sokol KV-2 space suit.
There is also a virtual reality space descent simulator which I can tell you is absolutely brilliant. It goes on display in Cardiff from the 15th of November.
Click here to see details of Tim’s Soyuz capsule tour.

The meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Venue:
Church Lawford Village Hall,
School Street,
Church Lawford,
Warwickshire.
CV23 9EE

Click the Google Map link below for more details:
https://www.google.com/maps?ll=52.383449,-1.341121&z=16&t=h&hl=en&gl=US&mapclient=embed&q=52%C2%B023%2700.4%22N+1%C2%B020%2728.0%22W@52.383449,-1.341121

Comet 46P/Wirtanen – Naked Eye this December?

Comet 46P/Wirtanen is getting brighter, and heading northwards.
Now Naked Eye (Apparently!).

Comet 46P taken from home – 13th December 2018.
72mm Altair refractor and Nikon D750 DSLR.

Click this link to download a printable version of the information on this Web page.

This periodic comet is going to reach perihelion, (closest to the Sun), and closest to The Earth (only 7,220,000 miles distant) and at its brightest on the 16th of December.

At this time it is predicted to be around 3rd magnitude and close to the Pleiades Star Cluster. If the prediction turn out to be correct (How often are they?), the comet could easily become an easy naked eye object around this time.

Comet 46P has an orbital period of 5.4 years and the solid nucleus has a diameter of about 1.2 km.

Comet 46P was the original target for the Rosetta and Philae mission.
The target was changed to Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko when the launch of Rosetta was delayed after the Ariane rocket failure in 1996.

Here are the circumstances of this years apparition.

You can follow progress on the Facebook Page dedicated to the comet:
https://www.facebook.com/46PWirtanen/

46P is currently in the constellation of Fornax, low down in the southern sky in the early around midnight. Currently about magnitude 10, it is challenging from the UK, being so far south.

It is currently heading south, but by the second week in November, it then starts heading north. From this point onward, it will start to pick up speed as the distance from the Sun and Earth decreases.

Path of Comet 46P during November and December 2018.
Click on the map for a better view.

By the first week of December, the comet is within the stars of Cetus and now moving even faster northwards, brightening all the time.
The Moon will be New on the 7th, so will be well out of the way at this time.

Path of Comet 46P during December.

The comet moves swiftly into Taurus mid-December and should now be starting to get very bright.

On the 16th of December, at the time of it’s brightest, at magnitude 3(?), it is nestled very nicely between the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters. We hope it will be a nice naked eye object at this time. The Moon will be a day after 1st Quarter at this time, so will be setting well before midnight, so should not disrupt the view once it sets.

Close up view of 46P’s path around Perihelion.

The comet continues to head northwards, into Auriga, passing through the triangular asterism of “The Kids” on the 22nd of December.
The Moon will unfortunately be full at this time, so will tend to wash out the comet.

It passes the first magnitude star Capella on the 23rd and 24th.
The gibbous Moon in the morning sky will now disrupt observations until the second week of December.

The comet’s apparent motion will have started to slow down a bit now and should have started to fade in brightness, but hey, post-perihelion, anything could happen…

By the end of the year, the comets pace has slowed right down and we find it within the constellation of Lynx.

Path of the comet during January and February 2019.

During January, the comet has slowed right down, faded considerably  and now starts a long slow loop as it moves into the head of Ursa Major.

Let’s hope that this comet lives up to all our expectations and gives us a great winter show.

Dave

 

 

 

 

Carolian Astronomical Society – 10th October 2018

On Wednesday the 10th of October there will be more Flat Tim fun and games for all ages.

This time it’s a re-visit to Carolian Astronomical Society in Kidderminster.

The title of the audience-participation presentation evening is my ever popular:
“Celebrate Tim Peake’s Principia Mission”.

CelebrateTim

I am looking forward to meeting up with this group again.

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, they will really enjoy the fun evening planned for them.

I wonder how keen they will be compared to some of 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 – 110. So bring your children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents along.

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

Tim’s Soyuz Capsule is currently on display at Peterborough Cathedral until the 5th of November. Click this link for more details.
So, if you can’t make any of my Tim Peake talks, make sure that you visit the Cathedral to see the Soyuz capsule (TMA-19M) and Sokol KV-2 space suit. There is also a virtual reality space descent simulator which I can tell you is highly enjoyable.

Meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Venue:
The Science Theatre,
King Charles School,
Comberton Road,
Kidderminster.
DY10 1XA

Walsall Astronomical Society – 4th October 2018

Tonight, (Thursday the 4th of October 2019) I will be once again visiting Walsall Astronomical Society. I will be taking them on a wild ride, touring from The Earth out to the very edge of our observable universe, hitch-hiking on a ray of light.

Appropriately, the presentation is entitled:
A Whistle-Stop Tour of the Universe (Hitch-Hiking on a Ray of Light).

HitchHiking

So let’s hope that they all strap themselves in and get ready for a journey that really is out of this world. (Of course, it’s really just a fantastic excuse to show lots of beautiful images of our wonderful universe). And no sign of Flat Tim!

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

Walsall AS’ meeting opens at 7:30pm for an 8:00pm start, at the following venue:

Rushall Olympic Football Club.
Dales Lane (off Bosty Lane).
Rushall.
Walsall.
WS4 1LJ

Taming my new Altair Hypercam.

A few months ago, I acquired a new camera, an Altair 183C Hypercam.
As the C would suggest, it is a one-shot colour camera.

Many years ago, I had experimented with a loaned one-shot colour camera, but technology then was much different to that on offer to us amateurs today. I found it very frustrating then, with a finicky way of processing the images. But surely technology has moved on? I thought I would have a relatively easy ride with this newer camera. I’ve already got a great image processing workflow, that really works, so of course I know what I’m doing, what could possibly go wrong?

Click here to read the blog describing my camera frustrations.

The camera was really sensitive, showing really faint stars. Planetary imaging was perfect, but whatever I did, despite seeing colour on the screen, once processed my deep sky and comet images frustratingly always turned out monochrome once stacked. Where had that lovely colour gone I could see on the screen?

A few nights of fiddling with capture and processing software, I finally started to get it to reveal some colour. This may not be the best way of doing things, but it’s certainly a way I have found of finally getting the camera tamed. My technique will obviously change as I develop and adapt the technique further.

So below is what I did to get my camera up and running to produce colour images.

Capturing the images.

I was using SharpCap to capture my images, but that only seemed to confuse things. I will probably re-visit and get this back up and running once I know I’ve cracked things properly.

I reverted back to using the Altair Capture software for the camera. As people who attend my astrophotography workshops will know I always advocate the KISS Method. (Keeping It Simple Stupid). The simpler the better, just like me! So start back from the basics, taking baby steps before trying to run full steam ahead.

Once Altair Capture is opened, I selected Format as RGB.

Make sure that the image file format the software saves it is set to FITS.

I use the software using Trigger Mode to capture several images, one after another.
These subs will now be saved by the system as FITS files.

These FITS files will be stacked in Deep Sky Stacker.

Stacking the FITS images in Deep Sky Stacker (DSS).

To stack the images correctly, a change needs to be made within DDS.

From the left-hand menu, under Options, Settings, I selected RAW/FITS DDP Settings.

In the Window that opened, I clicked the FITS Tab.

I then adjusted the contents of the FITS Settings in this Window to match the diagram below:

Most of us know about the Bayer Matrix. This is a filter placed over the imaging chip, which filters the individual pixels, so only light passing through a particular filter reaches each pixel. There a three different colour, Red, Green and Blue (RGB). As the human eye is more sensitive within the green part of the spectrum, Bayer Matrices are designed so ½ of the pixels are green filtered and ¼ each for Red and Blue. Without the Bayer Matrix in place above the imaging chip, a once-shot colour camera cannot produce colour images.

It may come as no surprise that there is not a consistent Bayer Matrix built into all cameras. They come in a variety of combinations. I have found that Generic RGGB is the one used by the Hypercam.

I made sure that Generic RGGB was selected from the drop-down menu.

I clicked Apply, then OK.

Deep Sky Stacker was now able to stack the FITS images and produce the correct colour balance.

Problems with registering Stars in DSS.

Just another matter I noticed that you may affect the stacking process, if taking quick images in less than ideal hazy or bright sky conditions.

I found that a number of images had difficulty stacking.
There appeared to be lots of stars registered, but when the final image was stacked the stars were not stacked at all.
The resulting image was a complete mess, as shown below:

This gave me yet another round of head-scratching. DSS has ALWAYS been so reliable. When registering the images in DSS and using the Star Detection Threshold, I noticed that these images showed a ridiculously high number of stars when 2% threshold was used. Adjusting the threshold to a higher % setting had no effect on the number of stars, until it reached a very high percentage, when the star number suddenly dropped to nothing, over a single percent change.

Clicking the comet button in DSS, I could see that lots of stars were shown where there were none. Due to the hazy, light polluted sky and the short exposures, resulting in low signal levels, DSS was adding stars where there were none, effectively a lot of the background noise was being marked as the position of a star. So Deep Sky Stacker was stacking on noise in each image, not the stars.

I managed to get these images stacked by using the comet stacking method. I marked a real star as a position of a comet in each image prior to stacking them. This ensured the stars themselves were registered correctly.

Now the dark nights are here, and I’ll have more time to get out there and try more imaging, hopefully it won’t be long before I finally round the top of this new steep learning curve. I’ll then, once again, be back onto more familiar territory and be sent merrily back on my way happily imaging in one-shot colour.

Once I’m happy with this setup, I’ll then go back to Sharpcap to make sure that I get the most from my Pro license.

Of course, I’m always happy to learn from other people’s experience, so if you have a great workflow for the Altair 183C Hypercam, and know a better way of doing all of this, please let me know.

Dave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sky Diary for October 2018

My free monthly sky diary for October 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.

I also have a sky diary 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.

 

Getting to grips with new gear.

You would think with running my imaging workshops, I knew a lot about astrophotography. Well, I think I do, but there’s nothing like getting a new piece of gear to bring you down a peg or two. You suddenly realise that despite all that knowledge packed in that old noddle, there’s still a flipping heck of a lot more you really don’t know anything at all about.

After purchasing the C11, I still had enough in my observatory pot to purchase a one-shot colour camera. Tri-colour imaging with a mono camera is great, but, let’s face it, it’s a real faff. A lot of the time you want something quicker and easier.

Having played with an Altair 183C Hypercam last year, and processed some images with it, this seemed to fit the bill quite nicely. It was very sensitive, easy to use and more importantly was reasonably affordable, and well within my budget.

So having made my decision, the purchase was made and I received this very nice looking camera. Trouble is, after it arrived, our house move very quickly descended upon us. Apart from a few Jupiter and Saturn images using the C11, which were extremely successful, the camera quickly went onto the back burner.

After moving, it took quite a number of weeks before I finally got my telescope pier installed. In the few times that circumstances and the weather actually allowed me to get out to experiment, I very quickly got extremely frustrated with the camera. Imaging with it, this time was really challenging. Stacking images was a nightmare. Could I get any colour in my images? No way! There was obviously much more to take into account when operating this camera than I had anticipated.

Comet 21P and The Dumbbell Nebula, but in only produced monochrome images when stacked. So frustrating. Whatever file format I used, it made no difference to the result.

Hours of Googling and trawling the astronomy forums gave me some snippets of what I might have been doing wrong. But there were no real solutions or tried and trusted workflows written out to help someone new like me to getting this camera up and running successfully.
I will be writing my own guide as soon as I get a chance, so watch this space.
(I’ll add the link to my guide here when I’ve done it).

So it was still going to be a case of lots of trial and error and that familiar steep learning curve, we all love so much.

First red herring was that you get a years Pro license for Sharpcap with the camera.
So I was using this to take my images.

I have since reverted back to the Altair Capture software. Simplifying this capture process now appears to be doing the trick. I’ll re-visit Sharpcap once I’m happy the camera is working as expected. I also found that I had to make some changes in Deep Sky Stacker so it handles the FITS files produced by the camera correctly and recognises the correct Bayer matrix to produce colour images.

on the 17th of September, I got back from my talk at Retford. Despite the skies having a lot of clag in the air, (the Milky Way was almost non-existent), as I had thought I had got my head around things, I decided the time was right to get out and see if I could produce some reasonable colour images.

And boy, this time the camera didn’t disappoint. Despite the bright sky background, some very faint stars were visible in the individual subs, and only 40 seconds exposure (I haven’t got my auto-guiding set back up again at this stage).

Later I found a problem registering the stars when I came to stack the images. This again was caused by the hazy background and the images being stacked on noise, rather than stars.
I finally gave up just after 3am, when thick clouds came over and hid things completely. It was nice to see Orion rising and catch up with Comet 21P, now in Gemini, again since Kelling.

Below are some of the results from that night.
If you want to see more images taken that night, go to my Flickr Site:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/eagleseyeonthesky

Now I just can’t wait for The Moon to get out of the way, so I can see just what this camera is really capable of.

NGC 7331 and the Deer Lick Group in Pegasus.

The nearby Stephans Quintet in Pegasus.

Comet 21P.

M42, The Great Orion Nebula.
Composite image of 3 separate images produced from 3 different sub-exposures.
10, 20 and 30 second.

 

Coventry and Warwicks Astronomical Society

On Friday the 14th of September I will be once again re-visiting Coventry and Warwicks Astronomical Society.

This time I will be presenting The History of Manned Space Flight, The Space Race, between The USA and Russia, which resulted in the magnificent Apollo lunar landings between 1969 and 1972.

I am really looking forward to seeing them all again.

Their meetings start at 7:15pm.

Venue:
Earlsdon Methodist Church Hall,
Earlsdon Road South,
Earlsdon,
Coventry,
CV5 6NF

Kelling Skycamp Beckons

The darker skies of Kelling Heath and Loughton Astronomical Society’s annual Autumn Kelling Skycamp are calling.

Well, it is that time of year once again.

Towards the end of this week, and over this weekend, for the main event, hundreds of astronomical-minded folks will be gathering in North Norfolk at this much anticipated annual event. I feel that Kelling starts the years observing season off with a real bang.

It’s a great sociable event, so don’t let the current weather cloud forecast put you from coming along. If it does clear, there’s the chance to see some really dark skies, and look through some huge telescopes people bring along. Or just sit outside the tent with a glass (or a hot cuppa) in your hand and sit underneath the stars and take it all in.

I’ll look forward once again catching up with some of my very good friends and if you’re coming along, come and find me to say “Hello”.

I might even have some of my books with me to sell too. 😉

So, here’s to another great weekend of astronomy (With a fair bit of socialising added in).

Dave

Sky Diary for September 2018

My free monthly sky diary for September 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.

I also have a sky diary 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.

FAS Convention – 22nd September 2018

The Federation of Astronomical Societies is holding it’s annual AGM and convention.
Click on the white text above for more details.

This year it is being held at The University of York on the 22nd of September.

Starting at 9:00am after a short AGM, a whole day of astronomy goodness awaits.

There’s a great line up of speakers for the day:

  • Prof. Mike Cruise – The Gravitational Sky.
  • Prof. Katherine Blundell OBE – Black holes and spin-offs.
  • Prof. Brad Gibson – How the Universe will end…
  • Charles Barclay – Reaching for the Stars – Developing the British entry for the Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad.
  • Prof. Ian Robson – The Changing Scene in Astronomy.
  • Prof. John C. Brown OBE – Sun Plunging Comets (Hypersonic Snowballs in Hell).

There will also be a number of trade stands, including yours truly.
So come along, say “Hi” and feel and sniff comet 67P.

Tickets are £6 for members of Affiliated Astronomical Societies, or £8 if not.

Book your tickets for the FAS Convention by Clicking Here.

 

Imaging Moving Comets – Shorter Exposures Rule.

Imaging comets offers many challenges over deep sky objects.
Deep sky objects stay still relative to the stars, so as long as you are tracking the sky OK, they will show lots of details on long exposures. Comets are notoriously difficult, especially when they are approaching perihelion (the closest point to the Sun), when they are moving at their quickest in their orbit, or relatively close to Earth, when their perceived motion is at its greatest.

When these two circumstances coincide, the comet appears to be really shifting against the background stars from Earth. So unless the imagers telescope can be tracked on the comets motion, details in the comets tails or coma will quickly blur as the motion of the comet smears it across the image.

The animation below shows the motion of Comet 21P / Giacobini-Zinner on the 16th of August. Click here for my guide to viewing Comet 21P.
This was produced using 40 second subs, taken immediately after one another. You can quite clearly see how quickly this comet is shifting between each exposure.

There are ways and means around this to make sure that the image shows maximum detail. The computer can be set to follow a set track in the sky, or, if the comets pseudo-nucleus is bright enough, auto-guide on the comet itself.

When these techniques are used, images of the comet are superb.

Below are two images of Comet C/2013 US10 / Catalina I took on the morning of the 21st of December 2015. This was a very fast moving comet.

But not all imagers are as well advanced as this, or the comet isn’t bright enough to guide on. So how can they cope with this movement?

The answer lies in reducing the exposure of individual subs taken of the comet.

In really fast moving comets, like Comet Catalina above, despite the pseudo-nucleus in this case being bright enough to auto-guide on, the comets movement was so quick, that I had to keep each exposures below 15 seconds each, to prevent the comet blurring. Each sub-image was taken one after the other. I kept imaging the the comet for over two hours before the sky started to brighten as dawn approached.

You would have thought that catching over two hours of data would have given me a superb image when all these subs were stacked together. Not So!

Have a look at the two Catalina Images shown above again. These are stacks of images taken about an hour apart. Look at the detail in the straight ion tail, pointing towards the right hand side of the image. There is a disconnection event visible in the first image, and this “ripple” was seen to move down the ion tail over the two hours as shown in my animation below.


Had I stacked all the images over the two hours, any detail in the ion tail would have smudged itself out of existence and been completely lost, due to its movement. So to produce the individual images in this animation, I had to effectively stack a small selection of subs from different time frames throughout the imaging period to produce my final series of images.

So, the two key points to take away from this is:
If the comet is moving fast, and the comet is too faint to guide on, use short exposures to reduce the movement of the comet during each exposure.

If imaging the comet for an extended period, do not be tempted to stack all the images over that time as any detail will blur itself out.

You should then end up with something that starts looking something like this.
Comet C2014 Q2 / Lovejoy – 6th February 2015.

 

Trying something new…

So, we moved home on the 4th of July.
Much as I hate the way US traditions are infiltrating British culture, this date meant that due to us downsizing the house, we were no longer bounded by me having to go to work.
That day really was Independence Day for the Eagle household.

So after a frantic 6 and a bit weeks of having trades in the house, I have finally been able to get the “observatory” up and running.

After selling the dome, I had a set budget for my new setup. I would invest this money wisely, to try and upgrade some instrumentation, if possible.

So instead of a dome or roll-off roof, I opted to cement my pier in the chosen location in the garden and erect an off-the-shelf shed nearby, which would eventually have power connected to it. This reduced the costs of my new observing facilities significantly.

So, by making this change, as part of my upgrade, I managed to get a Celestron C11 at a very good cost, and still had enough left in the budget to purchase an Altair Astro 183C Hypercam.

So I’ve got a new camera. Not for the first time, I find myself once again on that very steep learning curve.
How does the camera work? What are the best settings to use?

On the evening of the 16th of August, the skies looked like they were going to be clear after a cold front went across bringing rain that morning. The pier was set up, so I ran an extension lead out for power and connected the computer to the mount. A quick port change and everything talked perfectly as if it had never moved from the observatory. As the sky started darkening, I took a quick look at the Moon, capturing a quick series of images using the Hypercam before it slipped behind the neighbours house.

Not bad considering the sky wasn’t even dark at this time and shows the field of view obtained with this camera when used with my 190 Mak-Newt.

As the sky darkened further I focussed on a bright star using the Bahtinov Mask. If you haven’t got one of these brilliant devices, how long does it take you to focus the camera properly? So first plan was to go capture a comet.

So, I slew the scope over to Comet 21P /Giacobini-Zinner, visible in the north eastern sky. This comet has been very bright lately, as it approaches perihelion.
Click here to read my guide to this apparition of Comet 21P.

I took quite a number of images saving as all different formats to see if I can tweak an image out. It was a real challenge. Initial images looked fine on the screen, but when I came to stack the images using my trusty software Deep Sky Stacker the images were blurred. The stars, despite many being detected, the images just would not stack.

I even went over to M13, a big bright object, to see if this would help.
The same thing happened.

I finally got tired and packed up at 1am.

So the next day, a few lengthy manual image processing sessions started to try and retrieve some images from all the data I had collected. The results are still monochrome, so there’s something I’m still not doing right.

Comet 21P – Subs manually stacked and processed in Photoshop.

M13 – Subs manually stacked and processed in Photoshop. (The Propeller is nicely visible).

I finally found 5x 40 second subs saved in FITS format that would stack correctly. Still no colour to speak of, but hey, it’s a start. Despite being only a total of just over 3 minutes integration time, there are some faint stars showing up there and some nice structure in the head of the comet. So the initial results are starting to show the potential of this camera.

Onwards and upward… Here’s to next time.

South West Astronomy Fair – 11th August 2018

I have the privilege of speaking at The South West Astronomy Fair this Saturday (11th August).
@Flat_Tim, Buzz and I will once again “Celebrate Tim Peake’s Principia Mission”, so there will be more fun and games for all ages.

CelebrateTim

I am really looking forward to the day and being able to visit the historic Norman Lockyer Observatory.

It should be a great day.

Venue:
Norman Lockyer Observatory,
Salcombe Hill Road,
Sidmouth,
Devon,
EX10 0NY

Directions:
The Observatory is about 2 km east of Sidmouth and 0.5 km from the coast. It is on the north side of Salcombe Hill Road which runs between the town and Trow Farm, where it joins the east-west A3052.

If you are travelling via the M5 leave at Junction 30 and head towards Sidmouth on the A3052. Continue on this road through Newton Poppleford and past the Sidmouth turnings and through Sidford.  At the far end of Sidford take a right turn on to Fortescue Road just after the Blue Ball pub. After 2 km turn left up Salcombe Hill towards the Observatory.

Sat-Nav

Enter the postcode EX10 0NY,

use the coordinates:
Latitude 50° 41′ 16″ N
Longitude 3° 13′ 07″ W

or National Grid Reference SY 139 883.

or by Bus or train:

There are rail stations at Exeter and Honiton.
Local buses to Sidmouth run from Exmouth (157), Exeter (52A and 52B), Honiton (52B and 379) and Seaton (52A).
These have a frequency of hourly or better.
A longer-distance service X53 runs between Exeter and Poole, but passes through Sidford rather than Sidmouth.
From June to September a shuttle bus service, the Sidmouth Hopper, runs half-hourly between the town and the Observatory.

 

Peterborough Astronomical Society – 2nd August 2018

Here we go again. 🙂 More Tim Peake fun and games for all ages.

@Flat_Tim, Buzz and I will be out once again on Thursday the 2nd of August.

This time it’s a visit to my old friends at Peterborough Astronomical Society.

The title of the audience-participation presentation evening is my ever popular:
“Celebrate Tim Peake’s Principia Mission”.

CelebrateTim

I am looking forward to meeting up with this group again at Sacrewell Farm.

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. As I know them well, I have a few “victims” I can call on if no willing volunteers come forward.
I’m sure that, like the other groups I have taken this presentation to, that they will really enjoy the fun evening planned for them. That’s if they’re not bored with me yet, as it was only a couple of months ago that I stood in for another speaker for them.

I wonder how keen they will be compared to some of 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 – 110. So bring along your children, grandchildren and grandparents along.

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

This is very timely as Tim’s Soyuz Capsule goes on display at Peterborough Cathedral on the 11th of August, until the 5th of November. Click this link for more details.
So if you can’t make my talk, make sure that you visit the Cathedral to see the Soyuz capsule (TMA-19M) and Sokol KV-2 space suit. There is also a virtual reality space descent simulator to enjoy.

Meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Venue: Sacrewell Farm
Thornhaugh,
Peterborough
PE8 6HJ
(Just off the A1).

For more details about Peterborough Astronomical Society, click this link:
Peterborough Astronomical Society.

 

Mars Opposition and Lunar Eclipse – 27th July.

Mars comes to opposition and is at its biggest and brightest on the 27th of July.

But that’s not going to be the only bright red object visible in the sky that evening.

That same evening, the Moon will rise when it is deep in the Earth’s shadow, a full lunar eclipse. Rising a red colour it will make a fantastic sight, rising in the south-eastern sky a little while after Sunset. Try and get a feature in the foreground to get a stunning photograph of the ruddy moon-rise. The event will be visible to the naked eye and should look even better in binoculars or a wide-field telescope. Once the eclipse has finished, turn your telescope towards Mars.

Progression of the Earth’s shadow timings are as follows:

Moon Rise: ~19:50 UT (~20:50 BST). (Will vary depending on your location in the UK).
Greatest eclipse: 20:22 UT (21:22 BST).
Total eclipse ends: 21:13 UT (22:13 BST).
The Moon will still be only about 19 degrees above the horizon as totality ends.
Partial eclipse ends: 22:19 UT (23:19 BST).
Penumbral eclipse ends: 23:28 UT (00:28 28th July. BST).
By the end of totality Mars will be more than 10 degrees above the horizon, so should be a little bit more observable, but will still be challenging so low down below the Moon.

Image of eclipse circumstances below taken from Fred Espenak’s excellent Eclipsewise Web site:
http://www.eclipsewise.com/lunar/LEprime/2001-2100/LE2018Jul27Tprime.html

The map below shows the visibility of the eclipse from Earth in a bit more detail.
(Taken from http://earthsky.org).

So get out that evening, (cloud permitting) and enjoy both the spectacular lunar eclipse, and then Mars in all it’s glory (global dust storm permitting).

The simulated images below show how the apparent disk size of Mars changes over the months either side of this opposition.

Dave

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.

UPDATE – 8th August 2018. The comet has suddenly faded rapidly, so it looks like it has broken up.

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.