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.
A successful Moonwatch tonight. Coordinated by Richard, there were 4 scopes and several EAS members present. The Moon was covered by high haze and a nice halo round it but it was clear though the scopes although lacking some contrast. Virtually no stars were visible! The 110km diameter crater Gassendi was showing really well. Initially very quiet but very busy at times later on.
The cloudy halo round the Moon
A quick telephoto shot at the end of the event.
We have a moonwatch next Saturday, January 27th from 1830 – 2100, where anyone passing can view the Moon through our telescopes, weather permitting. The Kendal Brewery Arts Centre garden gives good view southwards and has coffee and toilets as well! Let’s hope for some good cloud-free skies. The Moon should look a bit like this.
based on a BAA circular
Active from December 6-17, but with a slow rise to maximum on 14 December.
The Geminids are currently the richest of the regular annual meteor showers, producing an abundance of bright meteors at the maximum. Timing this year is good as the maximum occurs just before new Moon, so no interference by moonlight, enabling many fainter meteors to be seen in addition to the brightest members of the shower. Peak activity expected at about 02h on Thursday, December 14.
In recent years, from the UK, the Geminids have shown typical peak observed rates of 70-80 meteors per hour in good skies if clear, so we might expect something like this on the peak night of December 13/14 (Wednesday night/Thursday morning). However, the maximum is quite broad and respectable Geminid rates may be expected throughout the nights of December 12/13, 13/14 and 14/15. Past observations have shown that bright Geminids become more numerous some hours after the rates have peaked, a consequence of particle-sorting in the meteoroid stream. Geminid meteors enter the atmosphere at a relatively slow 35 kilometres per second, and tend to last longer than most in luminous flight and may fragment into a train of ‘blobs.
The Geminid shower radiant (at RA 07h 33m, Dec +32°, just north of the first magnitude star Castor in Gemini) rises early in the evening and reaches a respectable elevation above the horizon (> 40°) well before midnight, so observers who are unable to stay up late can still see a good show if clear. However, the early morning hours of Thursday, 14th December are likely to see the greatest Geminid activity, when the radiant is high in the sky.
Where best to look: As with any meteor shower, when observing it is best to look at an altitude of 50° and 40-50° to either side of shower radiant, rather than looking directly at the radiant itself, although Geminid meteors may appear in any part of the sky. It could be quite cold so wrap up well with plenty of layers of warm, dry clothing and make sure that you wear a hat, gloves and thick socks if you are outside for any time. No equipment is required – just go and look!
There was a successful EAS moonwatch last night at the Brewery Arts Centre despite the odd cloud obscuring the view. Lots of ‘Oh’, ‘wow’ and ‘cool’ from the passers-by as they clearly saw the craters on the Moon, many for the first time, through Society members telescopes. Lots of different ages… very young to, shall we say, senior citizens. There were pulses of visitors coinciding with the start and end of various Brewery events, so quite busy at times.
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
Friends of the Lake District are hosting a FREE Dark Sky event at https://www.friendsofthelakedistrict.org.uk/Event/dark-skies-star-gazing for more details.
Mazonwath near Orton, this Saturday (11th November) at 1830. See
Created from Cassini images over 20 years, apparently:
Click here for menu of solar system objects
We have the “Telescope Night” meeting on Monday. Anyone with a (portable) telescope, please bring it along to the meeting. The second half of the meeting will be a chance for members to see all the different types, and discuss their merits and drawbacks with the proud/frustrated owners. Don’t be shy if your telescope is of the cheap and cheerful variety – people thinking of buying a first telescope will be thinking of getting one like yours, and be keen to see what is available. Complicated ones are also welcome if you can get them down the stairs.
Plan for the meeting:
• Quick news round-up – Richard Rae
• Short talk on telescope design – Ian Bradley
• Observing Evenings – Simon White
• Constellation of the month – Moira Greenhalgh
• Tea/coffee break
• General telescope admiration session
Hope to see you all there on Monday!
NASA’s Cassini probe has now burned up in the atmosphere of Saturn sending data as it went. Its legacy of fantastic science and stunning photographs will continue. There is a fantastic ebook on the mission on their website https://www.nasa.gov/connect/ebooks/index.html