We stayed at a remote cottage in the Tywi Valley north west of Rhandirmwyn in Carmarthenshire for a week and I had a couple of opportunities to spend some time under the dark skies available here. To the naked eye there is no light pollution at all within the Tywi valley and the Milky Way is easily seen when your eyesight is dark adapted. The higher sensitivity of the camera sensor picks up some light glow from Rhandirmwyn village and a larger amount from the town of Llandovery, which lies some 10km distant. The area is well known for dark skies with a couple of sites recommended here Dark Sky Discovery Sites UK including the YHA hostels at Ty’n-y-cornel and Dolgoch located to the north of the Llyn Brianne reservoir.
Here are some photos taken from the cottage on clear, but occasionally cloudy, nights with the Fuji X100s at 28mm, F2, ISO 6400, 15 – 25 second exposures.
Above: Looking south through thin cloud with some light pollution from Rhandirmwyn and Llandovery evident. Delphinus (upper right edge) with the head of Pegasus (centre) and parts of Aquarius.
Above: Looking north east at the constellations Cassiopeia (top) and Perseus (centre) with the bright star Capella in Auriga near the bottom of the photo
Above: Looking west towards the Allt Ty’n-y-ddol ridge with Ursa Major (the Plough) just above the dark ridge line. The Pole Star – Polaris (top right) and Ursa Minor and Draco to the left of Polaris.
Well I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen this event as the cloud cover was horrendous for most of the day. These images were actually taken through the thinnest of that cloud between 15:30 – 16:50 and the quality of the images is pretty dire, but nonetheless a good record of how I saw things from the back garden. I was amazed at just how small the planet looks against the Sun, not much bigger than the sunspot group nearby.
The transit began at 12.12 BST, and ends at 19.42 BST so you have a few minutes left to see it in the UK ! Mercury is 4,800 km in diameter and orbits the Sun in 88 days. Transits of mercury are fairly rare events with 13 taking place every century in November or May.
The Sun in CaK light showing sunspot group 2542 to the right of centre and Mercury to the left of centre
The Sun in Hydrogen Alpha light showing curving filaments and Mercury top left of centre
The Hydrogen Alpha disk showing Mercury upper left of centre
The Sun’s activity is now heading towards solar minimum, but it can still occasionally surprise us with some large surface features such as sunspot active region AR 2529 which appeared over the last weekend. To give you some idea of scale you could fit five Earth’s inside the dark area of that sunspot ! It is so large people have reported seeing it at sunset behind thin cloud with the naked eye.
Images taken 17-4-16 12:10pm, PST CaK, DMK 400
Spent a few days up on Anglesey near Penmon where they have stunning dark skies so I took the opportunity to do a little astrophotography from the back garden of the cottage, which overlooked the sea to the north. Orion was prominent in the western sky while to the south Jupiter was rising above the roof and through the trees. Many star clusters were visible with the naked eye including the Double Cluster, three clusters in the southern half of Auriga and M44 (The Beehive) near Gemini. The Andromeda Galaxy was easy to find in the north.
The Isle of Anglesey AONB is currently working towards gaining Dark Sky Reserve Status and you can follow their progress here The view was quite spectacular on a moonless night with stars from horizon to horizon. Light pollution was minimal for naked eye viewing, particularly to the north and west. The main problem for photographers will be the large number of passenger jets heading east – west in the north and it was difficult to take a photo which did not have a plane trail in it.
All images taken with the Sony RX100, F1.8, 28mm, ISO 3200, 8 second exposures.
Orion in the west
Jupiter rising through the lower branches of the tree
Jupiter gleaming over Penmaenmawr and the Snowdonia Mountains
Looking west to Benllech and Amlwch with the constellations Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda. The faint smudge just right of centre is the Andromeda Galaxy.
Looking north west to Cassiopeia and Andromeda with the Milky Way faintly glowing
The Plough looking north east
Once again the value of Twitter for aurora alerts was proven tonight. I started to pick up reports of a Class G-1 storm reaching KP5 levels of visibility in Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland at around 8.20pm tonight and then by 9pm there were reports from Southern Ireland. I thought I would take a look even though no reports from Wales were coming in and was rewarded with the most spectacular light show to date for our area. Pillars of white light were numerous with a background of greens and magenta reds in the north and north west. Occasional higher bands could be seen early on right round to the west and fairly high up.
Images taken 9.30 – 10.30 6/3/16 Sony RX100, ISO 3200, 28mm, F1.8, 8 seconds.
Above: Comet Catalina on 15/1/2016 at 23.31 pm from the back garden. Sony RX100, 28mm, F1.8, ISO 3200, 8 seconds. A crop of the image below.
Comet C/2013 US 10 Catalina will be at it’s closest approach to Earth on Sunday 17th January at about 110 million kilometres away. It is already speeding away from the Sun and back out of the Solar System and losing brightness fast. With a Full Moon coming up on January 24th this really is your last chance to see the comet with binoculars from your back garden as the moonlight will make it very difficult to see. I had a look last night in wonderful clear skies and the comet was easily visible in 8 x 30 binoculars.
The photograph above gives a pretty accurate idea of what you will see through binoculars. Look for a faint grey fuzzy splodge with a slightly brighter core to the left of the star Alkaid which forms the tip of the handle in the constellation Ursa Major (also called the Big Dipper, The Plough, The Saucepan). If you are stepping outdoors from a brightly lit house your eyes will need 5 – 10 minutes to fully adjust to the dark conditions and resolve the faintest stars and the comet. Turn off all outside lights and don’t use torches as these will ruin the ability of your eyes to adjust and see fainter objects. Just stand and look at all the amazing constellations around you for a bit then zoom in with the binoculars and let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness. Scan the area to the left of the star Alkaid (use the finder chart below) and you should pick up the faint grey smudge of light that makes up the comet. Feast your eyes on this small object as it is the last time humans will see it. Catalina will never return due to its orbital path.
Above: The position of the comet to the left of the bright star Alkaid in Ursa Major 15/1/16 23.31 pm
Above: Finder chart courtesy of freecharts.com to help you locate the comet between the 15th and 22nd January
While you are out there under the stars do also take a look behind you to the south and the fabulous Orion constellation with the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters to the west of it. It was really glistening last night in a very dark and clear sky from our house.
Above: The constellation Orion to left with the Hyades (right of centre) and Pleiades (right) star clusters. Image taken 15/1/16 23.39 pm Sony RX100, 28mm, F1.8, ISO 3200, 8 seconds.
So Christmas is upon us again and I would just like to wish all followers and readers of the blog a very Happy Christmas ! Here is a photograph I took the other night while waiting for the aurora to appear. I happened to turn around and there was the winter constellation Orion high in the south east above The Breidden hills with the arrow shaped Hyades cluster just above it to the right and then the smaller Pleiades cluster right at the top edge of the photo on the right.
It has been a great year of astronomy for me with the 95% solar eclipse in March, then a full lunar eclipse in September, lots of great comets and supernovae and numerous sightings of the aurora over Wales. Here’s hoping 2016 is just as exciting !