Tuesday, February 28, 2006

18:50 - At last, a clear sky!

19:15 - Already spotted the Southern Albireo, and....

19:32 - Just had my first attempt at looking for the ISS based on the predictions from Heavens Above. Right on the money, came out of the southwest and went into the earth's shadow just after it went by Orion, brill. Next time I will get my camera ready and try to get a long exposure to capture its track.

20:00 - Saturn is on view (also saw a satellite skim by as I was looking through the scope)and Orion looks brill, Sirius is quite high in the sky already.

22:20 - Arcturus is beaming brightly through the pollution to my East, wondered what it was so checked all my resources. Very bright indeed, getting a bit cold out there now.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Well I've had zero observing opportunities in the past week. Instead of observations I shall try to keep the blog going this week by adding some material about the hardware I use, in order to show potential uptakers of this hobby that you don't need to spend a fortune to enjoy some of the wonders of the nightsky!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Well, only had a couple of very brief observing sessions since last Wednesday. It's been looking promising all afternoon today, but just as twilight is upon us there's a strong bank of clouds approaching from the South!

Anyway, just finished reading the Neil Armstrong biography "First Man", what a book! There's a fair bit of tedious detail at times but the chapters regarding the Apollo program are excellent. The descent to the Lunar surface was riveting stuff, I never appreciated before just how "seat of the pants" it was for them, they really were going into the unknown!

After Neil quit NASA I thought the book again lost its way a tad, a bit like Neil's life maybe? Just how do you top what he accomplished, he knew that he'd never get to fly in space again I guess.

What a life he led though, he earned his pilot's licence 2 weeks after his 16th birthday! His lessons were funded by his part time jobs, which also went some way towards his college fees. Self made man doesn't even begin to describe him in my opinion. I guess it's obvious that he was and always will be my hero, I don't imagine that Neil will ever see this blog, but if he did....I'd be speechless!

A photo in the book shows a 20 year Neil aboard a US Navy carrier off North Korea where he flew 70 plus combat missions!

Anyway, here's a photo I found on the Apollo Archive site, I think it kind of sums up what the book called "amiable strangers" when describing the Apollo 11 crew!

For the younger generations who may be wondering who is who, left to right Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

It seems that Buzz wasn't keen on Neil being chosen to be the first man to step on the moon.

Better get outside now and see what I can see! Errm, not very much as it turns out, Capella high overhead now, Mars is near the Pleiades (never can spell that right). That's about all at the minute.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

06.45 GMT clear sky for first time in a week, Venus shining very bright but by the time I got outside with the scope, clouded over!

20.45 GMT clear again to the south, got the scope out and took a quick look at Saturn, still near the Beehive cluster also known as Praesaepe or M44 in Messiers catalogue. M44 is a 4th magnitude open cluster 550 light years away from us and is 30 light years wide.

Orion Neb quite clear and lower in the sky is Sirius, but Sirius is much higher now (at this hour) than previous obs.

Decided to switch location to the south of the house to see if I can see any of the open clusters in this region of the sky after spotting one of them (without id).

Five minutes later and the cloud had moved in but not before I spotted a new (to me) coloured double. A check with my maps suggests the main star is Puppis 7, which is 1350 light years away!

Looks like that's it for tonight.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Planetarium Software
Some 10 years ago I purchased a copy of Redshift 2, this was a stunning piece of software at the time, although I felt it was not exactly intuitive to use.

2 PCs later and I thought I'd see what was on the web in the way of downloads, well the first I discovered was Cartes du Ciel. This is a very thorough piece of software and will let you print charts based on your date/time/location so that you can take up to the minute charts outside with you. A link for this is in the links section.

Last night I noticed a post on the SPA forum which mentioned a package called Stellarium, so off I popped and got a free copy. As far as looks and ease of use this package will blow you away. It looks simply stunning, I hear that Starry Night is better, but this is freeware! But, you cannot print charts!

So, I'd recommend Cartes du Ciel if you want to print charts but if you want what amounts to a simulator of the night sky then Stellarium is the best. Why not use both, I will!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Some recent Astrophotos
This half moon was taken December 2005, this shot was through the Meade ETX80AT.

This "red" moon was taken September 2005, using the EOS350D and it's 80-200mm zoom lens.

This shot of a "spooky" moon with a cloud floating across was taken August 2005 with the EOS350D and it's 80-200mm zoom telephot lens.

This is a photograph of M45 the Pleaides cluster taken in November 2005, using a Canon EOS350D through a Meade ETX80AT, equivalent focal length = 600mm.

Why this blog?
Well, being born in the early 60's means that I witnessed the Apollo landings on the moon, this sparked a lifelong interest in Astronomy. This interest has waxed and waned over the years but never completely disappeared. My parents bought me 2 telescopes and a pair of binoculars as xmas presents between age 10 and 14.

Along the way I have visited the Jodrell Bank Observatory (twice) and experienced the wonders of the planetarium show first hand.

I have only experienced a truly dark sky on one occasion during a holiday with friends in North Wales, amazing is the only word to use.

Spent a fair amount of time observing when comet Hale Boppe appeared on the scene in 1998 (I think). But money was always being spent on other things rather than on new Astro kit.

Anyway, last year (2005) I started to find lots of info on the web and the flame was rekindled, this time I bought some new equipment and started some serious backyard astronomy (by my previous standards).

Managed to fit in lots of observing plus taking some astro photos from October onwards.

Finally decided to put a blog together this week and well, here it is, this will most likely be a mix of observational notes primarily for my own benefit and any tips, hints or websites that I find along the way that I feel might benefit anyone who may drop by.

Wednesday 8th Feb 2006 saw my part of the UK experiencing clear skies for the first time in weeks!

6.30am, awoke to a clear sky and the tempting sight of Jupiter and Venus both fairly high in the southern sky. By 6.45am had dashed out with the Opticron for a quick 5 minutes observing prior to leaving for work. Venus was stunning as a crescent shape while Jupiter gave a nice view of the Gallilean moons and I could just make out the 2 most prominent cloud belts.

5.45pm, back from work and straight outside with the scope for some more viewing. Orion is fairly high in the southern sky now even at this early hour. Capella is almost overhead whilst Sirius effortlessly shines through the band of light pollution that plagues my southern horizon.

Nice view of Saturn in the same field of view as the Beehive cluster, the rings are easily visible with the Opticron, more details of that to follow.

Watched a very bright satellite cross the sky from South to North but to the East of my location. Last time I saw one like this it was confirmed as the International Space Station but that time it moved from West to East. I need to investigate this further to find out if the track varies as much as that. The "Heavens Above" site contains info on the ISS and other satellite tracking data.

My favourite object for the scope is Albireo, the tail (in fact I think it's the head) star of Cygnus, a wonderful sight (a multi coloured double) in even a small scope. However, Cygnus has almost moved on now and Deneb (the topmost star) is low to the North.