Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Early Riser

I couldn't sleep last night so, as the hazy moon was shining through my window, I got up at silly o'clock this morning and waited for a break in the clouds. Eventually it came and I took some shots of this waning gibbous moon. This one has turned out to be one of the sharpest moon photos I have ever taken.

But as the sky cleared I decided to also have a go at some tracked shots and I was quite pleased to get my first image of the Ring Nebula (Messier 57) even though it's far from perfect.  The Ring Nebula (is a planetary nebula in the northern constellation of Lyra. Such objects are formed when a shell of ionized gas is expelled into the surrounding interstellar medium by a star at in the last stages of its evolution before becoming a white dwarf.

This is just a single tracked shot taken with a 500mm f/4 lens plus 1.4x teleconverter on a crop sensor camera - 700mm ISO 640 f/8 @ 3 minutes. Yes, it really is that blue.

My next target was Bode's Galaxy (Messier 81) and the Cigar Galaxy (Messier 82) which can both be imaged in one shot - can you guess which is which from the photograph below?

Bode's Galaxy is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years away, with a diameter of 90,000 light years, about half the size of the Milky Way, in the constellation Ursa Major. Due to its proximity to Earth, large size, and active galactic nucleus (which harbours a supermassive black hole), Messier 81 has been studied extensively by professional astronomers.

The Cigar Galaxy is a starburst galaxy approximately 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. A member of the M81 Group, it is about five times more luminous than the whole Milky Way and has a centre one hundred times more luminous than our galaxy's centre.

Next onto the Hercules Globular Cluster (Messier 13). This globular cluster consists of several hundred thousand stars in the constellation of Hercules. It's sometimes called the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules.

Arcturus (below) is a red giant star in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth's sky and the brightest star in the constellation Bo├Âtes (the herdsman). Arcturus is also among the brightest stars that can be seen from Earth. Astronomers say Arcturus will end up as a white dwarf at the end of its life.

Vega (below) is the brightest star in the northern constellation of Lyra. This star is relatively close at only 25 light-years from the Sun, and, together with Arcturus and Sirius, one of the most luminous stars in the Sun's neighbourhood. It is the second-brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus.

Vega has been extensively studied by astronomers, leading it to be termed “arguably the next most important star in the sky after the Sun”. Vega was the northern pole star around 12,000 BC and will be so again around the year 13,727. It was one of the first stars whose distance was estimated through parallax measurements.

And finally a quick snap of the Whirlpool Galaxy and friend (Messier 51). The Whirlpool Galaxy was the first galaxy to be classified as a spiral galaxy. It lies in the constellation Canes Venatici where it is interacting with a smaller companion galaxy. Sometimes the designation M51 is used to refer to the pair of galaxies, in which case the individual galaxies may be referred to as M51a and M51b.

But by now it was starting to get light so I struggled getting a decent image of these two galaxies. This is definitely a deep sky object to which I will be returning.

Individually, some of my images don't look much, but when viewed as a collection they start to show how varied and immense the universe really is. And boy do the constellations look different so early in the morning!

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Almost a Full Moon!

It has been a longhand ambition of mine to get a photo of a full moon near or behind the pithead winding gear at Astley Green Colliery.  I have tried several times but it didn't take long to realise that I'd need to do a blended composite of two images to get the correct exposure and desired effect.

Astley Green Colliery has the only surviving headgear and engine house on what was the Lancashire coalfield. The headgear is made from wrought iron lattice girders with rivetted plates at the joints. It has two large and one small wheel mounted at the top. It is nearly 30 metres (98 ft) high and was built by Head Wrightson of Stockton-on-Tees and completed by 1912.

In the winding house there is a twin tandem compound steam engine made by Yates and Thom of Blackburn who supplied 16 Lancashire boilers. Its engine house has the largest steam winding engine used on the coalfield. The 3,300 horse power twin tandem compound engine was built by Yates and Thom in Blackburn.

When I got home I decided to get some (almost) full moon shots from my front garden before the clouds rolled in again.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

L.O.S. 'Decide on the Day Fieldrip' at St. Aidan's RSPB

The L.O.S. had decided to have one fieldtrip this year where we hadn't planned where to go in advance, allowing us to take the weather conditions and any recent sightings into account before setting off. Well, the weather was set to be atrocious on the western side of the UK today and so heading east was the only real choice if we were to stay dry and have a chance of a decent day. St. Aidan's RSPB in west Yorkshire quickly became the destination.

We hung around until the moon came out at around 4pm in the hope that we'd see some of the Short-eared Owls that are currently here, but unfortunately none of them showed up for us today.

A total of 51 species were seen or heard during the day, so not a bad trip at all.

Monday, 18 November 2019

My Latest Lifer

Here's a photo of my latest lifer - a Hume's Leaf Warbler taken a Bempton Cliffs RSPB.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Three Blokes in a Transit

The start of the 'Transit of Mercury' as seen from Ty Mawr Country Park, Rhuabon near Wrexham in North Wales on Monday 11 November 2019.

This story starts with a little fun astronomy group (Leigh Astro Society) that we set up back in October when three of us visited a dark sky location in the Forest of Bowland in search of Andromeda. The founding members of the L.A.S. were Paul Richardson, George Pike and myself.  Following this meeting I set up a Facebook group and the online membership has now grown to seventeen people, with around five people regularly posting photos or useful information for the group.

One of these posts concerned the approaching 'Transit of Mercury' which is a reasonably rare event and so some of us got interested in seeing and hopefully photographing it.

To do this we'd need solar filters for our 'scopes and camera lenses. Paul, who is the only true astronomer amongst us, had already made one previously for a telescope, which he then adapted to fit his camera.

I, on the other hand, am a compete novice to astrophotography and when I realised that Paul's filter wouldn't fit my camera so I couldn't borrow it, decided to make my own at the very last minute - two days before the transit in fact with one of those being a Sunday.

I'd left it too late for the required Baader AstroSolar Safety  Film to be delivered from an online source, and so after a frantic morning of phoning up every nearby camera and telescope shop without any luck, I decided I'd have to make the three-hour round trip to Rother Valley Optics near Sheffield to ensure that I got some in time.

Anyway, I did the trip, got the film and spent Sunday afternoon making two filters, one for my 500mm lens and the other for my 300mm lens just in case there were any issues.  I was reminded of the old Blue Peter programmes as I cut the required shapes out of card and then used double-sided tape and sticky-backed plastic to fix them together. It was tight making two filters out of a single piece of A4 film, but at nearly £20 a sheet I wasn't going to waste any of it!

Filters made, it was time to decide where we'd be going to get the best chance of seeing the sun.  The weather forecast wasn't good with a front bringing cloud and rain over the North West during the day.  Paul decided that North Wales would be the best place to try, with a couple of possible locations in mind, the first being Ty Mawr Country Park in Rhuabon near Wrexham. We turned up at George's house at 10am and by 10:15am we were on our way with George driving - well he had said he'd be willing to drive up to 50 miles to see the Transit and that was going to be more or less right.

One of the first photos I took of Mercury;

The small black speck on the left side of the sun isn't dust but the planet Mercury, which only passes in front of the sun every 15 years or so. Mercury is 57.91 million km away compared to the sun's 149.6 million km, so it's nearer to the Earth than the sun. It's also only 38% of the Earth's size.

It's so small that you'll need to view these fullscreen and it can't be seen with the naked eye. You must never look at the sun through bins or scopes unless you have a special solar filter which cuts out 99.99% of the light and radiation.

The actual colour of the sun is white but I increased the white balance in the first shot to make it the more familiar orange colour we see, which is caused by our atmosphere scattering the light.

It definitely seemed to become more orange as it descended below the hills.

And so to bed ...

The founding members of the Leigh Astro Society.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Fame at last!

I've not posted for a while for various reasons but I had to say something about this photo of mine which was used on prime time BBC AutumnWatch tonight. This is the second time I've had a photo shown on the BBC's SpringWatch series and so I'm very slowly building up a portfolio!

I was sitting there watching AutumnWatch and thinking that this was a really good explanation of our current weather patterns in relation to the Jet Stream, when up popped this photo of mine! It was being used to show how the recent weather has brought rare American visitors to the UK.

Here's the three minute segment from BBC AutumnWatch which featured my Red-eyed Vireo photo. I thought that weatherman Nick Miller's explanation of how the current weather patterns being controlled by the Jet Stream are suppressing migrant birds from the east whist bringing vagrants from the west was very good.

Well, I didn't see that coming!

And here's my original photo:

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Day 7 - Saltholme RSPB

No sign of the American Golden Plover in amongst a few thousand Golden Plovers!