Free lecture on “New Horizons Mission to Pluto”

There is a free public lecture as part of Lancaster University’s 50th anniversary by Lancaster alumni Dr Fran Bagenal of the Univesrity of Colorado entitled “New Horizons Mission to Pluto” , Tuesday, 13 May 2014 from 18:30 to 19:30 (BST) at Lancaster University.

Booking essential – see here for more information and to book.

Ian B

PANSTARRS passes the Plough…

PANSTARRS path Apr 24 - May 18 small

If you fancy an observing challenge over the coming few weeks, there’s a faint comet drifting past the stars of The Plough. Visible in small telescopes and large binoculars at the moment, Comet PANSTARRS K1 is being observed and photographed by comet watchers around the world, and I’ve managed to capture it with my DSLR, so why not give it a go? Full guide on my blog…

Loads of sunspots

There are loads of sunspots visible on the Sun at the moment… visible with a small scope fitted with suitable filters. Don’t try eyeballing without filters! Here is an image taken Friday lunchtime using a 66mm scope fitted with eclipse viewing film – Baader astrosolar safety film – using an SLR camera.

Sun imaged April 18 2014

Sun imaged April 18 2014

Ian B

Worth getting up at Stupid o’clock for…

Asrtronomy can be a very anti-social hobby, and that’s never truer than at times like this, when all the “good stuff” is visible in the wee small hours and an intrusive big bright Moon means you only have a small window of opportunity, just before the sky starts to brighten, in which to see or do anything useful. Which is why I got up at 3am on Friday morning, grabbed my camera gear and tripod, and headed out to my nearby dark sky oasis, a woodland clearing at the foot of Kendal Castle, to try and photograph the Milky Way, Mars, and a comet…

Often when I do this I arrive at my observing site to find that while I’ve been walking the clouds have rolled in, covering everything, and I have to trudge home again without a single new photo on the memory card. Thankfully on Friday morning the clouds stayed away, and I was able to tick off everything on my astrophotographic hit list…

Should note here that all these photos were taken with the most basic set-up – my entry level Canon digital SLR, mounted on a tripod, fitted with a fast or wide angle lens and set at a high ISO (what we used to call “film speed” in Ye Olde pre digital days!) taking time exposures of several seconds, which were then combined together (or “stacked”) to create a single more detailed image. One of my friends from the Cockermouth AS very kindly made me a mount last year which will allow me to track the stars, but I have yet to use it because I’m saving it now for nights when the Milky Way is dominating the sky.

Ok, here’s what I managed to take. I try to take pictures which are attractive visually as well as interesting astronomically, so I hope even if you’re not into astronomy you’ll like them. Click on the images to enlarge them…

The Milky Way rising over the treetops…

m way s

Mars (right) and Spica sinking lower as dawn approaches…

Mars spica s

The Milky Way around the bright star Deneb…

NA Neb2 s

The constellation Lyra…

lyra s

And finally, comet Panstarrs K1, which is still very faint but might get brighter in a while…

panstarrs close up circle

Yes, definitely worth getting up at Stupid o’clock for…

7th April 2014 – Meeting

This was Beginners Night, and Stuart Atkinson gave a wide-ranging overview of the ways in which a beginner might set out to learn more about the night sky. He emphasized the importance of navigation; learning your way round the night sky, so that you can recognize the major constellations. This will necessarily take at least 12 months, but there are many guides and devices to help you.

As far as equipment is concerned, binoculars are more suited for beginners than telescopes because of their wider field of view, and many exciting things can be seen with binoculars, or even with the naked eye. But you do need a dark place to observe from; light pollution is an issue even in places like Kendal. Closer to large cities, it can be impossible to get a good view of the night sky.

Good targets for beginners to observe are the Moon and planets, bright satellites like the ISS, meteors, and atmospheric phenomena such as noctilucent clouds and the Northern Lights.

After the break, Simon White gave a presentation on astrophotography for beginners.

Two new nova visible

A couple of Japanese have found two new novae in the past few days. Both are round about magnitude 10 so a 60 mm plus telescope will be require to see them.

NOVA SCO 2014: in Scorpius,

magnitude 10.1, coordinates R.A. 17 15 46.83 Dec. -31 28 30.3 (2000.0).

This will be very difficult as it skirts the southern horizon at 0530 rising to a maximum altitude of about 4 degrees! Probably rather optimistic from Kendal!

A  much more realistic observational possibility is

NOVA CYG 2014: in Cygnus,

magnitude 10.9, coordinates: R.A. 20 21 42.32, Decl. +31 03 29.4 (2000.0).

At 5am, this is 45 degrees above the horizon in the north-east. Although it rises around 22:30, it too skirts the horizon rising to 11 degrees by 1am. Definitely an early morning project.

Finder charts with comparison star sequences may be created using the AAVSO Variable Star Plotter (VSP) at

Ian B