Prof. Monica Grady talk, Lancaster

A talk which may interest members:

Landing on a comet

Wednesday 14 June, 6.30 pm, Lancaster University, Cavendish Lecture Theatre in the Faraday lecture complex.

Professor Monica Grady (Open University)

ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft was launched in 2004, arriving at its target comet in July 2014. The Philae lander was deposited onto the comet’s surface in November 2014, operating for 70 hours before its battery failed.

Monica Grady was scientific advisor to the lander’s Ptolemy instrument team. In her talk, she will relate what it was like to land an instrument on a comet, and discuss some of the results from the mission.”



Holiday photograph… North America Nebula

On a recent holiday in the Scottish Borders near Jedburgh, I managed to find a short lived gap in the weather – between the strohg wind and the clouds, imaging was impossible. I drove about 10 miles from Jedburgh towards the Cheviot Hills and found [combining OS maps and Google Earth is wonderful!] a possible imaging site if the weather played fair. The site was brilliant with exceptionally dark skies and no light pollution.

Eventually it did for a brief time. I got set up with a few problems and lost some time by being greedy by trying to run two cameras simultaneously – one widefield in the hope of catching a few early Perseid meteors and one on a Williams Optics 72mm telescope on my Skywatcher goto mount. For some reason, focussing the widefield lens didn’t occur smoothly so as I saw cloud approaching, I started imaging with the WO scope and an astro-modified Canon EOS400D [the usual internal red filter that blocks the red light from nebulae has been removed]. I managed three shots – one of 3 minutes exposure, one of the planned four minutes [I was hoping for more] and one of 2 minute until curtailed by a flat battery. Then cloud arrived…

The image is of the North America Nebula, NGC 7000. Situated close to Deneb in the constellation Cygnus, it is a vast cloud of excited hydrogen.

North America Nebula

North America Nebula

Moral, don’t be too greedy!

Images from Mercury transit

The Mercury transit of the Sun was interesting last Monday. Hard to say it was spectacular but when you think what you are actually looking at… But the weather couldn’t have been better in Kendal – for a change!

It was an interesting photo opportunity but with the planet being so small, it was hardly a visual treat even with telescopic aid. However, that we could see it against the Sun was good. Normally in the twilight sky it is quite a challenge to find it if you didn’t know which of those faint ‘stars’ it was… Still fascinating to think that that is a real world passing between us and the Sun, albeit one only about 40% bigger in diameter than our moon. and less than 40% of the diameter of the Earth. At less than 60 million km from the Sun [Earth is 150 million km away], it is a stark place as recent NASA Messenger probe showed in some detail for the first time.


A few of my images. A still taken at 16:11 GMT. Nice sunspot groups – one oviopus group and a much smaller one between Mercury and the large group. Taken through my 8″ Meade LX200R fitted with a Baader astrosolar film filter.


A time lapse video of most of the transit – well at least until the Sun dropped behind a telephone pole and then into trees. The gaps coincide with me putting the camera on a solar scope and also a disloded cable on the laptop running camera [Astrophotography tool] making it go onto hibernation – fortunetly I spotted it quite quickly. The odd ‘cloud like’ bands running through towards the end are telephone wires!


Finally a comparison of a white light image with that from the solar telescope. The main spot group is faint at H alpha wavelengths but the small group is quite prominent. Several filaments are obvious.


EAS observing session March 9 2016

Wow, that was a good Eddington Astronomy Society of Kendal observing session – probably 15 people learning about the night sky from Simon and looking through several different telescopes with different capabilities. Sky got hazy about 21:30, so we packed up. I must admit, the pint in the New Union, only a few minutes from home, afterwards was excellent.
Lots of Messier objects, i.e. faint fuzzies, seen through my 8″ scope – M42, the Leo Triplet of galaxies M65, M66 and NGC 3628 in the same visual field – nice to see them naked eye after imaging them last Monday night – M51, M101 [both difficult] and the spectacular doublet of M81 and M82.
The star of the night must be Jupiter which was spectacular – all 4 moons put on a show although two were being rather shy and hiding. I managed to connect a webcam – Philips SPC900NC – and demonstrate video image capture. The stacked image [Registax] is much better than I expected – probably because I tweaked the scope collimation on Monday night. Pleased with that. Couldn’t see the Great Red Spot trough the eyepiece but it is clearly there in the processed image.
Jupiter 09/09/16 @ 22:02

Jupiter 09/09/16 @ 22:02

Polaris from a static camera on a tripod - series of 15second images spaced by 15 seconds over 90 minutes.

Polaris from a static camera on a tripod – series of 15second images spaced by 15 seconds over 90 minutes.

I also pointed a camera at the Pole Star and captured a series of 144 15 second exposures with 15 second gaps between them over approximately 90 minutes. I removed images with aircraft in them or light from torches of people wandering about! The remaining  images I combined using the free Startrails software There is an interesting object occurred about 19:14 which may be a satellite flaring or a meteor at approximately ‘7 oclock’ on the image. No Iridium flares were predicted around that time.

First Deep Sky imaging for months


It isn’t my best ever picture by a long shot, but at least it is a picture. The weather has been so attrocious that nothing has been possible. Short glimpses between clouds has been the best I could manage so far since about October. Anyway, managed to grab a few shots of Orions Great nebula, M42. Quite pleased given the difficulties on the night given that my mount decided not to autoguide properly. I used my Meade 8″ LX200R mounted in equatorial mode on my yard pillar in Kendal. The telescope had a f6.3 focal reducer attached to increase the field of view giving an effective focal length of 1260mm. I used my red-filter astro-modded Canon EOS400D at ISO1600. I took quite a few shots which I didn’t use for various reason  poor, trailed stars and cloud!  The final image is a composite of 227 seconds in total, comprising 1×120 seconds, 1×60 seconds, 1×20 seconds, 3×9 seconds subframes. These were overlaid in Photoshop to produce the final image – the shorter exposures allow the bright central portions of M42 to be not burnt out – they certainly were in the longest exposure.

Clearly, it needed more light but given the frustrating passage of clouds and the telescope issues, I’m quite pleased with the result. As Liz, my wife, said ‘You’d have been really pleased with that a few tears ago…’ To true but the better you do, the higher the standard you expect!

Perseid meteor article

There is a really good article on the Persied meteors by Pete Lawrence on the BBC website ‘how-to-watch-the-perseid-meteor-shower’. Forecast looking good for Tuesday night but less good Wednesday [Metcheck: 50% cloud at midnight 30% cloud after midnight] and bad Thursday night/ Friday morning. I’m thinking of heading out tomorrow evening to Orton to get east of Shap quarries and hopefully a good dark eastern view. Ian

Imaging last night March 8th

After days of wind, rain and cloud – not in any order but sometimes all at once! – we had a clear and moon free early evening. I took advantage and set up in back yard to try and capture M1, the famous Crab Nebula. After an irritation with the mount choosing align stars on the horizon, I finally got it sorted with only two star rather than 3 star alignment. I decided it would do, got M1 in the field of te 66mm Williams Optics scope and took a five minute exposure with my modified Canon EOS 400D – fitted with an EOS light pollution filter. It looked like I had some drift [alignment?] so I compromised on only 3 minute exposures. Just over an hour later I had 21. I then took the usual flats, bias and dark  frames [oh it takes so long to get darks… [3 minutes each of the back of a lens cap!!]. The Moon was rising, I was tired so I then packed up. Having processed this tonight, I’m quite pleased with the result – but as ever, more time needed.

M1, The Crab Nebula

M1, The Crab Nebula

It is just soo small –  this is a crop from the frame. North is up. This is the remnant of the supernova that the Chinese observed in 1054. The angular diameter is 6′ x 4′ – 1/5th of the Moon. Still at 6500 light years away and only 5 light across…

At last – an image I’ve wanted for ages

I’ve wanted to get an image of the Rosette Nebula for may years after imaging a part of it with my 8″ Meade at f6.3. Lacking the patience and persistent clear skies to mozaic it, I needed a well tracked short focal length scope. Here is the March 2012 image.

Rosette Nebula - imaged 18/3/12

Rosette Nebula – imaged 18/3/12

I tried a few weeks ago with a poor mount and struggled and got

Rosette Nebula, 23 minutes Canon EOS400D iso 1600, WO 400mm scope

Rosette Nebula, 23 minutes Canon EOS400D iso 1600, WO 400mm scope

So I invested in a new mount and first light, with Simon White, Carol Grayson, Stuart Atkinson and Stella Coxon present at Old Hutton Church,  I managed the image I wanted. A stack of twelve 5 minute exposures and

Rosette Nebula

Rosette Nebula

one very happy bunny! Cracking start. Now to push when the skies relent and we can see stars!


Public moonwatch 21 Feb 2015

Another typical frustrating weather window for a EAS moonwatch. It came, it went! Some lovely clear skies with Venus and Mars and a striking crescent Moon sinking into the trees on the hill behind the Brewery Arts Centre, and then drizzle, then clear, then… well you get it!

With three small aperture telscopes there, plenty to look at.  Many families came through with small children who were most impressed, especially at the jagged Moon terminator. Well worth it for them. A striking contrast between white Venus and red Mars. The ISS also put in a show, catching us by surprise as we hadn’t looked when it was visible, popping into view really close to Mars and soaring upwards. Looked relatively faint and reddish so probably seeing it through a lot of thin cloud.

Moonwatch 21 Feb 2015

Moonwatch 21 Feb 2015

Mars and Venus were very low on the horizon and by 18:37 they were dipping behind the hill. Not a great pic but…

Moonwatch Moon Mars Venus 21 Feb 2015

Moonwatch Moon Mars Venus 21 Feb 2015

The crescent moon quickly captured thru the telescope – eyepiece projection and a compact camera. Pity about the tree!

Moonwatch Moon  21 Feb 2015

Moonwatch Moon 21 Feb 2015