Starlink – What’s all the fuss about?

Tonight there will be an opportunity to see the last set of launched Starlink satellites passing over the UK skies.

The last couple of launches have stirred up the astronomical community, amateurs and professionals alike.
See my blog entry made after the first launch:

And my images of the constellation from the second launch:

There are tens of thousands of these satellites planned. Another 60 are due to be launched next week.

The Heaven-Above Web site shows me that there is a visibility of the latest cluster of satellites visible tonight.

The first satellite starts passing across the UK sky just after 4:30pm.
It appears just north of Saturn, passes north of The crescent Moon, into Aquarius, Pisces and towards Cetus and Taurus.
Its magnitude is calculated at +3.9. But it would be a good idea to observe exactly how bright it actually appears and if it flares at any point as it catches the Sun.
At this point it disappears into The Earth’s shadow a short time before it sets.
The map of this pass from Heavens-above is shown below (Click on the image for a bigger view):

But that’s not all.
Once this satellite passes across there will be an ongoing procession of Starlink satellites, each separated by only a few minutes.
This stream of satellites will last until 20:11 UT.

The height above the southern horizon of the Starlink satellite track will gradually increase as the evening progresses, each satellite following the previous one at a very slightly higher altitude.

By the time satellite 1046 passes over at 18:20, this satellite will be 83 degrees high, passing north of Pegasus and Andromeda. It will fade quicker into The Earth’s shadow as it enters Perseus. The magnitude of this satellite is predicted to be +3.9

By the time the final satellite 1050 passes us at 20:11.
It is only visible very briefly, disappearing very quickly into the Earth’s shadow over in the western sky close to Delphinus.

If you do get the chance to view them, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about them.

If the weather prevents you from seeing this particular sighting, there are a few more opportunities over the next few days.
Visit Heavens-Above for more details.

It will be interesting to see what impact these will have.

The new ones to be launched next week will definitely be much brighter.

Dimming of Betelgeuse – Supernova or not?

When I’m doing my planetarium shows, the children really love the fact that Betelgeuse is so huge if it were in the same position as our Sun, it would swallow many of the inner planets, including Earth, Mars and almost Jupiter.

For more details of my exciting school visits, click here:

However, Betelgeuse has recently been attracting attention due to its behaviour. This has bought to the attention of the public that celestial objects aren’t quite as constant as they appear at first glance, but do change. Sometimes sometimes quite quickly and dramatically.
Many social media feeds are buzzing with excitement.

See my original post about this by clicking the link below:

Yes, this bright super red giant naked eye star has dimmed in brightness, but we have known for years that it does do this on a fairly regular basis. It is a variable star.
What makes this a little bit more intriguing is that it hasn’t been quite this dim for more than 40 years.

On the 20th of December 2019, the weather finally allowed me a chance to have a quick look at Orion and try and work out roughly how bright it actually was.

Here’s my image with Betelgeuse marked. It is the bright star in the right shoulder (left hand as seen from Earth) of the constellation of Orion, the Hunter.

Betelgeuse was definitely fainter than Rigel.
I would say that it was on par, or even slightly fainter than Aldebaran in Taurus.

So I guess this makes the magnitude of Betelgeuse that evening about +1.0.

Betelgeuse is normally brighter at about +0.4. So this marks quite a significant drop in brightness.

I did notice that the nearby star Procyon, in Canis Minor, at magnitude +0.3 was also brighter than Betelgeuse.

Having been looking up and admiring Orion since a child, the Hunter did indeed look distinctly different, just  from standing in the garden staring at it. Or was it just interpretation and expectations from the knowledge I had?

Being a known variable star, observers have been monitoring the brightness of Betelgeuse for years.
The light curve below has been published by the AAVSO:

Betelgeuse is at the very end of its life, and if you listen to Brian Cox, you will know that it due to end its life in a supernova event, where it will literally tear itself apart when the stars fuel has run out and it can no longer support its own weight. It will collapse onto itself, the resounding “bounce-back” resulting in a brilliant “explosion” of light.

Is this fading of the star a prequel to the supernova event?
When is it likely to happen?
Are we really likely to see Betelgeuse brighten dramatically very soon?

To be perfectly frank, astronomers really do not really know.
It could be tomorrow, or it could be in 50,000 or even 100,000 years time.
So the statistical likelihood of this event occurring during your ~90 (give or a take a few years) year lifetime is extremely small.

The last supernova that we viewed from fairly close quarters was in 1987.
This was a naked eye supernova called 1987A, but was only visible from the southern hemisphere.
That supernova was located in the Large Magellanic Cloud and lies around 168,000 light years away from Earth.

Betelgeuse is only about 700 light years away, so is a lot closer.
If it did go supernova, it would appear much, much brighter in our sky.
If it did “pop” today, the speed of light dictates that it would take another 700 years before we see the supernova.
But, let’s suppose Betelgeuse actually went supernova just over 699 years ago.
If that is the case, the light is already well on its way and could reach us within the next year.

When the event happens, we will witness Betelgeuse brighten enormously, and extremely quickly.
At its brightest it would be as bright as the Full Moon.
All that light will be contained within a minuscule point of light, making Orion looking very strange indeed.
Betelgeuse would be a fantastically brilliant star in Orion’s right shoulder, making astronomical observations very difficult for a number of months. The bright light will make the sky background extremely bright when above the horizon, blotting out many fainter objects.
The supernova will be so bright, that it will be visible during the day.

After many weeks outshining all the other stars in the sky, the supernova’s light will start to fade.
Over time the light will fade so much, it will drop below naked eye visibility.

From then on our view of Orion will change forever, The Mighty Hunter effectively will effectively lose his right shoulder as we will now longer be able to see Betelgeuse with the naked eye.

But what a legacy Betelgeuse will leave behind. The fading supernova and its remnant should keep astronomers busy for many, many years to come as they observe the repercussions of the stars demise and the expanding shock-wave and cloud of debris emanating from the position of this ex-star.

But Hey! Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen!
But wouldn’t it be fantastic if it did?
We just love all the intrigue and speculation.
That’s what makes this wonderful hobby so fantastic.

Betelgeuse Fades – But not likely to go supernova.

When the weather gives you a chance, get out and have a look at the bright red giant star Betelgeuse in the right shoulder of Orion.

It looks like it may have dimmed quiet a bit.

Betelgeuse can be quite variable, and has a complex light curve.

It has done something like this before.
But it is the faintest the star has been for 25 years.

If you listen to Brian Cox, he will tell you that Betelgeuse is likely to go supernova at any time.
But is it just about to? Probably not!

See more details on these Web sites:

So go out and have a look and see if you can see any difference from the last time you saw it.

Betelgeuse Fades.

Comet 289P (Blanpain).

Comet 289P (Blanpain) is heading northwards and should become a better placed object for us in the UK during December and January.

It will at it’s brightest on the on the 10th of January when it could potentially become a predicted brightness of magnitude +4.8 on the 10th of January. This makes it potentially visible to the naked eye (Fingers crossed).
But don’t forget just how unpredictable comets can be in the way that they behave.

Update 5th December 2019.
This comet is now only likely to only reach a maximum brightness of around 15th magnitude now.
Oh well! However, I’ll leave this as it stands anyway.

289P is currently in Aquarius and has a 5.36 year orbital period. It is currently a very faint magnitude 19.9, so will be very difficult to spot visually, but could be captured photographically if you have good equipment, technique and fairly dark skies. This task will get easier as it gets higher in our skies and brightens.

It starts moving faster and brightens rapidly as it approaches The Sun.

The comet reaches perihelion (closest to the Sun) on the 20th of December, still in Aquarius.

Towards the end of the year, it moves quickly through Pisces and onward into The Square of Pegasus where we will find it in the new year.

It continues heading northwards.
By the end of the first week of the new year, the comet should be found amongst the stars of Andromeda.
It approaches within a few degrees of The Andromeda Galaxy on the 8th of January.

On the 10th of January it should reach peak brightness of a predicted magnitude +4.8 when it will be about 0.1 Astronomical Units from Earth.

The week after sees the comet moving through the stars of Cassiopeia, passing fairly close to a few nice star clusters, The Owl Cluster NGC 457, being one of them, on the 12th January.
It will also pass close to Delta Cas and M103 over the next day.

A few days later we will find the comet within the constellation of Camelopardalis, but should be starting to slow down and fading rapidly.

The comet  reaches the head of Ursa Major by the end of January.

Happy hunting.
Let’s hope it gives us a flipping good show.


Starlink – Latest launch visibility.

On November the 11th,  Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the second cluster of Starlink satellites.

This launch saw another 60 satellites go into orbit, making it “largest commercial telecommunications satellite constellation in orbit”.

See my blog entry below about the first launch:

So we now have 120 of these in orbit. SpaceX plan to perform at least another 22 launches to reach a point where it will be able to offer global Internet access. It aims to achieve this by the end of next year. This will be 1,300 in orbit. The plan is to launch at least 10 times this amount in the future, so I was keen to get out and see how bright this new batch of satellites were, and how much impact they might be having in our skies this time.

Unfortunately, it has been cloudy or foggy each time the cluster was predicted to pass over my location, until this morning.

Predictions of passes can be obtained from the very useful Web page

The main cluster wasn’t expected until around 6:15am, but I went out with my camera to set up well before time to set up the camera and take some test shots. Some bright Starlink satellites were already visible with the naked eye crossing the sky almost overhead, passing very close to The Plough.

Test shots done, I waited a few more minutes and watched a few ahead of the pack race through the field of view. As the minutes ticked away, the time of the main cluster approached. The increase in rate was very rapid and noticeable.

One after another the stream of moving lights moved across the sky fairly close together. The satellites were easily second magnitude, so were as bright as most of the stars within The Plough. They approached from the west, becoming visible as they moved into sunlight, close to Capella. They were at their brightest as they passed overhead near The Plough.

My image of the Starlink Satellites taken this morning.
The satellite tracks are shown close together.

Here’s my animation made from the individual images.
Each image was 7 seconds long, so satellite trails show movement in seven seconds.

The satellites brightness faded as they quickly moved towards the eastern horizon passing through Corona Borealis. They did not flare in the same way as I observed the the first cluster to do so. Maybe that’s because these were observed much later after launch. They were stringing out away from one another and getting into higher orbits when I observed them.

I have heard that some ground-based radio meteor detectors have picked up a lot of interference as they pass over.

Want to get out and observe them yourself?
There are two passes in the morning, ~4:50 and ~6:25 UT.
The times will change and as they spread out in their orbits will be further apart from one another over time.
They will also hopefully fade.

The first cluster of satellites seem to have faded from view since they were launched, but the jury is still out on that one.

So will these new satellites fade and their interference become less over time? Or will they continue to cause us problems on the ground, either as us amateurs or even the professionals? I guess we will soon find out.



Lincoln Astronomical Society – 3rd December 2019

On Tuesday the 3rd of December, The Flat Tim and Dave roadshow will be bringing fun and games for all ages once again for my very last evening presentation of the year.

This time it’s another visit to a very friendly and fun group, Lincoln Astronomical Society.

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


I am looking forward to meeting up with this group yet again and having lots of pre-Christmas fun with the audience participation bits. I’m sure that they will really enjoy the fun evening @Flat_Tim and I have planned for them.

All are very welcome, especially children 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, enjoy the presentation and say “Hello”.
If you don’t want to talk to me then at least come along and speak to @Flat_Tim as he can get very flat if no-one notices him.

The meeting starts at 7.30pm.

Lincoln Astronomical Society meetings are held at their observatory and lecture facility at:
23 Westcliffe Street Lincoln.
Click on the link above for a map.

Sky Diary for December 2019

My very last free monthly sky diary for December 2019 showing the events of the night sky visible from the UK is now available in a printable pdf version for download.
Click here, or on the image below to download the pdf.

After 32 years of doing my sky diary, I will stop producing this after this month.
It’s been a sad, and big decision for me to do this, but it is getting difficult to fit it in with my many other commitments.

However, it’s all not bad news.
All my sky diary events are currently and will in future be added to the UK Cloud Magnets online calendar.
I will still keep this as up to date as I can and add new information as I hear about it.
Click here to view the UK Cloud Magnets online calendar.

I will also be updating my blog ( with any new information on sky calendar events as appropriate.

Keep Looking Up!


I’m a serious astronomer you know!

After a recent astronomy event, I heard some people were making comments about people not being serious about the hobby and their attitudes dumbing it down. Added to this, a long time ago in an online forum, I remember someone commenting “Not another Orion Nebula Image!” when someone proudly uploaded their hard earned picture.

By the way, here’s my latest image of M42. 🙂

This has made me think about this in some detail and made me question whether or not, I’m a “Serious” astronomer?

Let’s take a long hard look at that.

When I do my astronomy, what exactly is it that I do?

I absolutely adore astronomy and have done throughout my life. I don’t specialise in anything at all and am willing and able to dabble in all things. I particularly love taking images and sharing those with others online. In fact I am quite prolific, when the weather allows. As some online friends and followers might be getting tired of them appearing in their social media feeds, but is what i do really “Serious” astronomy?

Is anything I do really considered serious?

I am deadly serious about educating people in astronomy and sharing what skills I have in my workshops and talks, but what about my own observing / Imaging?

Yes, I am happy to stay up for long periods of the night, or get up early to capture something of interest to me.
I love capturing challenging objects, comets, asteroids and man made objects. The more challenging the object the better.

I also like looking and imaging the good old lolly-pops, the Messier Objects and the like.

But is this really serious astronomy?

Some people in the astronomy clubs I attend probably think that I am the most serious astronomer that they know.
But that really isn’t the case. Yes, I do take my challenges seriously, but only because I find these great fun to do.

Others in my clubs take images or observe and measure positions or the brightness of objects as accurately as they can. They then use that data to draw lots of graphs and submit their results into observing organisations. I am always wowed and impressed by people who show such dedication to collecting scientifically useful data. Now that’s a bit more serious than my efforts, isn’t it?

However that sort of observing really isn’t for me. Working in a scientific environment, since 1988, where I had to do this, made this sort of project seem too much like work. I just love getting out there, looking at something beautiful, or imaging a faint object to hopefully produce a really pretty picture. I post all my images online but only infrequently submit them to any of the more serious observing organisations. Is this not serious enough?

Like any hobby, we all do it because we love doing it.

I looked up the meaning of the word Amateur and found this:

“1784, “one who has a taste for some art, study, or pursuit, but does not practice it,” from French amateur “one who loves, lover” (16c., restored from Old French ameour), from Latin amatorem (nominative amator) “lover, friend,” agent noun from amatus, past participle of amare “to love”.

Meaning “one who cultivates and participates (in something) but does not pursue it professionally or with an eye to gain” (as opposed to professional) is from 1786, often with disparaging shades, “dabbler, dilettante,” except in athletics, where the tinge formerly shaded the professional. As an adjective, by 1838.

In fact the word amateur comes from the French Amour – To Love.”


So that sort of backs up my feeling about why I do what I do. I Love It!

The past year has seen me become a little bit semi-professional in that I have started to earn something from going around tutoring and educating, be it from my books, workshops or schools. Unfortunately, I still have to earn something to keep paying the bills. Were I to win a gob-smacking amount on the lottery tonight, or given a really generous donation (anyone?) I would probably do it all for nothing. And only because I love it so much.

Part of what i do in Schools is voluntary, as a STEM Ambassador. I love going in and encouraging the next generation to do STEM subjects, especially girls. I drove over an hour and half recently, to spend a morning in a school, to hold a full school assembly and bottle rocket workshop. I received not a penny for doing this, but I made sure that I gave the children a very enjoyable few hours of learning. On the way back, despite me also enjoying the event, I did ask myself “Why do I do this?” A few weeks later, I got a massive wadge of letters and drawings in the post from the children. That was worth more than any payment and I must admit that it did make me very emotional. That’s what I did it for.

So maybe I am a little bit serious in how I do my astronomy, but not quite that serious it seems to some others.

How about other people who are just dipping their toes in the hobby?
Are they really serious about astronomy if they only dabble a tad and don’t do any “Serious” stuff at all?
Is the real impact of the science lessened?

To me, everyone has a right to take whatever approach they have into a hobby.
It really does not matter how you dabble. As long as you keep on dabbling, who gives a damn?

We all do this hobby to get away from all the stress and frustrations in the world, of which there are far too many these days. If you feel pressured to do things, this, that or the other, just because other “serious” astronomers say that’s how it should be done, then you’re just not going to enjoy it and will give up on the hobby. And we want to avoid that at all costs.

Encourage as many people in as possible to ensure a rich mix of abilities and ages.
Youngsters are sadly lacking in astronomy clubs these days. A blog will follow on this later…

As long as you keep interested in the subject, continue to just get out there and enjoy our night (and day) sky.
Do what it is that you really enjoy, even if it is taking “yet another” image of M42.

Ignore the idiots that say what you might do isn’t really serious astronomy.

Just keep getting out and enjoying the sky in just the way that you love.

We’re all loving this hobby together in our own ways.




Apollo 12 – 50th Anniversary: Reentry and Splashdown.

50 years ago today is the day the three Apollo 12 astronauts, Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon and Alan Bean return to Earth.

Unfortunately, I am not able to produce any 3D images from the pictures.

In the early hours there was a TV transmission before preparations for re-entry.

A midcourse correction was made at 17:43 UT to make sure reentry was spot on.

At 20:29 UT, the command capsule separated from the service module.

Reentry started at 20:44.

Radar contact established by the recovery ship US Hornet less than 2 minutes later.

Contact with the command module Yankee Clipper established by rescue aircraft at 20:50 UT.

20:52 UT. Command module drogue parachute deployed.

20:53 UT. Main parachute deployed.

20:58 UT. Splashdown in Pacific Ocean.

21:08 UT. Recovery swimmers deployed.

21:15 UT. Flotation collar inflated on command module.

21:36 UT. Command module hatch opened for respiratory transfer.

21:40 UT. Hatch opened for crew egress.

21:58 UT. Crew arrive at US Hornet.

22:06 UT. Crew enter quarantine facility.

22:46 UT. Command module lifted from ocean.

Command module recovery completed and quarantined at 00:15 UT tomorrow morning.


Apollo 12 – 50th Anniversary: Almost Home.

50 years ago today the three Apollo 12 astronauts continue their coast back home today.

They perform a mid-course correction to keep their angle towards Earth correct for a perfect re-entry on Sunday evening. So they are almost home.

Not much more to say until Sunday when the astronauts do lots of general housekeeping. It will all kick off again on Sunday as they approach re-entry and splashdown.

Here’s my 3D image of The Moon.
I created this from two separate images taken by the crew as they receded from The Moon and could view it getting smaller and smaller through Yankee Clippers windows.

Alpha Monocerotids – Possible Meteor Storm

It is predicted that there could be an outburst, or even a storm of the Alpha Monocerotids meteor shower tomorrow morning.

The outburst is predicted to be at 04:50 tomorrow morning and may last for only 15 minutes.

The last outburst observed in 1995 saw 700 meteors per hour!

The thick crescent Moon will interfere a little bit, but shouldn’t spoil things too much, that’s if we get some clear skies, of course.

No telescope is required, just get out at the predicted time and KEEP LOOKING UP as the meteors could appear in any part of the sky.
More details on the Sky & Telescope Web page:

Have fun folks.

Apollo 12 – 50th Anniversary. The Journey home.

21st of November 1969.
50 years ago today, in orbit around The Moon, the three Apollo 12 astronauts performed a great deal of landmark tracking and photography from within the Command module Yankee Clipper.

Below is my 3D image created from one of their amazing pictures of the lunar surface.

At 20:49 UT tonight, they performed their transearth injection ignition, by firing the single SPS engine.

This would take them out of lunar orbit, sending them back towards Earth.

Less than 40 minutes later, they began a TV transmission as they started their 3 day coast back home.


Apollo 12 – 50th Anniversary. Last day on The Moon.

Today is the last day of Apollo 12 exploring the surface of Oceanus Procellarum.

There was a second EVA (Moonwalk) in the early hours of this morning.

The nearby Surveyor 3 spacecraft was inspected and samples taken to see how it had fared in the vacuum of space for over two and a half years.

The EVA finished at 07:44 UT.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter image below shows landing site.
Evidence of the astronauts EVA can be clearly seen as well as the equipment and experiments left on the surface.

Alan Bean and Pete Conrad then prepared to lift off from The Moon.

Launch of ascent stage of the lunar module Intrepid was at 14:25 UT.

They docked with the command/service module at 17:58 UT.

The astronauts and their precious rock and dust samples then transferred themselves over.

The lunar module ascent stage was jettisoned at 20:21 UT.

It crashed onto the lunar surface at 22:17 UT.

The three astronauts will stay in orbit around The Moon until tomorrow, when they will begin their journey back to Earth in the evening.

This is my 3D image of the Davey crater chain, made by a string of possibly cometary particles hitting the surface one after the other, similar to Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 that hit Jupiter in July 1994.

Apollo 12 – 50th Anniversary. Landing in Oceanus Procellarum

50 years ago today, Alan Bean and and Pete Conrad successfully landed the lunar module Intrepid onto the surface of Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms).
Dick Gordon continued to orbit 60 miles above The Moon in the Command (Yankee Clipper) / Service module.

Unlike Neil’s landing on Apollo 11, they achieved a pinpoint landing close to Surveyor 3, which landed over two and a half years previously.

My image of the landing area (just) below, shows the landing site/s marked with a cross on the left hand side of the image.

During the EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity. Moon walk to you and me!), as well as collecting Moon rocks and dust, they also removed parts of Surveyor to see how it had fared during its stay on the Moon.

Explore Lunar Sample 12038 collected by the Apollo 12 astronauts by following this link:

In the early hours of tomorrow morning, they will perform a second EVA.

Here’s my composite 3D image of one of them on the Moon.
Was that a step too far adding in the Earth? 🙂


Apollo 12 – 50th Anniversary. The Day before Landing

50 years ago today, the day before landing, in the early hours  the 18th of November 1969, Apollo 12 met The Moon and the engine was fired to place the Apollo 12 spacecraft into lunar orbit.

The astronauts then set about preparing the Lunar Module called Intrepid for tomorrow’s landing.

The un-docking of Intrepid from the command module Yankee Clipper will be in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

As Neil Armstrong had missed his landing site when Eagle Landed in The Sea of Tranquillity, they really wanted to prove the capability of accurately landing the lunar module.

Their intention was to land close to the lunar probe Surveyor 3 which landed on the surface of Oceanus Procellarum over two and a half years before.

Here’s my 3D image of Intrepid a little while before starting its descent towards the surface.





International Astronomy Show – 16th November

Tomorrow I will be attending the International Astronomy Show at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire.
I will be bringing in my books and 3D cards for sale.
(The 3D Cards help to support my STEM visits. The more I sell, the more STEM school visits I can do).
I will also bring along my free Virtual Reality space experience.
I also have a number of posters to give away to space enthusiastic children.
Come and ask me for a free Moon calendar for 2020 while they last.
I’ll look forward to meeting you all, so if you are there, please come over and say “Hello” as you go past my stand on your way to the cafe.
See you all tomorrow.

Apollo 50th Anniversary – Apollo 12: The first day.

It’s a busy day for the 3 astronauts aboard Apollo 12, 50 years ago today – 14th November 1969.

The crew are:
Pete Conrad – Commander.
Dick Gordon – Command Module Pilot.
Alan Bean – Lunar Module Pilot

The launch of the mighty Saturn V rocket was at 16:22 from Cape Canaveral.

36.5 seconds after launch there was an electrical disturbance, followed by another one 52 seconds after launch.
The Saturn V had been struck by lightning. Twice!

Luckily all systems were still functioning normally, so the ascent towards Earth orbit continued.

At 2m 41s into mission, the first stage cut off, separation occurring one minute later.

The five-engine second stage cut off at 9m 12s, separating at 9m 13s.

The single-engined third stage  (S-IVB) burned from 9m 16s until 11m 33s into the mission.
This placed the Apollo spacecraft into an elliptical Earth orbit.

The orbit of the Apollo stack was adjusted and trimmed by the third stage by firing a second time from 2m 47s until 2m 53s.

Now a big decision had to be made.
Had the lightning strike affected the Apollo spacecraft on launch?
Could the parachute deployment system at the nose of the Command module have been damaged?
Could the heat shield on the back of the command module have also been compromised?

As they were already in orbit, the only way to test these out were by using them.
This would involve aborting the mission and bringing the astronauts home now.

The other option of course was to send them onto the Moon and test these once they got back to Earth 10 days later.
Thankfully all extensive checks on the spacecraft now made while safely in Earth orbit showed that everything was working nominally.

As a result clearance was then given to “go for TLI” (Tran-Lunar Injection).

2 hours and 50 minutes into the mission, the third stage engine was fired for a third time to increase the velocity to about 25,000 mph.
This will send them into a highly elliptical orbit around Earth, sending them towards a spot in space, passing close to where The Moon will be in 3 days time.

At 3h 18s The Command Module Pilot Dick Gordon un-docked the Command Module (Yankee Clipper) / Service Module from the third stage to performed the transposition, docking and extraction procedure to remove the Lunar Module called Intrepid from atop the third stage. This was revealed when the panels fell away.

Once the Lunar Module was extracted the Command/Service Module moved away from the spent third stage.

After separation most third stages were crashed into the Moon’s surface.
This enabled them to test the instruments left my Apollo 11 which measured Moonquakes.
In Apollo 12’s case, the third stage entered into a strange solar orbit.
This orbit periodically brings it back towards Earth.
It was last spotted in 2002. It is due to come back near to Earth in 2032 and may be bright enough to be visible to amateur observers / imagers. Also catalogued as asteroid J002E3, its Apollo origin was confirmed when spectroscopic studies showed a signature matching that of the titanium oxide paint used on the rocket.

At 4h 20m into the mission an avoidance manoeuvre was performed to ensure they separated from the third stage.

The three astronauts then started their coast towards an area of space where they will meet up with The Moon in 3 days time.

They performed a TV transmission and at the end of the day The Lunar Module Pilot, Alan Bean entered the Lunar Module to start checking all its systems were OK in anticipation of the landing.

It was a great start to yet another lunar adventure for the second Moon landing.




Mercury Transit – 11th November 2019

The morning of the predicted Mercury transit on Monday the 11th of November looked bleak.
In fact it was absolutely pouring with rain.

However, the forecast was for an improving outlook for the afternoon, so we can always keep everything crossed and hope for the best.

As the morning progressed, the rain stopped and looked like it was getting a little bit brighter.
My fingers got whiter as I crossed them even harder.
Slowly some blue patches started to appear, and The Sun was better sighted through thin cloud.

I set up two refractors side by side on the EQ6:
1. ED80 with a Herschel Wedge for white light viewing / Imaging.
2. Evostar 120 with the Quark Chromosphere for Ha viewing / Imaging.

By the time I had set up, at about 20 minutes to 12, there were big enough gaps in the cloud to get some great views of The Sun at both wavelengths.
A Sundog heralded the improving conditions.

The Sun, of course, being at minimum showed absolutely no sunspots on its face. It was completely blank in white light.
Some nice prominences and some chromosphere details were visible in Ha.

Just after 12:35, this was about to change. The Moon sized planet Mercury was due to start trying, and failing, due to its size, to eclipse The Sun.
Its tiny disk would soon start to protrude onto the disk. I just hoped that with the small field of view available I had got the Quark pointed at the right part of the Sun’s disk.

The anticipation mounted as my great friend Kevin Earp joined me in the garden.
His house and neighbouring tree would block the view from his house.

Kev bought along his DSLR and Baader filter to try and capture the event.

The skies looked much bluer by this time, but scudding clouds towards the south kept covering the Sun as the seconds ticked by.
However, the temperature had dropped considerably and strong cold gusts of wind kept wobbling the scope.

In the moments around first contact, the pitch black edge of the diminutive planet could just be seen protruding into the Ha view.
We took turns at the eyepiece to witness the ingress of the planet onto The Sun’s disk.
Due to the bigger size of the Chromosphere compared to the Photosphere, it could be seen in Ha just before intruding into the white light view.

It was very interesting switching between both views to see how the view of the planets progress differed in the two different wavelengths. All too soon, the exciting part was over and the tiny black dot moved away from the limb.

At this point I set up the webcam to start taking images.
The seeing was fairly wobbly and clouds still kept interfering interrupting the imaging.

To ensure that Mercury’s movement didn’t blur its image, I reduced the AVI capture time to just 20 seconds.

Kev helped me to focus and we both set about taking our images. Kev with his DSLR and telephoto lens in white light.
Me with the Quark in Ha.

We both took a shot of the screen with our mobile phones, just in case the clouds obscured the rest of the event.

My first image came off the camera and I quickly processed it while taking some more.

I was knocked absolutely knocked out at the result (right).
The image of Mercury was very sharply defined.

I was hoping to capture a number of images to produce an animation of the planets movement, but a lot of the captures were ruined by clouds. But I carried on regardless.

Kev had rattled off a number of images and could see Mercury in his images.
They were especially sharp after learning how to use the mirror lock-up on his camera. 😉

We had to move the mount closer to the house as by this time The Sun was heading towards the neighbours roof and would soon disappear behind it.

Kev also tried a few images in white light using the ED80 with his mono webcam.

A little while after, the clouds once again started to close in, and The Sun slipped beneath the roof and the event for us was over.

We weren’t worried as we’d had a great time sharing these moments and very much enjoyed the afternoon.

So another cuppa was due to warm the hands and sit and a good old chat in the warm before packing away.

It had been a great day.

Oh, and by the way, I was well chuffed to get enough images to produce a short animation:

To end the day nicely, there was a very brief display of Mammatus Clouds over Raunds just after sunset.

A Day of Two Halves. – 11th November 2019

Well today could be a great day (or not). But it could be a day of two halves.

If the rain clouds flooding the country relent, we could hopefully view the transit of Mercury which starts just after 12:35 today until Sunset. That’s good, as long as the clouds part so we can view it.

See my details of that event here:

However, there is another event taking place today which doesn’t appear to be getting a lot of attention at the moment.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is launching another Starlink cluster today.
This might not be as good.

The launch is scheduled for 14:56 UT, while the transit is in progress.
A backup launch windows is scheduled for 14:34 UT tomorrow (12th).

The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket can be viewed live here:

60 new Starlink satellites will be put into Earth orbit.

Once the satellites are in orbit, you may want to produce predictions for visibility from your location at:

It could look spectacular as the cluster catch the sunlight if the last launch is anything to go by.
But is the launch of these satellites going to be a really bad thing for us observers / imagers going forward?

See my previous blog entry about what this new constellation of satellites could mean for our night sky:




Walsall Astronomical Society – Solar Astronomy

On the evening of the 7th of November I will be re-visiting Walsall Astronomical Society.

Nicely timed just before the Mercury Transit next Monday (11th November) I will be talking about Solar Astronomy.

This will show what an amateur can achieve these days with the correct and safe solar equipment.
It will also give lots of details about the upcoming transit event and what we are likely to see from the UK (Probably clouds!).

Walsall Astronomical Society meet every Thursday at:

Rushall Olympic Football Club,
Dales Lane (off Bosty Lane),

Members £2:00
Visitors £1:00



Sky Diary for November 2019

My penultimate free monthly sky diary for November 2019 showing the events of the night sky visible from the UK is now available in a printable pdf version for download.
Click here, or on the image below to download the pdf.

After 32 years of doing my sky diary, I will stop producing this after December.
It’s been a sad, and big decision for me to do this, but it is getting difficult to fit it in with my many other commitments.

However, it’s all not bad news.
All my sky diary events are currently and will in future be added to the UK Cloud Magnets online calendar.
I will still keep this as up to date as I can and add new information as I hear about it.
Click here to view the UK Cloud Magnets online calendar.

I will also be updating my blog ( with any new information on sky events as appropriate.

Transit of Mercury – 11th of November.

A transit of Mercury occurs on the 11th of November.
We see the very start of the transit and the fleet-footed planet will be visible as a very, very small black dot moving slowly across the Sun.

Do Not try and view The Sun unless you have proper solar filters in place.
You can seriously damage your eyesight if viewing is not done properly.

If you have eclipse glasses, these will not allow you to view the transit.
Mercury is far too small to be visible without being magnified using a telescope with the correct filters.

The view below my white light image of the transit of VENUS in 2004.

Venus is big enough and close enough to be seen without magnification, as you can see here.
Unfortunately, Mercury is nowhere near as big as this, so will not appear anywhere near as impressive.

In fact, it may be a bit of a disappointment to some who do get to view it.

So I hear your next question, What does a transit of Mercury look like then?

The image below is my white light DSLR image of the transit of Mercury from 2016.
The smudge towards the top of the image is a sunspot group (AR 2542).
Mercury is the much smaller dot in the lower part of The Sun.
Titchy isn’t it?

My image below taken using a hydrogen Alpha telescope shows this transit a little while later at about mid transit in much greater detail.
Mercury is still titchy! But as the detail is better, you can now see that it is showing a definite disk.

My closer view below shows it in a bit more detail.
Mercury is towards the left hand side of the image.
You can really see how much darker the planet is when compared to the sunspots and filaments.

So now you know exactly what to expect if you have the correct filters in order to view the transit safely.

So if you are going to try and observe the transit here are the details of the timings of the day.

The transit starts at 12:35 UT.
If you are using a hydrogen alpha telescope, you will be able to see Mercury slightly before the white-light view, as the chromosphere is a bit bigger than the photosphere.
Mercury will approach from the left-hand side of The Sun, just below the centre of the limb.
It would be very nice if there was a prominence on that side of The Sun, that it would pass over first. But we can only dream, Eh!
Mind you, having a sunny day, and being able to see this, might be a miracle in itself!

Mid transit occurs at 15:19 UT.
At this time the planet will be located just above the very centre of The Sun’s disk.

Sunset occurs at about 16:30 UT.
Sunset will prevent us from viewing the conclusion of the event, so it will be only just over halfway across the disk when this occurs. As a result we will miss Mercury slowly sliding off the Sun’s disk.

The transit finishes at 18:04 UT.
Mercury finally leaves the disk of The Sun.
We will leave that part of the event for our American friends. The whole event is visible from the eastern side of North America. The whole of South America can view the complete transit.

The next transits of Mercury will occur on November 2032 and November 2039.

Abington Camera Club – 28th October 2019

On Monday the 28th of October I will be visiting Abington Camera Club to present:

A Whistle-Stop Tour of the Universe (Hitch-Hiking on a Ray of Light).

So let’s hope that they 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.

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

Abington Camera Club meet at:
The Community Centre,

Wheatfield Road South,

Meeting Starts at 7:30pm.

Luton Astronomical Society – 24th October 2019

This evening I will be returning to Luton Astronomical Society to present:


This presentation overviews the events leading up to Apollo, what went on afterwards and the future of crewed spaceflight.

Luton Astronomical Society meet on the last Thursday each month (except December)

University of Bedfordshire,
Putteridge Bury,
North of Luton,
Off the A505
Postcode: LU2 8LE

Doors open 7.15 pm, meeting 7.30 until 9pm.
All visitors are welcome.
Adult admission £2. Children are free.


Sky Diary for October 2019

My free monthly sky diary for October 2019 showing the events of the night sky visible from the UK is now available in a printable pdf version for download.
Click here, or on the image below to download the pdf.

Just to let keep you informed, after 32 years of doing my printable sky diary, I will stop producing my printable sky diary after December. It’s been a sad, and big decision for me to do this, but it is getting difficult to fit it in with my many other commitments.

However, it’s all not bad news.
All my sky diary events are currently and will in future be added to the UK Cloud Magnets online calendar.
I will still keep this as up to date as I can and add new information as I hear about it.
Click here to view the UK Cloud Magnets online calendar.

This and my Blog ( is where I will put any new information on sky events as they become known to me.

Open University Astronomy Club – 1st October

Tonight, I will be visiting the Open University Astronomy Club in Milton Keynes to present my:

Whistle-Stop Tour of the Universe (Hitch-Hiking on a Ray of Light).


So let’s hope that they 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 this time!

So if you are in the area, come along and say “Hello”.
They meet at The Open University in The Robert Hooke Room.

Meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Details on how to find the venue are on their Web Page:

Kelling Weekend

This weekend is the main Kelling Equinox Starcamp weekend organised by Loughton Astronomical Society.

Hundreds of like-minded astronomers meet up at Kelling Heath Holiday Park.

Some of them stay for more than a week to make the most of clear skies and a companionable weekend.

I can’t make it this year, so sending everybody attending fine weather for the event.

If you have been unable to get a pitch for this starcamp, there are many other across the UK.

Visit my Web page here for a list.

If I have missed any out, please let me know.

Kidderminster – November 1st.

If you are in Kidderminster on the 1st of November, I am presenting two Apollo 50 events for both Kidderminster Arts and Food Festival (KAFF) and Go Space Watch.

The day starts with the KAFF event with an afternoon of fully-immersive planetarium shows.
These will tell you all about the Apollo 11 landing. Hold your breath as you sit on the Moon watching Neil Armstrong land The Eagle lunar module, with landing fuel running low.

Booking available using Paypal from my Web site:

£4:00 per person.

For more information about KAFF, their Web page is here:

This will be followed by an evening audience-participation presentation bringing the lunar landing missions to life:

Magnificent Destination: The Apollo Moon Missions.

Tickets for this Go Space Watch event are booked via the Eventbright Web site:

£3:00 per person.

The venue for both events is:
Kidderminster Town Hall.
Vicar St, Kidderminster, DY10 1DB.

Comet Borisov C/2019 Q4 (Borizov)

Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) has crashed into astronomical news.

It is the second object known to have originated from outside our solar system, make a dive in towards The Sun and then speed it’s way out once again.

The first known interloper Oumuamua (Formerly 1I/2017 U1) was discovered in 2017, and got people all excited.
Many observations of the object determined that it was a highly elongated object, essentially cigar shaped, prompting many people to propose it may have been artificial and built by aliens (Ha Ha!). It is composed of metal-rich rock and reddened by compounds called tholins laying on it’s surface. These are the same compounds which also give the red colours seen on Pluto, Charon and Ultima Thule (2014 MU69), which the probe New Horizons visited in July 2015 and New Years day 2019 respectively.

Comet Borisov was discovered in August at a distance of 3 Astronomical Units from The Sun.
It appears to have approached our solar system from an area of sky located slightly to one side of the double cluster in Perseus.
The comet was magnitude +18 at discovery.
Unlike Oumuamua, Comet Borisov was found long before perihelion, when it will be at it’s closest to The Sun.
This occurs on the 28th of December.

This very interesting object will be studied intensely during its apparition by lots of professional astronomers.

But as an amateur observer / imager, what are we likely to be able to see or image?

The comet currently lies in the northern part of Cancer, and heading steadily south.
It moves past the Sickle of Leo during October, passing very close to Regulus on the 4th of November.

So some early mornings are required if you want to catch the comet.

The comet continues southwards bound, passing almost directly through the centre of the constellation Crater mid-December.
Perihelion is reached on the 28th of December. The comet will still be quite a long way from Earth at this time, so don’t expect miracles.

It is unlikely to become much brighter than +15th magnitude, so observations are unlikely with very dark skies and a decent sized telescope. Astrophotographers are more likely to be able to capture the comet and I will look forward to seeing some of these images as they are released.

Sounds like a great little project for me to try my hand at over the coming weeks.

Use the map below to work out where the comet is.
Positions shown at 5 day intervals at 0h on the dates shown.
(Please note, the comet’s path may change as the ephemeris is re-defined. I will update if I see any changes).

Click on the map below to see a bigger version.

Click here to download a printable copy.