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.

Milky Way Kendal b ss

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…

2b crop labels

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

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…

ceres vesta wide s

vesta ceres wide s

ceres vesta july 5 2014

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…

m way ss

Worth getting up at Stupid o’clock for…

Asrtronomy can be a very anti-social hobby, and that’s never truer than at times like this, when all the “good stuff” is visible in the wee small hours and an intrusive big bright Moon means you only have a small window of opportunity, just before the sky starts to brighten, in which to see or do anything useful. Which is why I got up at 3am on Friday morning, grabbed my camera gear and tripod, and headed out to my nearby dark sky oasis, a woodland clearing at the foot of Kendal Castle, to try and photograph the Milky Way, Mars, and a comet…

Often when I do this I arrive at my observing site to find that while I’ve been walking the clouds have rolled in, covering everything, and I have to trudge home again without a single new photo on the memory card. Thankfully on Friday morning the clouds stayed away, and I was able to tick off everything on my astrophotographic hit list…

Should note here that all these photos were taken with the most basic set-up – my entry level Canon digital SLR, mounted on a tripod, fitted with a fast or wide angle lens and set at a high ISO (what we used to call “film speed” in Ye Olde pre digital days!) taking time exposures of several seconds, which were then combined together (or “stacked”) to create a single more detailed image. One of my friends from the Cockermouth AS very kindly made me a mount last year which will allow me to track the stars, but I have yet to use it because I’m saving it now for nights when the Milky Way is dominating the sky.

Ok, here’s what I managed to take. I try to take pictures which are attractive visually as well as interesting astronomically, so I hope even if you’re not into astronomy you’ll like them. Click on the images to enlarge them…

The Milky Way rising over the treetops…

m way s

Mars (right) and Spica sinking lower as dawn approaches…

Mars spica s

The Milky Way around the bright star Deneb…

NA Neb2 s

The constellation Lyra…

lyra s

And finally, comet Panstarrs K1, which is still very faint but might get brighter in a while…

panstarrs close up circle

Yes, definitely worth getting up at Stupid o’clock for…