Sunwatch

Thanks to those who organised the sunwatch yesterday (Sat 14th). In the brief interludes between clouds I saw a glowing red sun with flare through the solar scope and loads of sunspots on the projected images, sights only previously seen in pictures.
Somewhere in Kendal is one little boy who couldn’t wipe the smile off his face

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!

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.

METEOR WATCH at Scout Scar, May 23rd/24th

At last night’s meeting – thanks to everyone who came, and to all our speakers, by the way! – we looked at the exciting possibility of a new meteor shower occurring later in the month, specifically in the early hours of Saturday May 24th. Many meteor experts are hopeful that there will be a lot of shooting stars flying about at that time, as Earth ploughs through a stream of dust left behind by a comet. Some are hopeful we may even see a “meteor storm” with many hundreds of shooting stars zipping out of an area of sky to the lower right of the Plough.

Well, we’ll see! These things are very hard to predict accurately, but if there’s even a chance we might see something we have to get out there and look, don’t we? The problem is, all the predictions seem to agree that if there is enhanced activity it probably won’t occur until after sunrise in the UK, which is a shame, but you never know, if we’re lucky the peak might occur a few hours early, in which case we’ll have front row seats! Fingers crossed…

Because there’s a chance we might see something, we’ll be holding an EAS “Meteor Watch” up at Scout Scar, at a location found for and recommended to us by our Treasurer, Simon. This isn’t being organised as a public event – pretty sure not many non-astronomers would be that keen to be out at that time of night! – but if any non-members want to join us, maybe after reading this piece on the blog, they’d be very welcome, obviously.

We’ll start the Meteor Watch after midnight on the Friday (23rd), and go on basically for as long as we can into Saturday (24th) morning, just hoping to see something… anything really! The sky will start to brighten around 2.30am, but that gives us a good couple of hours of skywatching, and if we’re lucky this new shower might reward our patience and devotion by skimming a few Earth-grazing fireballs across our sky before we all pack up and go home! If you come please wrap up warm. Bringing something to sit on might be a good idea too – much easier looking up at and around the sky that way – and maybe a hot flask and a bite to eat. Also bring binoculars, of you have them, just in case any bright meteors leave ghostly, glowing trails behind in the sky… Red torches aren’t obligatory, but I know those of us planning on taking photos would be very grateful if people brought those.

So, where is this all taking place? These pics (click to enlarge them) will show you where to go. If you’re coming up, remember, there’s no guarantee at all that we’ll see anything dramatic or unusual, this is all highly speculative and uncertain. If we see something amazing – brilliant! But if we don’t, well, there’ll still be great views of Mars and Saturn to enjoy, and we can all take a look at Comet PANSTARRS K1. And we’ll be together…!(ahhhhhhhh!)

Hope to see you there!

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Hope to see you there.

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

Moonwatch 8th March 2014

An unexpectedly successful Moonwatch at the Brewery Arts Centre. After all the cloudy skies we have had recently, we struck lucky on Saturday night and the Moon and Jupiter were clearly visible, high in the sky. There was a little high cloud, but nothing to matter.

We had five telescopes available, and a steady trickle of hopeful skywatchers, maybe 50-60 over the two hours. Having gazed at the Moon and said “wow!”, “ooh!” etc, people were then very keen to see Jupiter as well. As the evening went on, the sky cleared a little and it was easy to see the bands on Jupiter and all four large moons. A few of the more eager skywatchers asked to see Saturn and Mars next, and we had to explain that half the sky is actually hidden behind the earth at any one time. Turns out you can’t do this without waving your arms around like a helicopter!

Liz Hodgson