The 2014 NLC Season has begun!

Last night, around midnight, NLC were seen from Germany and Scotland, so the season has begun! Of course, here in Cumbria the sky was cloudier than the water in a fish tank that hasn’t been cleaned for a month, so no luck for us but tonight’s forecast is better so fingers crossed…

What are NLC, what do they look like, when can you see them and how do you observe them? There’s a full guide on my blog. I hope you’ll take a look…

Cumbrian Sky Guide to NLC

Camelopardalid watchers get the hump…

Sorry, couldn’t resist it. 🙂

So, after all the speculation, build-up and hype, what did that “new meteor shower” coming from the constellation of Camelopardalis turn out like? Did the sky – as some predicted breathlessly – fill with beautiful shooting stars, hundreds flashing and dashing across the sky every hour at the peak? Did fireballs roll through the heavens, trailing smoke and fire? Or was the whole thing a bust?

Well, not exactly a bust, but there was nothing to write home about, that’s for sure. A day later, reading through reports on Facebook and Twitter and various observing groups, it is clear that at the predicted peak of the shower, which occurred during daylight hours for us here in the UK remember, observers in the US saw only a very, very modest show, just a spattering of meteors in fact, and I’ve not seen reports of any fireballs. So even if the peak had occurred during darkness here in the UK, I don’t think we’d have seen anything special either.

BUT, the no-show isn’t a reason for any teeth-gnashing or wailing, or to call for the heads of the astronomers. This is how science works. The people who made the predictions were VERY careful to just say there was a POSSIBILITY of new activity, but nothing was certain, and there was every chance that nothing at all might happen. And this is the line I took myself, of course. No, if anyone was led to believe that there absolutely would be a sky spectacle and are feeling disappointed or cheated today, that’s the fault of idiots on social network sites who insist on posting horrible mock-up photos with giddily excited titles like “Don’t miss this!” “This will be amazing!!” at times like this, predicting amazing events, which then spread across the net like wildfire. Inevitably the media pick up on these, with scientifically ignorant and lazy reporters quoting them without doing any fact checking, and the result is lots of people come to believe it’s nailed on certain that SOMETHING INCREDIBLE is going to happen “up there”. This happens all the time now, with every comet, every asteroid fly-by, every eclipse, even every Full Moon. It’s infuriating.

But anyway, back to the meteor storm. Basically, there wasn’t one, which was a shame but that’s the way it goes. And in the end, here in Cumbria the weather was so horrible we would have missed anything which happened anyway. But that didn’t stop several (okay, three) optimistic members of the Eddington AS heading up to local high viewpoint landmark Scout Scar to observe and record anything that happened…

The sky was thick with grey cloud, with only a few stars peeping through here and there gaps as Stella and I reached the car park at the foot of the Scar, where, somehow, we managed to miss EAS Treasurer Simon White, who had been at the Scar before we got there. But we headed up to the top of the Scar, loaded down with cameras, tripod, and a pop up tent, prepared to stick it out until dawn, just to see if anything would happen “up there”.

Our original plan had been to put our tent up in a small sheltered area just at the top of the path, but when we arrived that spot was already occupied. My torch beam showed a rather large animal lying there which was either a cow or a bull, it was impossible to be sure in the darkness, so discretion being the better part of valour, and with the animal’s eyes following us, we found an alternative camping spot further up the hill…

Scout Scar, for those who don’t know it, is well known, locally and I think nationally, for its limestone pavement formations, which jut out of the ground like hard, grey mould. There’s also loose limestone pieces everywhere, everywhere, scattered across it like the shattered remains of a billion broken plates, and as you walk on the scar these pieces chink and clink together beneath your boots. Eventually we found an area relatively free of this debris, and set up our overnight camp…

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There were a few gaps in the sky at that time – just around 01.15 – and I managed to sneak a few photos, which hint at what a good place it could be for astrophotography on a really clear night…

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That misty blur in the circle’s centre above is a comet, PANSTARRS K1, and that’s a single frame, not several stacked together, so I can’t wait to get up there again on a properly clear night and get some more photos.

But… by 02.30 the gaps closed up and it started to rain, so I retreated inside the tent too, and even though I kept popping my head out of the tent to check the sky I never saw another star again, and when dawn came, several hours later, the sky was battleship grey…

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…and that was it. Not a hint of a whiff of a meteor seen from Scout Scar. Elsewhere in the UK a few observers managed to bag a handful, but that was about it.

Oh well. Roll on the Perseids in August, and Noctilucent Clouds at month’s end!

Full moon image

Prompted by a full moon photo from our ex-chairman Ken Hough, I thought I’d try something different for me.

As a kid, one of my goals was to take a picture of the Moon when it was full. I think prompted by a picture in Patrick Moore’s ‘Observers Book of Astronomy’ which I read cover to cover. I thought it would be hard and I was right. I failed due to lack of equipment and ability. I knew nothing about photography, especially ‘wet’ film photography. A few years later I took slides but never attempted anything astronomical.

Now, many years later, owning an 8″ Meade SCT, I thought it’d be easy. I was wrong… I found that my 8” gave poor shots using the Canon SLR at prime focus. The 8″ scope was fine with a webcam [stacked etc. with Registax] for small fields of view, but the whole Moon was non-starter. However, with my “little” William Optics ZenithStar 66 Petzval ED Semi-APO  66mm f/6 (400mm focal length) aperture scope, I thought an experiment was worthwhile. Its large field of view would easily encompass the Moon on my Canon EOS 400D and stilI allow short exposures to get round seeing issues.

Last week May 13th, at nearly full moon [phase was 98.9%], I mounted the scope on a wobbly cheap photographic tripod and took a series of images from central Kendal with as fast an exposure as I could – 1/4000th ISO 800  – with the Canon camera at prime focus. I aligned 8 of these in Photoshop, overlaid them and then flattened the resultant, applied an unsharp mask and adjusted the levels to bring out some more detail – what is usually called stretching in astro-image processing. All the grainyness of the original images virtually disappered and I’m pleased with the result. Lots more detail than I’ve ever got before as my previous attempts normally looked washed out and bland. Really pleased.

Moon, phase 99% May 13 2014,  8 images 4000th iso 800 WO 63mm Scope, Canon EOS400D

Moon, phase 99% May 13 2014, 8 images 4000th iso 800 WO 63mm Scope, Canon EOS400D

Ian B

Amateurs take over old NASA satellite

Some brave people have scraped together funding to try and contact ISEE-3, a NASA satellite from 1978 that just happens to be passing Earth again in August 2014. They call themselves the ISEE-3 Reboot Project and NASA has just given them the official go-ahead. They will have to rebuild a lot of kit that has been scrapped, as the technology used to communicate with satellites has changed so much since the 1970s. They even have a mission patch!

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Sounds a great idea!  Maybe EAS should be more ambitious?

More on the Meteor Watch…

It’s now less than a week until a new meteor shower MIGHT light up the pre-dawn sky, so I thought I’d go up to our chosen observing site – the northern end of Scout Scar – and check the place out, and take some pictures which will help those of you unfamiliar with the area to get to the right place late on Friday night.

So… it turns out that Scout Scar is INCREDIBLE!!!! Why did no-one MAKE me go up there and see it before now??? What were you all thinking????? The view from up there is spectacular, a greet sweeping 360 degree panoramic view of Kendal and its surrounding countryside. And the view north will be perfect for viewing whatever happens on Friday night/Saturday morning, so thanks again to Simon White for suggesting that…

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Ok… so, here’s where we’re holding our Meteor Watch, after midnight on Friday night…

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…and here’s the car park where you all need park up…

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Aerial views are fine, but don’t tell you what a place looks like from ground level. This is what you will see on the right as you reach the car park entrance…

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Then you need to cross the road and head for this gate…

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Then head up this path…

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…until you reach here

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And that’s roughly where we’ll be observing from. There are a couple of benches up there, but I would recommend taking a deck chair or lawn chair up there to rest on while you’re watching the sky.

I should say again here that there is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that we will see ANYTHING Friday night/Saturday morning. But we are absolutely guaranteed to see nothing if we don’t try. So, I hope you’ll join us if you can.

12th May 2014 – Meeting

The meeting was well attended (around 40 members) and Stuart Atkinson kicked off with a description of his recent observing sessions, and the resulting beautiful photos. EAS members have been searching all round Kendal and the surrounding areas for good observing sites, and we have tracked down quite a few dark places. As well as finding places suitable for an evening session, some members are interested in sites where we could hold our own Starcamp. Stuart has found a local campsite that would offer very dark skies but is quite close and accessible.

That would be for later on in the year. In the meantime, there has been a prediction of a possible meteor shower on 23/24th May 2014, from a new trail of dust, i.e. not one of the regular showers. Since it is new, no-one knows how bright it might be, but we are always hopeful, and a Meteor Watch is planned up on Scout Scar for the night of the 23rd. This will not be a public event, just for EAS members.

Stuart also reminded everyone to look out for noctilucent clouds, as we are approaching the season for them There were some really good ones last year, and several members got good photos.

After the break, we had a presentation from Simon White, who explained the hard work that goes into his amazing photos (and also the occasional glitch!). He had managed to capture comet PANSTARRS c/2012 K1 and M51 in the same frame, but they put up a fight.

Simon was followed by Ian Bradley showing his holiday snaps of the restored 72″ telescope built at Birr in Ireland by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in the mid-19th Century. It was an astonishing technical achievement in its day, but central Ireland was perhaps not the best place to site it. The cloud cover rivals Kendal’s!

Lastly Carol Grayson showed us how she had managed to capture two unusual optical highlights on the Moon, the Lunar X and the Lunar V. In both cases, these are the result of the way the oblique sunlight hits the mountains and crater ridges as the Moon turns, and they can only be seen quite briefly.

Liz Hodgson