EAS / CAS “SkyWatch” at Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre

Last weekend members of the Eddington AS and members (well, a member!) of the Cockermouth AS gathered at the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre for a weekend “astronomy retreat”, organised by Carol (EAS) and Jeremy (CAS), the aim being to combine socialising and informal astronomy workshops and discussions with some serious stargazing and astrophotography at one of the darkest sites in the county – a secluded valley at the end of Ennerdale, absolutely miles away from anywhere.

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Sadly the weather didn’t co-operate (that’s a polite way of saying it was ******** rubbish! Again! We’re cursed!) but it was still great fun, and a great opportunity to just chat about astronomy over great food, and sit beside a roaring fire while the wind howled outside and the rain pattered down.

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There was a two minute gap on one night, when I managed to sneak out a single photo before the clouds obliterated everything (Cassiopiea), but that was it…

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With no stars to view, members found other things to do, and there was no shortage of local wildlife to get to know…

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…and I know that the EAS members who “attended” Jeremy Hunt’s astro-photography workshop found it extremely useful, so thanks Jeremy!

It was a shame more of our friends from Cockermouth couldn’t join us for what was a very enjoyable weekend, despite the weather. Maybe next time. LGFC is a great place with great facilities…

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…and on a clear night – such as the night immediately before we got there and on the night we left, ********** typical!!!! – the sky is strewn with stars.

Thanks to everyone who made the effort to go to the weekend – quite a trek from Kendal – and a special thanks to Carol and Jeremy for organising it. Look forward to the next time!

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.

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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.

Farewell NLC, welcome back dark skies…!

Well, I think the 2014 NLC season is now over, although there’s always a chance of a last display before August begins. And after a weak start it was a good one, with several big displays and a few more smaller ones. I hope you all managed to see at least one, I’ve been banging on about NLC for MONTHS!!! 😉

Now August is almost here the late night sky is actually dark again, and the Milky Way is really starting to look good. I was out the other night/morning taking photos, and here’s what I managed. This is a composite of three separate pictures but they were all taken with just a camera on a tripod, no tracking, no following, just a high ISO setting and a short enough exposure to ensure no trailing. A bit of enhancing afterwards – contrast, levels etc – but nothing no-one reading this couldn’t do. You don’t need Photoshop – I primarily use a free image processing package called “FastStone Viewer”. Anyway, here’s what I managed to get… click on it to enlarge it, as usual.

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We also have a comet in the sky, Comet Jacques. Around magnitude 6 at the moment, but expected to brighten as it slides up through Auriga, past the Double Cluster and then into Cassiopeia. I took this pic the other night…

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As I said, not much to write home about yet, but *this is how most comets look*, only very rarely do they become naked eye bright with a tail, so get out there with your binocs and take a look.

There’ll be full details about this comet, and more, at our next meeting, when we’ll also have a guest speaker so I look forward to a good turnout for that. Finally, if anyone is interested in the observing weekend up at Ennerdale but hasn’t contacted Carol about it yet, can you get a move on? Thanks!

Stu

NLC Displays seen from Kendal

In the past few days there have been two – yes, count them, TWO! – big displays of noctilucent clouds visible from Kendal and right across the northern UK. I hope some of you saw them, seeing as I’ve been banging on about these for months now! 🙂

Anyway, illustrated with a gazillion pictures there are full reports on my blog…

http://cumbriansky.wordpress.com/

…but here are a couple of the pictures I took for you to see just why I’m prepared to lose so much sleep over these strangely beautiful clouds…

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NLC from Kendal Fell

Thanks for the tip off on twitter from Stuart I managed to not go to bed for another hour and got out to photograph the NLC that was around and bright for a little while, missing out on  the last big outburst I though it was about time to try and get something good!

8.0 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100 (lightroom exposure +1.09)
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8.0 sec at f/4.5, ISO 100 (lightroom exposure +1.09)
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Pre shoot checklist:

  • tripod + mount
  • set filetype to raw, for colour adjustments
  • set white balance to Fluorescent – or raw correction in post
  • turn off Image Stabilisation
  • start with settings: 8.0 sec at f/4.5, ISO 100

Hopefully on the next clear sky I’ll get out again and hope the display is bigger.

Vesta and Ceres meet in the sky…

Saturday night Stella and I headed up to Helsington Church to try and catch two asteroids (well, strictly speaking one asteroid and one “dwarf planet”) meeting in the evening sky. EAS Treasurer Simon White was already there, set up with his telescope and camera gear, and we had to wait a while for the sky to darken enough to track down our prey, but eventually we did…

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Not very dramatic, I know, but a shot I really wanted to take 🙂

I also tried some shots of the Milky Way, but the light pollution from Lancaster ruined the effect… really can’t wait to get to a proper dark sky again…

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NLCs shine over Kendal

The 2014 NLC Season is now at its half way point, and although we’ve missed some because of the weather (same old story, I know) there have been a couple of pretty good displays visible from Kendal, which I managed to get photos of from the Castle. First, a display seen June 19/20th…

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Then we had a display the other night, July 6/7th… which was spectacular from further north, and the east, but from here in Kendal my view was ruined by lingering cloud (which followed the NLC as it drifted east!!)…

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…and I had a fleeting moment of fame when the “Good Morning Britan” weather presenter, Laura Tobin, retweeted one of my pics to all her Followers and recommended my NLC blog page, too…

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Hopefully there are a few more good displays to come between now and the end of the month, but oh, the weather has to buck its ideas up…!!!