Category: "Astrophotography"

Some astronomy bits in the Lake District

As regular readers will know in early August Catherine and I went off on a little trip to the Lake District which was largely enjoyable (bar the rubbish Virgin trains and to a lesser extent the rain). We stayed in Near Sawrey a few miles south-west of Windermere.

Of course it was solely coincidence that we would happen to stay under dark skies, in a village where a conveniently placed hill would block any light pollution from Windermere, during the week of the Perseid meteor shower. :-) However as always the atmosphere is out to destroy me, and we probably only got about 90 minutes of clear skies in total, pretty poor for 4 nights.

My plans for photographs of the Milky Way reflected in Esthwaite Water, or magnitude -12 fireballs reflected in the lake never materialised due to the extent of the cloud cover. There was no point in wasting what little clear skies we had trekking down to the lake only to find it had clouded back up, the wind speeds would also have been prohibitive. So we mainly just hung out the front of Buckle Yeat, hiding behind a wall to block the lights.

Nevertheless the clear skies we got were nothing short of brilliant. The Andromeda galaxy easily visible, the Milky Way was positively glowing right the way across the sky with the dust lanes easy to make out. You didn't have to look away to try and make out the details in it like there is in Yeovil, and dream on trying to see it in Aldershot. It was just there, glowing and glowing rather brightly I might add.

What really surprised me the most however was stars close to the horizon were just as brilliant and plentiful as stars near the zenith. As someone who has always lived in a town of >30,000 people we're not used to seeing that much stuff lower down in the sky. The lower 30° is usually a total write-off even on a good night. On the first of my get-up-and-see-if-its-clear checks during the night I took one look out the window hoping to maybe see a couple of stars, and bang the whole constellation of Perseus and dozens of stars behind it were just sat there on the horizon. Within about 10 minutes I counted 6 meteors, and that's just looking through the window at the radiant, and that was on the Tuesday night, the peak was on Friday morning. A couple of dozen more awaited us outside in the 30 minutes or so of clear skies we had that night.

In the brief time we had I did take a few images of course.

Milky Way and the Summer Triangle

First up, the Summer Triangle made up of the stars Deneb, Vega and Altair and of course the Milky Way behind them. And of course a huge lump of cloud. Exposure time was about 30 seconds at ISO1600. The amount of detail that this image picked up is remarkable; this was only a 30 second exposure. Back in Yeovil I'd need almost double that to get as much detail. And of course the entire image would be orange from all the light pollution, not just the clouds.

Star trails around Polaris

The traditional star trails around Polaris image. This was an exposure of about 12 or 13 minutes at ISO200. Again this would have been good reflected in a lake with say an hour's worth of exposure.

And on the Thursday night, the only Perseid meteor that was bright enough and happened to fly in front of the camera. It was clouding over rapidly at this point and this was the last part of the sky to remain clear within about 10 minutes it had completely become overcast. This was a 20 second exposure at ISO1600.

What's in store for the future? Well I'll get the full resolution images over on my gallery at some point. And perhaps next time I'll run some statistical analysis of cloud cover in the region so I can predict the best week to go and we'll forget the meteor showers, and this time I'll take an equatorial mount with me, a 10 minute exposure on the Milky Way under those skies would been awesome.

Venus and the Moon

The forecast was predicting heavy cloud cover after dark yesterday, but in the afternoon we had a clear spell. I used this opportunity to capture Venus and the Moon before the occultation. The following was taken at 15:34 UTC, a few minutes before the Moon moved in front of Venus.

As predicted the cloud covered the rest of the occulation.

Images of exoplanets around Sun-like stars!

You don't get many days like this. The first image of an exoplanet around a Sun-like star has been released. Previously we had only visually detected a 5 mass Jupiter exoplanet around a brown dwarf star. Brown dwarf stars are too small to undergo any nuclear fusion, and as such they just dimly glow from their original formation. This makes planets far easier to detect around them as they put out millions of times less light, which normally hides any planets. This however is a proper star.

Yup that tiny little dot is a planet estimated to be around the same mass as Jupiter.

The planet Fomalhaut b orbits Fomalhaut (aka Alpha Piscis Austrini) once every 872 years, it is pretty far out. The star itself is not easily visible from the UK, it hugs the horizon even at this time of year when its at its highest point.

In this image the star is blocked out (artificially eclipsed if you will), and the remaining starlight is then subtracted from the image by using a template of another star. The dust ring around it is actually real, as is the planet, the lines radiating from the central star are artifacts.

And that's not all, we've also got the first image of multiple planets orbiting the star HR 8799, this time taken in infrared, which reduces the contrast differences between the star and the planet. Again the light from the star had to be blocked out. This system is only about 60 million years old which worked in our favour for detecting these planets as they're still warm from their original formation and as such release much more infrared light than normal.

August 2008 solar eclipse photos

I took over 150 images on the 1st of August of the partial solar eclipse, time permitting I hope to put them all together to make an animation. In the meantime, here's a few images:

Although it's hard to see in these images, the originals have a fair amount of detail along the lunar rim. Enough that if I've got time to kill at some point in the future I'll try to work out which valleys and mountains they are - although I suspect it will be quite time consuming as I'd have to account for the libration.

Saturn and Mars in Astronomy magazine

For the people hitting my blog in search of a higher resolution image of Saturn and Mars (and Gemini) that featured in June's Sky this Month section of Astronomy magazine here it is:

Saturn and Mars

Although the caption Astronomy magazine wrote was inaccurate, the image was taken in 2006 and not 2004.

Photograph of Mars

So last night, after constructing a new holder for my 3x barlow lens out of cardboard I decided to have a bash imaging Mars. The rolled up bit of paper I had used for my images of Saturn and the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle, had failed.

This is the result, almost 2000 frames.


Must say I am a bit disappointed - perhaps I need to make a few modifications to my rolled up cardboard adapter, it could do with being about 5mm shorter just so I can make sure it is in focus. The only real details visible on Mars are in the southern hemisphere. I should try and take some images when some more interesting features are visible.

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