Archive for the ‘Planets’ Category

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.


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

Categories: Planets, Solar 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.


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

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

April 14, 2015 Leave a comment

m45venus1--5Click Image to Enlarge

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


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


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




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 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  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

The Transit of Venus across the Sun – June 5th – 6th 2012

May 20, 2012 1 comment

Above: NASA images of the transit of Venus in 2004

As many of you will know the planet Venus traverses across the face of the sun for 7 hours during the evening of June 5th and very early morning of June 6th 2012 (in the northern hemisphere). This event will not happen again for another 105 years so it truly is a once in a lifetime event. I’m not optimistic of a view from my location as it will only be visible between 5.00 and 5.54 am at less than 10 degrees elevation on the horizon, so it needs a perfectly cloud free view from an elevated site to have the best opportunity and we normally have 78% cloud in early June ! Nevertheless, i’ll be out there with the solar telescopes if it looks at all favorable 🙂

If anyone is trying to find out whether the transit will be visible from their location in the northern hemisphere I can recommend the following website which has a handy graphical visibility calculator that is very easy to use. Just pop your postcode into the search box or drag the map to your location.

If the timezones and cloud conspire against you then I can recommend the NASA live broadcast page where you can follow the event in real-time  Another good broadcast site which will be using multiple locations across the globe and telescopes viewing the sun in various wavelengths of light is the Columbus State University site here

Hope you all get a view of this rare event. Please remember not to look directly at the sun and do take appropriate safety measures before viewing with the correct equipment. Do get in touch if you have some images and i’ll post them up on the blog – good luck !

Categories: Planets, Solar

Moon, Jupiter, Venus Conjunction & Pleiades !

March 26, 2012 2 comments

If anything I reckon the planetary conjunction of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter in the west looks even better tonight with Venus close to the Moon. I couldn’t resist another photo, but this time in full darkness. Although I didn’t realise it at the time I managed to catch the Pleiades star cluster right at the top of the image, which really enhances the overall alignment.

Image taken 26/3/12 at 9.48pm Canon 350D, F5, ISO 400, 10 seconds @ 42mm

Categories: Planets

The Planets Align – Moon Jupiter and Venus

March 25, 2012 4 comments

There are some great views in the west right now (yes now, get out there !) of a close planetary alignment between the Moon, Jupiter to the left and Venus above the Moon. The Moon is in a thin crescent phase too so you get the added benefit of that slightly blue-grey ghostly disk on the dark side of the Moon resulting from the earthshine effect ie. the reflection of sunlight from the Earth’s surface to the Moon. The alignment is particularly good tonight and tomorrow so do have a look. Image taken 25/3/12  8:30pm. Canon 350D, ISO 400, 18mm, 0.6 sec exposure.

Categories: Planets