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Mercury Transit of the Sun 9-5-16

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.

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The Sun in CaK light showing sunspot group 2542 to the right of centre and Mercury to the left of centre

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The Sun in Hydrogen Alpha light showing curving filaments and Mercury top left of centre

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The Hydrogen Alpha disk showing Mercury upper left of centre

Categories: Planets, Solar, Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

The Dark Skies of Anglesey, North Wales

March 11, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

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Orion in the west

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Jupiter rising through the lower branches of the tree

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Jupiter gleaming over Penmaenmawr and the Snowdonia Mountains

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Looking west to Benllech and Amlwch with the constellations Cassiopeia, Perseus  and Andromeda. The faint smudge just right of centre is the Andromeda Galaxy.

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Looking north west to Cassiopeia and Andromeda with the Milky Way faintly glowing

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The Plough looking north east

Venus with the Pleiades and Hyades Open Star Clusters 14th April 2015

April 14, 2015 Leave a comment

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I couldn’t resist another go at Venus passing the Pleiades cluster tonight, but this time I took a wider view and included the Hyades open cluster too. The Hyades is the V of stars to the left with the much closer red giant star Aldebaran glowing brightly at the top of the V. The Hyades cluster is about 625 million years old and the nearest open cluster to the solar system. Please click on the image to enlarge it as the small image above is heavily compressed by WordPress.

Image taken 14/4/15 20.27 UTC+1 Sony RX 100, ISO 1600, f.4.9, 37mm, 2.5 sec Luminance x 11. Stacked in Deepskystacker 3. Processed in Photoshop CS2.

Venus and the Pleiades Cluster 12th April 2015

April 12, 2015 Leave a comment

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Dashed out into the back garden just before 9pm to catch this lovely close encounter between Venus and the Pleiades open star cluster (M45) low in the west at 9.02pm. A close conjunction like this occurs every eight years in mid April. Image taken with a Canon 350d and Tamron LD DI 70-300mm zoom lens at 70mm (then cropped) ISO 400 3.2 seconds.

Crescent Moon and Venus – 22nd March 2015

March 22, 2015 Leave a comment

DSC02531alt2The crescent moon descending through fog in the west with Venus above 8.10pm

Categories: Lunar, Planets

Probably the most amazing astronomy book you will buy this year !

February 18, 2014 Leave a comment

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I’m talking about This Is Mars by Alfred S. McEwen, Francis Rocard and Xavier Barral with contributions by Sebastien Girard, Nathalie Chapuis and Nicolas Mangold and published by Aperture.

OK, first thing to note, it’s not cheap ! At £65 this may stretch people, but fortunately you can find it as low as £39.25 now using Amazon marketplace sellers. Second thing to note, it’s huge ! Measuring 30 cm wide and 36 cm tall this will not fit on most standard bookshelves and will almost by default become a coffee table book. You are, however, buying quality here. This hard bound book is beautifully designed and executed and falls somewhere between art and science in content.

The photographs of the surface of Mars presented here are both beautiful and utterly astounding and derive from the HiRISE camera mounted on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been taking ultra high resolution images of Mars since 2006.  The 150 black and white images are just short of A3 size and presented on very high quality art paper with each image covering an area 6km in breadth.  The range of landforms is staggering, from plunging canyons, vast black dune fields, towering volcanoes, craters, glacier flows and swirling trails left by desert twisters to name but a few.

After a brief introduction by the editor, Xavier Barral, about two thirds of the book is taken up with photos while the final third includes a series of short papers. The first is a description of the HiRISE camera and MRO project by Alfred S. McEwen. This is followed by an excellent essay by astrophysicist Francis Rocard covering the evolution of Mars and it’s geology (together with some detailed maps) which includes a timeline of the main observations of Mars from the 2nd century AD through to 2012. Finally, there’s a geomorphological tour of the surface of the Red Planet by Nicolas Mangold using the photographs in the book, which explains the origins of the numerous features you will see in the photographs.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough and I doubt anyone interested in astronomy would be even remotely disappointed to receive this book.

More information at the publisher’s website here http://www.aperture.org/shop/books/this-is-mars-books

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Venus Transit in Progress ! Clouded out ? Get a view courtesy of NASA

Its after midnight over here in the UK and there will be cloud 5-6 am so no chance of seeing the transit for me. I popped over to the NASA Live stream here http://sunearthday.nasa.gov/webcasts/nasaedge/ for a view and was surprised to see that the images are actually being broadcast via views from readily available amateur solar telescopes. Andy Lunt of Lunt Solar Systems http://www.luntsolarsystems.com/  was explaining the different wavelengths of light that we can view the transit in including Hydrogen Alpha (red), Calcium K (purple blue) and White Light (how we would see it in natural light if it wasn’t so bright – NOTE do not look at the sun directly ! ).  I took a set of screenshots from the live feed so that you can see what is going on. It gives you a great impression of the size of the planet Venus relative to the size of the Sun. Earth would typically fit into one of those larger sunspots you can see to the left.

Views courtesy of NASA Live view from Mauna Kea, Hawaii

White Light view 00.21 UT

Calcium K view 00.34 UT

Hydrogen Alpha view 1.45 UT

Categories: Planets, Solar