Moon, Venus, Mercury conjunction…

19th March saw us heading for Helsington Church to catch this conjunction of three heavenly bodies, under the impression that the forecast was going to deliver a clear sky.  Well, I think this photo from Ted Woodburn sums it up – all three were visible at some point during the evening, but not necessarily at the same time!

Still, a good time was had by all who came out to see…

February Observing Evening

The forecast of clear skies for Tuesday 20th February had been consistent for about three days, but within an hour of announcing the observing evening at around 4pm it had completely clouded over.  Such are the frustrations of organising events in Kendal.

So it was an act of complete denial to go and set up at Boundary Bank, and I was delighted to see that I was not alone.  At about ten past seven, the security lights switched off, the clouds lifted and we had horizon-to-horizon clear dark skies.  The cold dry air brought a clarity and transparency rarely seen in Cumbria.

A relatively small turnout of about a dozen members, but with three good telescopes to share there was plenty of eyepiece time for everyone.  Special thanks go to David Glass for giving so much attention to the new members and making them feel very welcome.  One commented how delighted she was that people were willing to share the views through such amazing kit – I had never really thought of it in that way.

What did we see and do?  A round up of the constellations – with mythology from Moira – emphasising the difference between the rotating northern horizon and the ever-changing southern horizon, some double stars from David, star clusters including The Pleiades and the Perseus Double cluster, a long look at The Orion Nebula (below, my photo from 14 February) at various magnifications, a fruitless search for Uranus very close to the Moon.  

We finished with the Moon itself, an outrageously clear waxing crescent with fabulous detail around the terminator.  All in all, a very relaxed session with everyone just happy to be out.

November Observing Evening

About a dozen EAS members met at our regular Observing Evening spot on Sunday night, where the very kind staff at Boundary Bank had left the car park gate unlatched so that we could gain access.  There was a bit of a scare when the security lights failed to switch off at 7pm, but all was well when they went out at about ten past.

We managed a review of the constellations, with mythological references from Moira, and picked out some less-easy asterisms such as parts of Pisces.  Triangulum is now locked into my memory too.

Many thanks to David Glass for picking off some of the more difficult targets, M27 (The Dumbbell Nebula) and Uranus in particular.  I found  M57 (The Ring Nebula) and we marvelled at the clarity of M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy) in Ian Bradley’s generously lent 10″ reflector zinging around on my AZ-EQ6 mount.  We caught M32 nestled next to M31, and also M110 as an independent and clearly visible smudge in the same field of view.

Jane and Steve got their new Celestron working, yippee!

Ian Bradley left his camera running for the session, pointed at the North America Nebula in Cygnus.

David and I set a hare running with some ideas for short talks based on the objects we viewed.  Watch this space!

Two favourite moments for me were seeing M110 distinctly in the eyepiece, and identifying the star on the southern horizon pointed out by Wendy, as Formalhaut.  Now there’s a short lecture on astronomy history begging to be put together – here are the first and last slides of the talk, who’d like to fill in the gaps?

Statue in Rome

Fomalhaut by Hubble









See you next time


March Observing Evening

About a dozen EAS enthusiasts turned out on Thursday for what will probably be the last observing evening of this season.  A little haze high in the sky meant that there was a slight background wash making faint objects more challenging, but we still bagged a good set of observations.  

Orion offered final views of M42 (The Orion Nebula) nebula setting in the west, and we also took a long look at Betelgeuse (Alpha Orinonis) while observing individual stars including Procyon (Alpha Canis Minoris), Castor (Alpha Geminorum) – a double separated by 90 light years or 5 arcsec viewed from Earth – and Pollox (Beta Geminorum).  

Open clusters were a feature of the evening, M35 in Gemini, M36 (“The Pinwheel”), M37 and M38 (“The Starfish”) in Auriga and M44 (“The Beehive”) in Cancer.

Galaxies M65 and M66, two of the “Leo Triplet”, were just visible in Leo, as were M81 and M82 in Ursa Major.

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák was seen as a very challenging fuzzy spot in my 115mm refractor, as was nearby M97 (The Owl Nebula) used for comparison.

We finished with pretty good views of Jupiter and the four Gallilean moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

My sincere thanks go to all members who come and make these sessions a success. There is still room for improvement and I look forward to canvassing members’ views over the next few EAS meetings to see how we can make then even better.




January Observing Evening

What a super session last night!  Thanks to all who came along – a dozen or more? – and made it such fun.  In addition to the hard core regulars, there were a couple of new faces too, so I hope we lived up to your expectations.  It was bitterly cold, with a little moisture in the air that caught some glow from the town lights to the east early on, but a very rewarding couple of hours in the company of fellow enthusiasts.

We started with Venus and Mars, of course, managing fairly high magnifications (100x through my 115mm refractor, even more in David’s 200mm Schmidt Cassegrain)  to reveal the crescent phase of Venus and the open face of Mars.  Venus was so bright that it had to be viewed through a neutral density filter.

The Pleiades were very high in the sky, as were targets in Auriga.  The Andromeda galaxy got another look in, setting towards the west, with galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major rising higher in the north east.  Later on, as the moisture dissipated and the air became more transparent, Orion was best placed for views of the wonderful Orion nebula M42.

Everyone had something to contribute, either by way of information and explanation, or by testing others with challenging and interesting questions about constellations and star identification.  Huge thanks go to David for bringing his Schmidt Cassegrain planet gobbler, and to Graham for his boundless enthusiasm and knowledge – and the craziest telescope!  These observing sessions are taking on a real character of their own.

See you all soon


November Observing Evening

About a dozen enthusiasts assembled in the Boundary Bank Lane car park last night, enjoying a couple of hours of very clear dark skies.  We ran through the constellations as usual, noting how the positions had changed again from the previous meeting, then spent a most rewarding session chasing down a series of double stars.

The temptation with an observing evening is always to go for the better known galaxies and nebulae, so to ring the changes I had drawn up a list of double stars suitable for November viewing through binoculars and small telescopes.  This was a novelty for me – and pretty much everyone else in the group – and it was a revelation: double stars present a completely different set of challenges and rewards for small telescope astronomy, balancing magnification against resolution and demanding very careful examination of the images.  Each target also had a commentary, courtesy of Sky Safari (which uses several references from Jim Kaler’s works), so there was some technical astronomy discussion too.

We studied:

  • Albireo (Beta Cygni),
  • Alpheratz (Alpha Andromedae),
  • The Double Double (Epsilon Lyrae),
  • Polaris (Alpha Ursae Minoris),
  • Mizar & Alcor (Zeta Ursae Majoris & 80 Ursae Majoris),
  • Archird (Eta Cassiopeiae) and
  • Mintaka (Delta Orionis).

A big “thank you” from me to everyone who attended with such enthusiasm – I really do enjoy putting in the preparation for these sessions, and it is tremendously rewarding when members turn up, join in and so clearly appreciate the effort made.


October Observing evening

The October observing evening crept into November, when about fifteen (it’s hard to tell in the dark) EAS members, plus one rather surprised lorry driver, spent a couple of hours looking around the late autumn / early winter sky.

We found lots to see naked eye, reviewing the constellations of the season with the Milky Way clearly dividing the sky in two, then dived into the telescopes.  I was delighted that we had such a variety of scopes – two 8″ Schmidt Cassegrains on GOTO mounts, an 8″ reflector on a Dobsonian, my 115mm refractor, Stuart’s 130mm Newtonian, a couple of others I couldn’t identify in the dark and plenty of binoculars.

Ian took on the role of Messier-safari as usual, and he and David turned their scopes to Uranus and Neptune too.  My favourite of the night was the yellow-and-blue double star Albireo, showing clear and distinct colours enhanced by their proximity to one another.  Jim Kaler describes them in detail here.

Thanks to all those who came and contributed to a most enjoyable evening!


Summer Triangle

The “Summer Triangle” is a once-seen-never-forgotten asterism and is very easy to pick out at the moment.  I attempted a wide-angle image on Sunday night, which featured in the Observing Evening presentation after some quick processing.

Wide-angle astrophotos need a very different approach to processing, especially with light pollution that catches the moisture in the air and casts a colour gradient across the image.  Here is the more carefully processed version.

As well as the three stars making up the Summer Triangle, (clockwise Deneb in Cygnus, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila), against the background of the Milky Way, you can pick out the smaller constellations of Delphinus and Sagitta, together with the “Coathanger” asterism – which looks spectacular through the telescope.



September Observing evening

Well that was a bit of a mixed bag – low attendance probably caused by the disastrous change in the forecast when we gathered earlier in the week, but a real opportunity for a constellation safari and a Messier-hopping adventure with a very small group.

By the time I packed up at midnight, I’d got Globular Clusters M13, M71 and M56, M27 “The Dumbell Nebula”, M57 “The Ring Nebula”, M97 “The Owl Nebula”, Open Clusters M29 and M39, Galaxies M31 & M33, M81 & M82, The Coathanger asterism, NGC7789 “Caroline’s Rose”, NGC869 & NGC884 “The Perseus Double Cluster” and M45 “The Pleiades”.  Not bad for a modest 4.5-inch refractor.

M16 was a bit too low to be clear, Open Clusters M26 and M11 were hard to define.  I couldn’t be sure of Uranus or Nepune.  Maybe next month!