Imaging M31 from near Orton, Cumbria

I thought I’d try my ‘new’ dark sky imaging site above Orton on the Appleby road last night. The seeing was poor but only a light breeze and no Moon – I put my Williams Optics 66mm scope on a polar-aligned driven mount and took this image of The Great Andromeda Nebula, M31.



The image was taken with my Canon EOS 400D [deep sky modded] without any light pollution filter – which I wouldn’t dream of leaving off at Helsington. It’s not great with some star elongation due to imperfect polar alignment – I’m not Simon and I didn’t try too hard… Total exposure 1170 seconds [4*180, 1*90, 1*120, 1*240 seconds] at ISO 1600. Also some star distortion [coma] towards the edges which is not unexpected. A higher resolution version is in the image gallery together with one of the M57 area in Lyra – another experiment. It wasn’t all plain sailing… I forgot a key piece of kit – my camera timer/control – so I spent a lot of time with a cable release in my hands!

All in all a pleasing result and certainly proof that the site has potential and is [for round here] very dark. The 30 minute drive to get there [and more importantly to get back!] isn’t too bad from Kendal either.

Auroral Borealis activity on Friday night 12th September – images

Well it was an interesting evening – it coincided with Kendal’s Torchlight Procession. I wasn’t in the mood so I decided to head out in the hope of seeing the aurora before the Moon rose and washed everything out. It turned out to be the right decision despite all the road closures meaning getting onto the Tebay Road was a nightmare involving visiting Burneside!

I’d spotted on Google Earth a potential observing site – somewhere with a clear northern horizon, well away from light pollution and at a reasonable altitude to get above the valley mists and moisture. The site was just to the north of Orton village at an altitude of 300m or so. On a calm night it was fantastic with great views in all directions but it would be very cold and blustery if windy as there is no shelter at all.

I arrived to find another couple up there from Tebay also hoping to see the aurora. Well despite the hype it was a visual dead loss. Once the Moon was up, everything was washed out other than a faint brightening to the north – the activity seemed to follow the Plough despite the movement of the constellation over the 5 hours or so I was there!

Activity seemed to peak around 10pm. At this point the Moon was up but low on the NE horizon and behind a bank of low cloud, so it had little effect on viewing. There was a vague whitish hue prior to that, easily visible as a green hue with a camera. But nothing to get really excited by compared to the aurora in February. After an hour or so of waiting hopefully, and just before 10pm, I was convinced I could see faint red bands. Wishful thinking? The camera confirmed that there were red bands there. The timing of the images taken are given…

I must stress, it didn’t look like this to the naked eye… the images have had minimal processing in Photoshop, minor levels adjustment and an increase in saturation,and were taken with a Canon EOS 400D, 18mm focal length, typical exposure of between 20 and 40 seconds, f3.5, ISO 1600.






So the best was really all over by just after 22:00. The rest of the night was waiting hoping that activity would really kick off – a forlorn hope. At 23:17, with a now very bright Moon, I took this picture. You can see the lights from Shap cement works [left] and Shap village [centre].Orton-Aurora-2317-BST-IMG_1445_sat_sm

Carol arrived some time around  I guess 2300 having bailed out of joining Stu up at Langwathby. She was some sight – she arrived dressed up to the nines in a sequinned dress and high heels straight from a party! So now we know what should be typical EAS observing apparel.  Even funnier, she forget to bring any other shoes so we kept hearing the clicking of her heels as she walked around. 🙂

Stu and Stella joined us sometime after midnight so we ended up with 4 EAS members staring at the sky and cursing the Moon before we finally left about 2:30am. The aurora was still there – well at least to the cameras – but the auroral arc had moved considerably north and so was quite low on the horizon and in the misty haze.

Sorry, I’ve rambled on a bit so this has got quite long.




Aurora Borealis seen from Cumbria last Friday night…

After a lot of activity on the Sun sent a large amount of solar material thundering towards Earth, I put out an AURORA ALERT!! email at the end of last week, urging EAS members to keep an eye on the sky for the northern lights over the following few nights. There was a lot of hype about the possibility of seeing the northern lights on Friday and Saturday night, so I was very careful not to get everyone’s hopes up too much! And, true enough, when the much-anticipated “solar storm” arrived it was rather underwhelming. A combination of a (still!!! When will it go away!!! It’s been there for weeks!!!!) Full Moon and misty murky weather meant that the aurora wasn’t seen very well across any of the UK really, and the aurora itself never really got going because the conditions “Up there” just weren’t conducive to triggering a major storm.

But still, the aurora was visible from Cumbria last Friday night, so I hope some of you saw it!

I know that at least a few EAS members did see it, because two different groups of us went out aurora-hunting that night, and were successful. After monitoring the weather forecasts all day it looked like Langwathby, near Penrith, offered the best prospects for viewing, with clear sky through from 23.00 to 03.00, so Stella and I headed there, to join Martin Thomas. Sadly the mist and murk we found when we got there never really lifted, and lit by that almost Full Moon it was pretty poor. There was a vague naked eye glow to the north, which picked up on photos, and I even got a hint of a few rays early on, but the main thing we saw was a pale, vague, greenish glow, as you can see from these images…




So, yes… it was great to see Martin again, and fun to talk to several people who joined us in our misty, murky, moonlit, light-polluted field to look for the aurora, but all in all it was, I have to be honest, a big let down. But that’s the way it goes, and there is always the possibility of this happening with the aurora, so better luck next time…!

Meanwhile, up at Orton Scar, high above the mist and with no light pollution to wrestle with, EAS members Ian Bradley and Carol Grayson were having MUCH better luck, and got some really nice photos. I’ll leave it to them to post those here themselves, then they can say a little about what they show, but they put mine to shame! Orton Scar is a FANTASTIC site, and will definitely become an EAS observing site for future events; it looks perfect for meteor shower observing…

The next chance to see the northern lights from Cumbria might come on Tuesday night. Watch this space for details!

Stargazing Kendal – The Podcast

Hi all

After a brilliant week for Stargazing Kendal, there is a special edition of the ‘Heavens Above Astronomy Podcast’ looking at Stargazing Kendal and watch out for a few familiar voices joining Dan, John & Stu including Graham and Carol! We recorded audio at the Sky Watch and Moon watch!

Listen on Youtube here:

Listen on our website here:



Well, here we are, the last official ‘event’ of our mini astro festival – a special 3D screening of the film “Gravity” – will be held at the Brewery Arts Centre in an hour and a half, and then, after a spot of stargazing tonight, that’ll be it, apart from taking down the Museum’s meteorite display next Friday.

After the frustration of Wednesday night’s cloud-ruined “Skywatch” up at the Castle, when we saw ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, yesterday’s observing day at the Brewery was a huge success, with first sunshine and then moonlight illuminating the Brewery Arts Centre gardens for hours. In the afternoon we set up more than half a dozen telescopes to show people the Sun, and after dark we switched our attention to the Moon. Lots of people came to both events, and the weather co-operated this time, allowing us long, wonderful periods of Sun- and Moon-vieweing. We were joined by amateur astronomers from outside our area, including Chris Darwin from the Cockermouth AS and Andrew Davies from the Knowledge Observatory, a good 3 hour drive away! Both brought solar telescopes along, and luckily there was lots to see on the Sun to keep our visitors happy: several groups of sunspots just clearing the limb, and rising up from the limb many feathery crimson prominences. I hope someone got pictures of those, they looked beautiful…

Here are some pics from the Sunwatch…



girl scope


I’ve no idea how many people came to see the Sun yesterday afternoon, but certainly all the members of the Society who came along to help – and thank you, all of you! – were kept busy, and there were lots of kind and appreciative comments from people who were amazed at their first ever views of sunspots, either through a telescope or on a projected image. The solar telescopes were big hits, and their owners worked particularly hard throughout the afternoon,

Between four and half past seven we had a well-earned and much-needed break, then returned to the Brewery gardens to set up for the Moonwatch. At first there was no sign of the Moon, it was hidden behind thick puffs of low cloud, but eventually it appeared, a big, bright, silvery ball breaking through a gap, and everyone rushed to their scopes! And that was the pattern for the next two hours… the Moon playing hide and seek through the clouds, with every reappearace greeted by a flurry of activity as telescope owners swung their instruments back towards it and visitors rushed to the nearest eyepiece. Again, I can’t estimate how many people came to see the Moon, but there was a steady flow of visitors all through the evening, young and old, curious and fascinated, and again for many of them it was their first view through a telescope, so I hope we made it a memorable one!

By the time we packed up at ten thirty we were all pretty worn out, but delighted the event had gone so well. It was a great day.

So, special thanks to everyone who played a part in it – all the members of the Society who took the time to come to the gardens and man a telescope; EAS member Dan Beale who promoted us all week on his Lakeland Radio show; Sally Moon and Caroline Robertson who plugged us so generously on Radio Cumbria; the Westmorland Gazette for telling its readers all about our events; Andrew Davies and Chris Darwin for travelling such a long way; the Brewery staff for supporting us, and, of course, the Brewery Arts Centre for letting us take over their lovely garden for most of the day!

And finally, a big THANK YOU to all the members of the public who came along to let us show them the Sun and the Moon. If you were one of them I hope you enjoyed your time with us, and that we will see you at some of our future events too!

STARGAZING KENDAL… How’s it going?

So, with just a couple of days of our mini astro festival left to go, how has STARGAZING KENDAL gone so far?

We started off on Monday night with an “open night” at Kendal Museum, when we flung open the doors for our monthly meeting and invited along anyone who wanted to learn more about what we do. It was our annual “Telescope Night”, when members bring along their telescopes and everyone has a good look at the variety of instruments owned by the Society. This year we had a REALLY good selection of telescopes, so thank you to everyone who brought one to the meeting!

telescopes and owners b












The next evening, Tuesday, The Brewery Arts Centre showed the SF film “Contact” in their Warehouse Cafe cinema for us. 24 hours later, members if the Society gathered up at Kendal Castle for the first observing event of the week, a “Skywatch”… unfortunately that sky was totally cloudy, so we saw nothing “Up there”, and missed the chance to show people Mars and Saturn shining close together over the town, and the Moon shining over the castle ruins, but still, lots of people came up to the castle and enjoyed chatting to us about the night sky and finding out more about the Society. And it was great to welcome back our Founder, Philip Stobbart, who brought with him a VERY special birthday card, signed by many famous astro people…





Thursday night the Brewery Arts Centre showed another film for us in The Warehouse, this time the space thriller “Sunshine”. Then last night was Lecture Night at The Box, and a small but select crowd enjoyed a trio of talks on beginners astronomy and astrophotography, from EAS Secretary Stuart Atkinson, EAS Treasurer Simon White and Cockermouth AS’s Jeremy Hunt, who travelled all the way down from Cockernouth to support us…






Today, Saturday, is our main observing day, with not one but TWO public observing events being held at The Brewery Arts Centre.

Poster Sun Moon BAC sm jpg

We’ll be looking at the Sun between 2 and 4, and the Moon after 8pm. If you haven’t come along to one of our STARGAZING KENDAL events yet, today’s your chance. Hope to see you there! 🙂

EAS Meeting 2nd September 2014

This meeting was the official start of our Stargazing Kendal week, and started with Stuart Atkinson’s round-up of astronomy news, and also some of his recent photographs of the Aurora taken from Shap and the Milky Way from Dalby Star Camp, as well as Comet Jacques, currently visible in binoculars.

Simon White then showed his latest photos. He has been investigating the possibility of using Silecroft, on the coast out beyond Barrow, as an observing site with a dark sky to the South-West, only to discover that there is a huge, well-lit wind farm out to sea. So not as dark as he hoped, but he still got some impressive shots of the Milky Way. He has also been following Comet Jacques, and showed a beautiful photo of the comet moving past the Heart Nebula (albeit composed of two separate photos taken by two different telescopes, on two different continents!).

Telescope Night

After the break we had Telescope Night. This is the chance for everyone to show off their telescopes, and answer questions about them – how the different types worked, and what their advantages and disadvantages were. Ten people brought telescopes along, varying from little birding telescopes to large reflectors which took two people to carry. Different devices are suitable for different applications, so it all depends on what you want to do, and on how important portability is to you. The discussion also highlighted the importance of picking the right tripod, where there is a distinct trade-off of stability against portability to be considered.

Finally, we were reminded of the events for the coming week, especially the observing sessions on Wednesday night at the Castle, and on the Brewery Arts Centre.

Liz Hodgson